How to Sleep when Stressed and Anxious
Have you ever wondered how to get a restful night’s sleep when you’re feeling stressed and anxious?
Are you up at night, tossing and turning? Worrying about what’s going to happen? Waiting forever to fall back to sleep? Then, just as you do, the alarm rings and you’ve got to get up. Or worse, you never fall back to sleep at all…
We all know that stress affects our sleep. But why are you still not able to sleep for months, maybe years after a stressful event? And how long does it take your body to get back into balance?
Your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis can become so excited by a stressor that you continue to produce way too much adrenaline and cortisol for a long time after the event. When your cortisol levels are running high all the time, you’re in fight or flight mode, and you can’t afford to go to sleep. And high cortisol levels suppress the production of melatonin, so you have trouble falling and staying asleep.
Once the stress is over, then after about 90 days of hypothalamic balancing, your HPA axis calms down and your melatonin production normalizes. Now, if the stressor happened a long time ago, let’s say seven or eight years ago, it’s going to take three months of hypothalamic balancing, plus another seven or eight months to get completely back into balance.
That doesn’t mean you won’t feel better sooner. You’ll start sleeping better, usually within the first 4-6 weeks of hypothalamic support. But in order for your entire hormonal and neuroendocrine system to be in balance, it’s going to take a bit longer. Because you’ve been out of balance for so long, you will probably experience a PTSD recurring response related to the stressful event.
Of course, everybody’s looking for that quick fix. We’re looking for that one pill or that one shot or that one meditation that’ll completely stop all of our symptoms, but it just doesn’t work that way. Real healing takes time.
The re-triggered stressor puts your hypothalamus out of balance, still acting as if it’s in the fight or flight mode, long after the stressful event is over. If that stressor is still coming up in your thoughts, or dreams, you’re getting triggered by something that’s in your environment. Your body will react like the event just happened.
Because your hypothalamus controls your circadian rhythm, it will interfere with your day/night cycles. Some think that the pineal gland, located in the crown chakra and makes melatonin, controls your sleep cycles. However, sleep is actually controlled by your hypothalamus.
One bit of vital information that your hypothalamus is exposed to is light messages. Your optic nerves cross right around your hypothalamus, indicating whether it’s either day or night. Looking at a digital screen after dusk gives your hypothalamus the wrong message, which interferes with your sleep.
Your hypothalamus also responds to cytochrome messages from skin cells that send light messages to tell your hypothalamus. You could be wearing blackout shades over your eyes, but if light is pouring onto your skin, your hypothalamus is still going to react like it’s daytime. You may feel like you’re asleep, but it’s a very, very light sleep, not the deep REM sleep you need. That’s why it’s so important that you sleep in the complete dark.
As soon as the sun comes up in the morning, your hypothalamus is immediately aroused and produces dopamine. Dopamine is that stimulating neurotransmitter that gets our day going, and more importantly, shuts down your prolactin.
Prolactin is the other nocturnal hormone that is rarely mentioned but still super important. Prolactin peaks about three hours after melatonin, and stays high for eight hours. Prolactin’s job at night is to put you in a sedated mode so that your immune system can do its job. Your immune system works best at night under the influence of high nocturnal prolactin levels. That’s when it gets any viruses out of your system, attacks cancer cells, and gets rid of bacteria and fungus. Prolactin must return to low daytime levels or you’ll feel like you’re sleepwalking.
The hypothalamus tells your adrenal glands to produce enough cortisol to get some sugar and allow it to function. Cortisol spikes upon waking in the morning, after you eat, when you exercise, and if you get stressed. The worst time for cortisol to spike is in the middle of the night, when you’re trying to sleep. But if all of a sudden the lights turn on, your hypothalamus is going to respond as if it’s morning by triggering a cortisol spike. You can also have a cortisol spike if you’re stressed, anxious, worried, you had a PTSD reaction to something that happened during your day. If you’re kind of on edge, your hypothalamus is not going to allow your pineal gland to make enough melatonin to put you into deep sleep, because it thinks you’re in danger.
In order to sleep deeply through the night, your hypothalamus needs to be in perfect balance. I personally use and recommend that patients use Genesis Gold®.
Yes, it’s going to take a while to get back in balance after a stressful event. And if we can support ourselves during these current stressors, we’re going to bounce back so much faster, and so much more in balance with our hormones.
You can support your hypothalamus to reduce your stress response by:
- Turning off all the lights at bedtime so that you can go into deeper sleep that will help to quell some of that cortisol.
- Making sure you’re not fueling the stress response by eating more sugar, especially after dark.
- Taking Genesis Gold®. After two to eight weeks, most people feel like their insomnia has improved enough that they’re sleeping deeply at night. And after eight to twelve weeks, they’re starting to remember their dreams, which is a really good sign that you’re not only making enough melatonin but they are making enough prolactin. And that helps your immune system do it’s best job to protect you at night.