How Psychotherapy and Sleep Reduce Stress

Have you been tossing and turning and not feeling your best? Seeking out therapy is one important step towards physical and mental wellbeing, and it's one we believe in to our cores. But there are other parts of our regular upkeep that can be just as essential -- things like eating well and exercising, taking breaks to recharge, and getting enough sleep.

This week on the My Wellbeing blog, we're partnering with Sleep Help to learn more about why sleep is so critical, how to get better sleep, and how both sleep and psychotherapy can reduce stress and fit into our search for wellbeing.

  Developing good sleep habits gives you the best chance at healthy emotional regulation and clear thinking, both of which work toward lowering your stress levels.

Developing good sleep habits gives you the best chance at healthy emotional regulation and clear thinking, both of which work toward lowering your stress levels.

In today’s fast-paced world, stress interferes with more people’s lives than ever. The onset of stress can increase the heart rate, tighten the muscles, or shorten the breath, but that’s only the beginning. Prolonged stress can lead to moodiness, low self-esteem, depression, headaches, upset stomach, insomnia, and a host of other symptoms that can interfere with daily life.

There are practical ways to reduce anxiety and gain control of thoughts and emotions. Getting a full night’s sleep -- that’s seven to eight hours for most adults -- and getting outside help from a psychotherapist can help you develop the skills you need to not only manage stress but also reduce its negative effects in your life.


The Importance of Sleep

You can’t have good mental health without having a body functioning at its best. Any time you get less than seven hours of sleep, you’re in some state of sleep deprivation. In this state, the body starts to change the way it works.

Neurons in the brain slow down, leading to changes in reasoning skills, decision-making abilities, and reaction times. Without adequate rest, the brain doesn’t have time to prune and strengthen connections made during the day, which further slows down your thinking process.

The changes in the brain also cause fluctuating moods. Chronic sleep loss causes irritability, increased aggression, and -- you guessed it -- stress. Often, sleep deprivation and stress create a feedback loop. The more sleep you lose, the more your moods fluctuate and the harder it is to handle negative situations, which in turn leads to more stress.

The good news: you can change your sleep habits right away. Developing good sleep habits gives you the best chance at healthy emotional regulation and clear thinking, both of which work toward lowering your stress levels.

Good sleep starts with a bedroom devoted solely to rest. That means an affordable mattress that’s comfortable in a room that’s dark, quiet, and cool at night. After that, it’s about developing healthy sleep habits like:

  • A consistent bedtime

  • A bedtime routine

  • Turning off screens an hour before bed

  • Eating an early, light dinner

  • Exercising regularly

  • Avoiding stimulants four hours before bed

  • Avoiding naps


Change How You Think with a Psychotherapist

A licensed psychotherapist can help you learn the skills you need to examine the source of your stress and how to handle it in a healthy way. There are many methods and strategies used in psychotherapy but those used for stress revolve around recognizing and changing the thoughts that keep you awake at night and unable to function during the day. These tactics can be part of a form of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and can also be used to address insomnia.

Therapy can help you stop the cycle of stress and sleep loss. Some methods that may be used include:

  • Relaxation Techniques: With practice, relaxation techniques can help you relieve tension and reduce stress before bed. Controlled breathing, biofeedback, and muscle relaxation are all relaxation techniques that can be learned in psychotherapy.

  • Light Therapy: Sometimes an out-of-sync internal clock can lead to falling asleep or waking too early. Light therapy helps to reset your internal clock so that you’re on a regular sleep schedule.

  • Passive Wakefulness: This method involves getting in bed with the intention of staying awake. Stress and anxiety may be reduced when there’s no pressure to fall asleep.

Other methods may involve recognizing stressful thoughts and altering them into a positive pattern. Rather than dwelling on the past or future, these methods keep you in the present, so your mind learns to live in the moment.

Psychotherapy can help you develop the tools you need to keep stress under control and get more sleep.


Thank you for sharing with us, Sleep Help! SleepHelp.org is an independently owned and operated, unbiased sleep resource dedicated to bettering your waking life by improving your sleep problems.

About the author: Samantha (Sam) Kent is a researcher for SleepHelp.org. Her favorite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face.