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Stress: Making a Good Night's Sleep Go Bad

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Every night it’s the same. I find myself surrounded only by darkness, hear nothing but the sound of my heart beating. I’m walking through the corridors of what seems to be a shell of my once familiar home.

Confused about where I am, fear coursing through my body …

I turn a corner …

Then someone grabs me.

A rush of terror and it’s over. I wake to the sound of my own panicked breathing and the whirring of a fan overhead. It was just a dream, a bad one.

Stress is one of the leading causes attributed to reoccurring bad dreams. Feelings of anxiety and dread that occur throughout the day affect the quality and quantity of sleep we get on a nightly basis. The continuous cycle of a stressful day and restless night can rapidly deteriorate your quality of life and take a toll on other aspects of life such as your professional productivity, personal relationships, and overall health.

Sleep is very important to our health. During the night our bodies go through cycles of R.E.M. and N.R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement and Non-Rapid Eye Movement). These cycles are then broken down into various stages that contribute to the quality or deepness of sleep you receive. Most of the night is taken up by N.R.E.M., a light sleep, while your body adjusts to the temperatures of the surroundings, regulates your heart beat and breathing, and muscles relax. In the most restorative stage of the night your blood pressure drops, some tissue and muscle restoration occurs, and energy is restored.

R.E.M. occurs every 90 minutes during the night and lasts for an extended period of time as you fall further and further into sleep. This is the time during the night when dreams occur. Your brain is active but your muscles are virtually turned off. Nightmares, or bad dreams, occur during R.E.M. sometimes jolting us out of an otherwise pleasant sleep. Disrupting this stage of your sleep cycle greatly affects the quality of sleep you will receive that night. The feeling of terror, fear, or anxiety that occurred in your dream may not go away when you wake, affecting the way you feel for the rest of the day.

Stress is often brought on gradually by overwhelming feelings of anxiety and pressure. Other forms of stress happen more quickly with the loss of a loved one or the occurrence of a traumatic experience, or experiences. Ways to treat stress and anxiety vary by person but can be alleviated by exercise, some form of meditation, or expressing your emotions and frustrations by talking with others.

Also, poor sleeping habits may often result in poor sleep. Finding a time to go to bed and wake up that works for you is important, leaving you alert and ready for the day while not interfering with the day’s responsibilities. When you find a rhythm that works for you, you may find yourself to be more relaxed and able to enjoy sleep for the sake of re-energizing your body and mind for another day.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.