April 16, 2007

April is Stress Awareness Month, a national effort to inform people about the prevalence of stress in our society, the dangers it poses, and successful coping strategies. In order to help stressed out Americans sleep restfully, the AASM has issued a reminder not to bring worries to bed and to get the required amount of sleep each night.

On many occasions, the stress created by a seemingly never-ending list of obligations can prevent people from getting a good night’s sleep. A lack of sleep can, in turn, affect one’s physical health, emotional well-being, mental abilities, productivity, and performance. 
“We live in an increasingly complex and worry-filled society, in which the juggling of work and family responsibilities has become more difficult,” said Clete A. Kushida, MD, PhD, RPSGT, of Stanford University’s Sleep Disorders Clinic. “There is no doubt that stress plays a role in one’s ability to fall and stay asleep. Establishing a pattern of relaxing behaviors (eg, meditation, a warm bath) close to bedtime and limiting work to the early evening may help to reduce stress.”
Ralph Downey III, PhD, of Loma Linda University’s Sleep Disorders Center in Loma Linda, Calif, added that stress and sleep mix like oil and water, and because of this, the importance of sleep getting an upper-hand on stress is critical to maintaining one’s well-being.

“Sleep and stress are competitors. When stress is continually activating a part of the brain that is otherwise used for sleep, then stress wins the tug-of-war. If we can reduce stress and/or enhance the sleep drive, then sleep has a better chance of winning the tug-of-war,” Downey said. “Although no one can live a stress-free life in the modern world, with enough practice one can master the techniques necessary for combating and promoting sleep.”

According to Downey, if you cannot shut your mind off when lying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and go to a comfortable area and refrain from participating in such activities as reading or surfing the Internet. Once 20 minutes have passed, go back to bed and start over. Another suggestion offered by Downey is to write down your thoughts in a den, or another area of your home, before going to bed. One idea is to write questions on one side of an index card and a possible solution to the question that is bothering you on the other side. When you are finished, put the index cards in a drawer, close it, and only work on it the next day if you need to.   

“It is frustrating to do these things at first,” Downey said. “However, if you always practice these activities when you are stressed, they will work better and better each time you use them.”

Other tips offered by the AASM on how to better relax in the midst of stress are as follows:

•    Try to get rid of things that make you worry.
•    If you are unable to do this, then find a time during the day to get all of your worries out of your system. Your bed is a place to rest, not a place to worry.
•    Begin rituals that help you relax each night before bed. This can include such things as a warm bath, light snack or a few minutes of reading.
•    Get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis.