Sleep Like a Baby: Help for the Stressed, Anxious and Depressed

Jan 11, 2021

I recently heard someone say they felt like life was an uphill slosh through molasses.  Can you relate?  Sometimes it seems like everything is sooooo hard. Everything is a struggle. Nothing goes easy or goes as planned. Everything feels overwhelming! You end up stressed or depressed.

Well, what I’ve discovered is 80-90% of the time when a person has anxiety or depression, they have a sleep problem too.  In fact, when I recently asked some of my Stress Busters what topic they wanted to hear more about, sleep topped the list.

Stress and sleep form a cycle: You are stressed so you have a hard time sleeping.  The lack of sleep causes you to feel less productive, more irritated and more stressed or depressed.  This causes even more sleep problems.  

What you may not know is behind the scenes the cycle actually happening in your body is this: elevated cortisol levels from stress cause insomnia, and insomnia and fatigue create stress, which causes more cortisol production. Getting at least 8 hours of restful, uninterrupted sleep will help bring cortisol levels back to normal.  

A lack of sleep or a lack of good quality of sleep will affect your mood and will shorten your fuse.  You know what I mean by that? A lack of sleep will cause you to get angry, snap at others, or just generally “lose it” over things that at other times wouldn’t bother you or you could at least deal with better.

If you have low grade anxiety and depression all the time, mental fog, the inability to finish a thought, or stay focused your quantity and quality of sleep could be the issue.

In the early 1900’s, the average American got 9 hours of sleep per night compared to today’s 7 hours.  An estimated sixty million Americans suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders.  About 40% of these people link stress and emotional factors to their insomnia.  

Many people are cutting their sleep due to working 50 or more hours per week. They feel the need to cut sleep because they have so much they need to do or need time to unwind before sleep.  Well, you might be adding more hours to your day today when you do that but you are probably subtracting hours from your life on the other end.  

God designed our bodies to need sleep. 

  • This down time every night restores, removes and replaces worn-out dead cells in the body.

  • We also need adequate sleep to give the brain an opportunity to sort out the information of the day.  It’s a break from sensory input in order to categorize and store information.
  • Important hormones are secreted during sleep.  Growth hormone is not just important for the growth of children but in regulating muscle mass and controlling fat in adults.  As we age this hormone production decreases.  A lack of sleep further lowers it.  If you are overweight this could be part of the problem.

  • Leptin is also secreted during sleep.  This hormone has a direct influence on appetite and weight control.  It tells you when you are full.  If, due to a lack of sleep, this hormone isn’t regulated, you could have difficulty in curbing appetite and overeat.  

  • Adequate sleep slows the aging process and the visible effects associated with aging.  You’ve heard of getting your beauty sleep, right?  Well, it’s a real thing.  Sleep slows the aging process.  How well a person sleeps is one of the most important predictors of how long a person will live.

  • Sleep boosts the immune system.  Your doctor tells you to get plenty of rest when you are sick because it’s very effective.  If you sleep 9 hours versus 7, you have greater than normal natural killer cell activity.  Natural killer cells destroy viruses, bacteria and cancer cells.

  • Adequate sleep lowers cortisol levels.  Elevated cortisol levels are associated with many diseases.  Sleep will lower the level of cortisol. 

  • Adequate sleep improves brain function.  Your brain can’t handle prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels.  It will impair your memory or cause memory loss.  High cortisol levels can also cause you to become more irritable and more prone to depression and anxiety.

  • You have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes when you have a lack of sleep.

  • Inadequate sleep will cause an Impairment of cognition and motor performance.  People who were awake for up to nineteen hours without sleep scored significantly worse on performance tests and tests of alertness skills than those with a blood alcohol level of .08, which is legally drunk!

  • A lack of sleep will lower your sex drive.

I do realize that stress is not the only cause of insomnia. The top 7 conditions associated with insomnia in a recent sleep poll were depression, nighttime heartburn, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, heart disease and arthritis.  Some medications can also cause insomnia such as Excedrin, decongestants, prednisone, thyroid medications, asthma medications and some antidepressants to name a few.  Working 3rd shift, being pregnant or waking to feed a baby can all also affect our sleep.  

So, how can we get better sleep?

  1. We must value sleep.  It’s not a luxury.  It is a necessity for health. I saw on Facebook recently a post that said something like, "Not taking care of your health is like buying everything on credit."  At some point you will have to pay or you will run out of resources.  

  2. Consider your night time routine.  Heart pounding tv shows and adrenaline pumping video games, fear invoking nightly news in the last few hours before going to bed will cause you to try to sleep in a heightened emotional state (usually a negative state).  

  3. Avoid caffeine which is an extremely common cause of insomnia.  Coffee, tea, soda and chocolate all have caffeine as well as some medicines.  Caffeine is a stimulant that increases adrenaline and cortisol.  It can remain in the body for up to 20 hours.  Try to limit it to one cup and early in the morning.  Nicotine works in the same way as a stimulant.  

