We’ve all been there. That moment when we awake with a gasp and fly up in bed. A nightmare has disturbed what should have been another night of peaceful slumber. When this happened as children, we often cried out for comfort. Odd as it may seem, just thinking of childhood nightmares floods my mind with memories of my mother softly scratching my back and rubbing her warm hand up and down my spine until I resumed sleeping serenely.
Sleep Affects Your Ability to Handle Stress
Unfortunately (or fortunately) we don’t always have someone there to soothe us back to sleep when we’ve experienced a disturbance. However, for most people, this unpleasant interruption is merely a periodic pause in our otherwise undisturbed lives. Not everyone is so lucky. And it’s a double whammy for those unlucky individuals who experience these sleep disruptions more frequently.
Sleep plays a vital role in our overall mental health, physical health and general ability to perform daily functions at a high level. But, all is not lost. Just as my mother used to soothe me back to sleep after a nightmare, we can utilize certain strategies to help us settle into a low-stress, high-performance sleep mode.
For example, many individuals with PTSD have utilized better sleep performance tactics to overcome many of their trauma-induced ailments. But, individuals with PTSD are not the only ones being robbed of sound sleep by stress, so there is a lesson to be learned by all of us.
What is PTSD and Why Would it Affect Sleep?
The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as a “psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or other violent personal assault.” An estimated 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, which means that whether it’s ourselves, a friend or family, most of us will encounter PTSD in our lives if we haven’t already.
One prominent symptom of PTSD is trouble sleeping. Doubling down on the dilemma is that a lack of sleep causes irritability and the increased likelihood of other symptoms to flare up. In fact, an inability to get quality sleep can be one of the preeminent problems keeping our bodies captive to a cycle of stress and trauma. The combination of bad sleep and stress are a sick cycle carousel. That being said, many have found that the key to solving one problem is by solving the other. The sleep success stories coming from many in the PTSD community is good news for us all.
Sleep, Stress and the Snowball Effect
One aspect of both sleep and stress that many fail to understand accurately is that they are cumulative, which is both good and bad news. The good news is that just like with finances, you can build up reserves. The bad news is that you can accumulate debt as well. And when it comes to the way that sleep and stress are interrelated, the snowball effect is for real.
Studies show that a lack of sleep can make life seem more threatening (stressful).
A study was done in 2007 that used comprehensive brain imaging to study two groups of otherwise healthy individuals. One group was kept up all night, while the other stayed home and got a good night of sleep. The results were eye-opening, pun intended. The study showed that when “exposed to the same environment, a person who is sleep-deprived will have a greater stress response.” This information is particularly valuable in understanding how a lack of sleep will affect individuals already prone to trauma and stress. In short, stress will continue to accumulate and cause a sleep deprivation snowball to grow and grow. Conversely, good sleep can help these same individuals respond better to stressful and traumatic environments and cut down on their “stress debt” so to speak.
Cutting the Sleep Deficit
While it is becoming more and more evident that good sleep is key to eliminating stress, that doesn't necessarily make the quest to get good sleep any less stressful. But, we’re here to help! Every individual is different, so it’s important to pay attention to what works for you. There have been a plethora of scientific studies that point to some foolproof ways of getting better sleep.
The Trifecta for Better Sleep
A couple of the most important factors to consider are your sleep environment, lighting and temperature. If your sleep space isn’t comfortable then you may not sleep well, it’s as simple as that. Make sure that you are sleeping in comfortable, cool and breathable clothing in a comfortable bed. Try to limit light by using blackout shades and removing light and technology from the room when it is time to sleep. Make it a sanctuary for sleep, which means limiting your bedroom activities to sleep and sleep alone so that your body knows that when you are in your room, it is time to wind down. Maybe it's time to try a cooling mattress topper.
Lastly, make sure to keep your room cool.
Temperature plays a vital role in ensuring that our bodies wind down and get the best sleep we possibly can. Most studies have shown that optimal sleep temperature lies somewhere between 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, the founder of Chili, Todd Youngblood, has heard rave reviews from doctors and patients with PTSD alike who have utilized the easy and accurate temperature-control capabilities of Chili products to calm down and get the kind of quality sleep we all so desperately need. The overwhelming response from the US Military led Chili to partner with the Wounded Warrior Project and donated chiliPADs to U.S. Soldiers on Veterans Day.
It’s a crazy world out there and sometimes it can feel like too much to handle. But, if we take time to breathe, it becomes a lot more manageable. The same way that we can slowly eliminate debt by saving a bit at a time, we can also save ourselves from a stressful world by getting more sleep and better sleep.