Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Woman awake in bed

Sleep, Sleep Medicine and Stress. Part 5

by James Porter March 12, 2021

This is the fifth of a seven-part series on stress and sleep. If you’ve had difficulty sleeping during the pandemic, you are not alone. Insomnia was already reaching epidemic proportions BEFORE Covid. Now it’s gotten worse. According to a survey published in Consumer Reports 28% of Americans reported having trouble falling or staying asleep since the Pandemic hit.

The Many Benefits of Going to Bed Earlier

People quite often steal time from their sleep schedule in order to get a little more done during the day and that strategy often backfires. You can’t really “play” with your sleep like this as it (and your body) will get dysregulated. You have to stop thinking of your body like a machine, that you can easily repair if it gets out of whack. 

According to Web MD lack of sleep can adversely affect your health in many ways: It can cause forgetfulness, poor judgment (particularly about your need for sleep) and increase the odds of you experiencing weight gain, depression, and having an accident (particularly a potentially deadly car accident).

I generally do most of the right things where sleep hygiene is concerned: I exercise most days, consume little or no caffeine, eat healthy, practice yoga, and keep technology out of the bedroom. My room is dark, cold and quiet at night.

But in spite of doing all these things right, I still occasionally wake up in the middle of the night, and have difficulty falling BACK asleep. I see this as an opportunity to meditate.

Experts on sleep hygiene tell us to go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time. This was advice I resisted for years but now I follow to the letter. I love my early bedtime and consider it kind of a precious gift I can give myself. I used to push through tiredness I would experience every night around 830PM but now I don’t resist it at all. I get in bed read for a short while and usually turn out the light and fall asleep within minutes. 

As the result of going to bed every night at 9 PM there are two important benefits: There’s no rush to fall asleep. And if I wake up in the middle of the night, there’s no rush to fall back asleep. So my early bedtime routine adds in a little dose of insurance into my nighttime plan. For a lot of people, though that middle of the night wake up call (mine always starts with a need to go to the bathroom) is a cause for concern.

If they go to bed late and wake up for a while in the middle of the night, they tend to toss and turn WORRYING about the prospect of falling back asleep. This is often the results in a secondary stress response.

If some stressful thought is keeping you from falling back asleep – like the performance review you are having the next day – often times a secondary stress reaction kicks in too: What if I don’t fall back to sleep right away? How am I going to function tomorrow? I’m so stressed now I’ll never fall asleep! Even though it may be some other stressful thought that jars you awake initially, it’s the secondary reaction – where you get stressed about being stressed - that keeps you awake.

But with my early bed time, I almost NEVER have that secondary stress reaction. Because I know I have plenty of time to fall back asleep.

Even when I am unable to go back to sleep, I know I will almost ALWAYS make up for the loss of sleep on the following night. Plus, I fully realize I can function (even without stimulants) just fine the next day no matter what that day has in store for me. If it’s a low-level business day, and not that demanding, a 20 minute nap (or even a five minute nap in my chair) just might fully revive me. If I have a high stress day, - like I’m putting on a big presentation for 200 people – my own body chemistry is going to keep me wide awake and lucid until that presentation is over. Guaranteed.

Would I be better off if I was able to do that presentation on a full night’s sleep? Yes! Is anyone in the audience going to notice the difference? Doubtfully.

So if you want to try giving yourself the gift of an early bedtime, most sleep experts would say make the adjustment gradually, going to bed a half an hour earlier each night for a week, and again the next week and the week after, until you reach your desired time. But once you do, you will see there are many benefits. It feels more natural for one. And two, you have a few hours built into the night where you might read or meditate, if you do wake up and can’t go back to sleep. And finally, when you wake up in the morning having slept a full 7-8 hours, even if it was interrupted, you will be rewarded with more energy, increased willpower and you will find it easier to concentrate.

In our next installment we’ll talk about the ten best methods for insuring a good night’s sleep.

James Porter
James Porter