  4. Avoid alcohol which might help you fall asleep but it disrupts the stages of sleep, causing you to sleep lighter and awaken feeling less refreshed.  

  5. Avoid foods high in sugar and processed carbohydrates as they will stimulate excessive insulin release from the pancreas.  Think ice cream or potato chips (most favorite night time snacks). The sugar high gives you a boost of energy making it more difficult to get to sleep.  Then your blood sugar hits a low while you are sleeping,  triggering the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline and cortisol, which makes you wake up and stay awake.  A light evening snack that is balanced in proteins, carbs and fats can help you go to bed not feeling hungry and stabilize your blood sugar.

  6. God made our bodies to stay in sync with nature.  When the sun goes down we are triggered to go to sleep and when the sun comes up we are to get up.  We’ve tricked our bodies into staying up later with artificial light.  Melatonin is a hormone that produces feelings of relaxation or being drowsy.  The amount of light that reaches the eyes determines the amount of melatonin produced.  This is why you feel more alert on sunny days and more lethargic on cloudy days.  In the evening, your body gradually starts producing melatonin as the eye sees less light and when light hits your eyes in the morning, it starts to decrease.  You can see how bright TV and phone screens can impact this release of melatonin making you still feel alert when it’s time for bed.

  7. Structured days with routines can help long into the night.  Having regular mealtimes, regular exercise times, regular rhythms of chores (what you do when) can all set you up to feel like you accomplished a lot and can relax and go to sleep at nighttime.  

  8. Speaking of exercise, regular aerobic exercise has been shown repeatedly to help people fall asleep faster and sleep longer and sounder.  Those who exercise regularly spend a greater amount of sleep in stage 3 and 4 which are the most restorative stages of sleep.  But don’t exercise within 3 hours of sleep because you temporarily raise your stress hormones during exercise.  

  9. I personally have found a colder bedroom to help me sleep well at night.  So, consider the temperature of your room.

  10.  A good mattress and pillow is going to be worth the money.  You spend ⅓ of your life sleeping.

  11. Deal with snoring problems.  Snoring is usually from being overweight.  And 10-15 pounds can make a big difference.  

  12. Jesus was a great sleeper.  In Luke 8, we see Him asleep in a boat with His disciples in the middle of a storm.  They were seasoned fishermen who were really scared they were doing to drown so the boat must have been really rocking.  They had to wake Jesus up, He was so sound asleep.  Jesus had perfect peace that His father would take care of Him.  It allowed Him to go to sleep.  Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”  

    You can keep your mind stayed on God by memorizing Scripture and if you can’t go to sleep or if you wake up and can’t go back to sleep, start meditating on that Scripture.  You can’t do that and at the same time think about your problems and worries.  I’ve never found it works to simply say I’m going to stop worrying.  I have to replace the thoughts with a focus on God and His Word.

  13. Carrying a heavy load where you feel the responsibility of the world or even just your family on your shoulders can keep you awake.  That’s a weight you were never designed to carry.  It is crushing you.  Give it to someone who can actually do something about it!  How?  Try journaling before bed to get everything out of your head and onto the paper.  It’s a mental dump. You want to finish each day and be done with it.

    I heard of one person who kept a calendar on the wall next to their office door.  It was one of those calendars where you had one page for each day.  And as they left the office each day, they ripped off that day’s calendar page and crumpled it up and threw it in the wastebasket telling themselves, “I did the best that I could.  Now today is done and there is nothing I can do about what I did or didn’t do.  Tomorrow is another day and we’ll start again then.”  They were able to leave the office in peace each day.

  14. Honor the Sabbath.  God didn’t give us the Sabbath as another rule to keep.  It’s not another thing we have to do to be found acceptable to Him.  No, it’s a gift.  He gives us the Sabbath because He honors us so much that He doesn’t treat us like slaves who never have a day off.  Use this gift to get restored, refreshed and ready for the next week.

  15. Keep a notebook and pen by the bed and before you go to sleep or when you wake up at night and you are thinking about all the things you need to do tomorrow and things you don’t want to forget, write them down so they have a safe place to go and your brain can rest.

  16. If you just can’t sleep, get up and do something like reading instead of laying there thinking of all replaying the day’s events in your head and getting stressed that you can’t sleep.  

  17. Dealing with your stress, worry and fear in general like you are by listening to this podcast and all the stress busting tips you receive, is going to lower your cortisol levels when applied and will help you to get a better night’s sleep.

Let me leave you with three great sleep Scriptures to pray over yourself:

Psalm 4:8 “Now, because of you, Lord, I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once, for no matter what happens, I will live unafraid!”

Prov 3:24 “You will sleep like a baby, safe and sound—your rest will be sweet and secure.”

Psalm 3:5 “So now I’ll lie down and sleep like a baby—then I’ll awake in safety, for you surround me with your glory.”

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Expert interviews, mini coaching plans, and meaty Bible teaching… all tied together to help me bust through my stress, worry and fear so I can reign in life for the glory of God.