By John Lough
Special to The PREVIEW
The coronavirus health crisis that has so terribly affected this nation and the entire world is clearly a cause for heightened levels of stress and anxiety for all of us. One clear result of increased stress for many people is the negative impact it can have on our sleep patterns.
Stress is an emotional, physical or mental tension caused by something that’s outside ourselves, something over which we usually have no control. Such stress can make it more difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep, and can bring about more frequent, and often upsetting, dreams.
While researchers don’t know exactly why we dream, there is ample evidence that when we’re stressed, along with poorer quality sleep, there will often be not only more dreaming, but more dreams of a distressing nature.
If you find that your quality of sleep is decreasing or frequency of stress-related dreams is increasing, there are things you can do to combat the problem. The most obvious is to put a barrier between things that are stressing you and your actual bedtime.
For at least an hour before trying to sleep, commit to activities that you find relaxing and will help refocus your mind off whatever has you feeling anxious. You want to avoid doing things such as watching the news for the latest health crisis updates or reading the paper about ongoing financial problems which can seem overwhelming. Instead, find something enjoyable to read or pleasant music to listen to. You want to give your brain a chance to forget the things that have been worrying it and to give your body’s sleep system a chance to kick in.
Whatever you can do to help relax yourself will make it easier to get good, restorative sleep. Experts recommend turning off those electronic devices well before going to bed. The light that cellphones, laptops and similar devices emit helps to keep us awake, not make us sleepy.
You might try other relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises. Some experts recommend progressive muscle relaxation programs that have you focus on consciously relaxing various muscle groups one by one. There are numerous apps and online instruction programs that can guide you through helpful, calming exercises.
Adequate, sound sleep is vital to good health. Poor sleep and disturbing dreams can make stress much worse. Now is a good time to take action for more restful evenings.
“Counseling Corner” is provided by the American Counseling Association (ACA). Send your comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.