Insomnia and stress

Sleep hygiene

Insomnia is a sleep problem characterised by difficulties in falling asleep (insomnia associated with falling asleep), having continuous sleep (insomnia associated with staying asleep) or waking up early. Although this is not always the case, sleep duration is often reduced, and people who complain of insomnia also feel handicapped during the day, in the form of fatigue or difficulties in functioning at work or at home.

Insomnia may be present in a patient as an isolated problem, but it may also be linked to stress, anxiety or other psychological problems such as depression. While 10-15% of adults complain of chronic insomnia (lasting more than 3 months), transient insomnia, which lasts for less time, affects many patients and is often linked to stress or environmental factors (noise, unsuitable sleep environment, etc.).

Where does stress come from?

Stress is one of our body’s “physiological” reactions, which occur when we encounter an unusual event that we interpret as “dangerous”.

In such a situation, the body goes into “alert” mode to increase its chances of survival. While this reaction is perfectly appropriate and effective in a context of real danger, it becomes problematic when it is used on a daily basis to deal with problems at work or in the family. What’s more, stress can trigger sleep difficulties, which in some cases persist even when the triggering factors have been resolved.

Indeed, after several nights of disturbed sleep, insomnia itself can become an additional stress factor, leading the person concerned to become apprehensive about their sleep. Very often, insomniacs then start to change their habits: their bedtime and wake-up rhythms become irregular and they start to carry out different activities in bed (watching TV, working, using the computer or telephone, etc.). These activities, along with sleep-related anxiety, will become factors in maintaining the insomnia, which will be largely responsible for the persistence of the disorder.

Solutions for stress-induced by insomnia

There are several ways of breaking the vicious circle of anxiety:

  • Don’t go over your worries before going to bed: choose a pleasant activity that helps you relax and isn’t too exciting for the brain. Writing your problems down on a piece of paper can also be a way of getting rid of them and not thinking about them in the evening.
  • Get out of bed when you can’t fall asleep: to avoid associating bed with an anxiety-provoking environment, it’s best to get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep after 15 or 20 minutes, and come back in when you’re feeling tired.
  • Don’t go to bed too early: it’s best to go to sleep only when you feel sleepy, so that you don’t spend time in bed waiting for sleep and increase your anxiety levels.
  • Maintain a regular sleep pattern: during the week as well as at weekends, to avoid trying to “catch up on sleep” on days off.
  • Only use the bed for sleeping: avoid any activity that is not compatible with sleep (particularly the use of screens).
    Practise relaxation: Sophrology, breathing exercises and cardiac coherence are just some of the tools you can use to learn to relax and channel your thoughts towards the positive in order to limit the increase in anxiety.
  • Don’t overdramatise occasional bouts of insomnia: there are few people who haven’t already had a bad night! However, if the situation becomes uncontrollable or the insomnia takes hold over time, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Avoid self-medication and seek medical advice instead