How is stress linked to sleep disturbances?
Anxiety and sleep disorders have a strong reciprocal relationship. Anxiety can cause or worsen sleep problems and bad sleep quality can be the reason for elevated anxiety levels. This is because the regions of the brain related to stress have strong connections with the regions related to sleep. This fact makes perfect sense if we think that under some circumstances, when stress is useful in order to take immediate action, it is also very important to be alert and awake. For example, if we imagine we are sleeping out in the wild our sleep would need to be less deep in order to identify and react to possible danger and therefore a higher alert level would be necessary. In everyday modern society we often feel we need to be very alert in different situations up to the point that our stress mechanism gets over-stimulated and anxiety is created. In the case of anxiety, the brain feels that there is a constant danger and thus, tries to keep the body as alert as possible and therefore sleep is disturbed.
How can we handle stress in therapy?
Learning how to overcome anxiety and handle everyday stress in a productive manner is often necessary in order to overcome sleep disturbances and other negative symptoms/consequences of stress.
Part of this is understanding how the body and brain works under stressful conditions and how this can affect everyday functions such as sleep, memory and mood. Then, via relaxation techniques, mindfulness and cognitive reprocessing of negative beliefs and habits we find different ways of breaking the negative circle of stress.