Can’t sleep? Rethink how you cope with stress

July 24, 2014 in Complementary & Integrative Medicine, Wellness  •  By Michael Scott
Ineffective methods for coping with stress may lead to insomnia.

Studies show that 15 to 20 percent of adults struggle with short-term insomnia that lasts less than three months. Any deficits in sleep can cause a variety of health problems, and researchers have recently discovered one likely contributor to short-term insomnia: poor coping mechanisms for stress.

It is not unusual to feel stressed by major changes in your life, but depending on how you deal with that stress, you could develop short-term insomnia, according to a new study published in the journal Sleep.

Avoidance and alcohol do not help

To understand how coping mechanisms for stress can affect sleeping patterns, a research team from the Sleep Disorders & Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital conducted a study that included nearly 2,900 participants, none of whom had a previously documented history of insomnia. All study subjects filled out a questionnaire in which they described any stressful events they experienced in the past year – financial problems, divorce, the death of a loved one and so on – the severity of the stress they felt and the ways in which they coped. A year after this questionnaire was filled out, the researchers followed up with the study participants to assess who experienced sleeping problems at least three nights a week, followed by daytime distress.

Results showed that insomnia was most common in people who coped with stress by drinking alcohol, taking recreational drugs, distracting themselves with television or other activities, or who took no action to deal with stress. Furthermore, researchers found that about 69 percent of the impact that stress has on sleeping problems can be explained by recurrent thoughts about any difficult life changes.

Positive stress management promotes better sleep

The authors of the new study emphasized that, although people cannot control stressful events in their lives, they can control how they react to them. If you feel overwhelmed by stress, consider creating a personalized health plan that can incorporate techniques for managing stress, including:

  • Focusing on the positive
  • Trying cognitive behavior therapy to change the way you react to stressful events
  • Regularly exercising
  • Engaging in stress-reducing activities, such as listing to music, playing with a pet or taking a vacation
  • Openly discussing your feelings
  • Relaxing.

Along the lines of relaxation, one of the most significant and empowering changes that you can make is learning and practicing mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

In addition to promoting mindfulness meditation, a holistic approach to sleep problems can include healthy dietary choices as well as an increased level of daily physical activity – both of which may help you feel better able to cope during times of stress. Ultimately, effective stress management can help you sleep more peacefully and enable you to be more prepared for tackling everyday challenges.

To learn more about these holistic approaches to stress management and better sleep, click here.