Well-Being//

Poor Sleep Is Even Worse for People with Chronic Stress, According To New Research

The study author explains what to do to get better rest.

Fernando Trabanco Fotografía / Getty Images
Fernando Trabanco Fotografía / Getty Images

Quality sleep is crucial for physical and mental health: It contributes to everything from self-esteem to memory function to academic success, according to an extensive body of scientific research. Now a new study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, adds to the conversation by looking at the particular impact of poor sleep on people who are already under the intense stress of grieving. Unsurprisingly, having difficulty getting rest will add to the already negative health effects of profound grief. But if you are dealing with a death in your family or close circle, and are having trouble sleeping, there are steps you can take to mitigate the negative health effects, lead study author Diana A. Chirinos, Ph.D, research assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, tells Thrive Global.

Chirinos found that poor sleep resulted in increased inflammation, which is linked to long-term health risks like cardiovascular disease. The relationship between poor sleep and inflammation was consistent across study participants, but the effect was significantly more pronounced in study participants who had recently lost a partner.

These results are likely the product of the increased stress faced by grieving people, Chirinos explains. Chronic stress, whether that comes from grief, long-term work-related anxiety, or any other source, contributes to an exaggerated response when the body is faced with a new stressor like suddenly experiencing poor sleep. Chirinos notes that her study’s results, then, have implications for other groups under chronic stress.

Poor sleep was defined by the study as a low percentage of time that participants were actually asleep when they were in bed, equating roughly to insomnia — waking up in the middle of the night, or struggling to fall asleep. If you struggle with this, whether you’re grieving, or under another kind of chronic stress, Chirinios’s suggestions on getting a better night’s sleep can help.

Consider whether your poor sleep is linked to temporary stressors

Chirinios points out that sometimes we can experience bouts of insomnia due to temporary pressures, like a big work project or having lots of holiday houseguests. If the pressure is not long-term, there’s no reason to feel overly concerned. Your sleep will likely go back to normal once that stressor is removed. If it’s a longer-term problem, however, try her other tips.

Avoid daytime naps if you can

While naps are a healthy way to recharge during the day for most people, research suggests, Chirinios explains that for those with insomnia, it’s best to resist these sleep “snacks.” If you hold off from sleeping until bedtime, you’ll help build up your sleep “hunger” to high enough levels that they’ll effectively help you drift off once you get in bed.

Wake up at the same time every day

Many people with insomnia, including those dealing with grief-induced sleep troubles, Chirinios says, will wake up at widely varying times every day, taking sleep where they can get it. But this can change and confuse your inner biological clock, making it even harder to get yourself onto a healthy sleep schedule. It’s best to wake up at the same time every day. By resetting your body’s relationship to sleep, and getting it used to a consistent habit, you get yourself closer to a better and fuller night of rest.

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