The Role of Sleep in Stress Management

By Cindy Roe and Marie-Lise Baroutjian

NY Project Hope is a crisis counseling program that provides support and resources to help people cope with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

woman waking up in bedHeavenly and delightful, restful and refreshing, or elusive, erratic, and exhausting?  At first glance, you might think that these terms are describing two completely different things.  However, these words can all describe the quality of one thing that all of us humans need on a daily basis; sleep. Why is it that something as simple as sleeping can, at times, feel heavenly and delightful, and leave us feeling well rested and refreshed, while at other times it’s so completely elusive and erratic that we’re perpetually exhausted?  Read on to learn more about the connection between sleep and stress, along with some tips for getting more Zzzzz’s.

What happens when we sleep and why is it so important? 

Our bodies heal and grow-First and foremost, getting enough rest and sleep is important because it’s during sleep when our bodies regenerate and grow new cells.  That’s why we might feel more tired and sleep more when we’re sick.  Plus, stress can lead to us being unable to   enter the deeper levels of sleep that are necessary for healing and growth; when we’re anxious we might struggle with turning off the troubling thoughts, so we toss and turn.  And, since their brains are not fully developed until around age 25, getting adequate sleep is extra important for teens and young adults, who tend to pull all-nighters to do anything other than sleeping.

woman in bed but awakeStress, worry and anxiety raise the levels of cortisol in the bloodstream-As a natural response to stress, our bodies automatically increase production of this fight or flight hormone, which in turn fires up our heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, while also reducing the flow of melatonin, the neurochemical that governs our body’s sleep/wake cycle.  The result?  Tossing, turning, and heightened frustration levels that can leave us feeling irritable, cranky, and with a bad case of brain-fog the next day.

Need to get more Zzzz’s?  Check out this video  about the role of sleep in reducing stress by Independent Living’s own Robert Ferrer, and try these other helpful tips:

alarm clockStick to a schedule that gives you enough rest-consistency in your bed and wakeup times is crucial for keeping your circadian rhythm in check, so be sure to go to bed at the same time each night, and rise at the same every morning.  Also turn in early enough to give yourself at least 7 to 8 hours of rest.  If you must sleep in on the weekends, don’t overdo it; staying in bed for an extra hour max every once in a while will still satisfy your sleep cravings without sabotaging your healthy shuteye routine.

Create a bedtime ritual-the 2 to 3 hours before bedtime should be your time to wind-down and relax; enjoy a warm bath or shower, complete with scented bubble bath and lotion (try Lavender & Vanilla from Origins, a personal fave); a soothing cup of non-caffeinated herbal tea (chamomile or lavender are top choices); grab a book, magazine, or try your hand at some word search or sudoku puzzles.

Give yourself a screen break-not only has recent research found that the blue light emitting from our tech devices interferes with our body’s ability to release melatonin, if we become engrossed in texting and perusing social media, we’re inadvertently focusing our attention away from the relaxed state we need to fall asleep.

Do some self-care during the day-getting into the habit of devoting some time to focus on our own needs throughout the day will leave us feeling more at ease when bedtime rolls around.  This can include spending a few minutes preparing for the next day; jotting down some things for your to-do list, or a couple of sentences about your worries or problems to journal about later can help ease your mind, since you won’t forget to address those things later on.  Likewise, since keeping your work and home space organized and tidy will help prevent you from becoming frustrated and stressed because you can’t find something you need in the first place, you’ll find it easier to relax at the end of the day.    

Do some journaling-as mentioned earlier, since putting our thoughts on paper helps get them out of our heads, writing our hearts out about what’s been bugging us can leave us feeling less weighed down, which is conducive to better quality sleep.

Prefer to talk it out?  While these tips can be helpful in managing stress, it’s also important to remember that, particularly now- given the ways that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed so much about daily life- feeling stressed out is a normal and completely common reaction.  Asking for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed is always okay, whether from a family member, friend, or spiritual advisor, and the Crisis Counselors for NY Project Hope at Independent Living are always available to help, since sometimes it can be helpful to talk to someone you don’t know. Want to know more about how we can help?  Give us a call at 845-762-2275-talking to us is always free, voluntary, and confidential.

Visit Independent Living Inc. on Facebook, Instagram, or on the web at for more blogs, tips and videos on stress management techniques and coping strategies. #iliprojecthope.

Cindy Roe and Marie-Lise Baroutjian are crisis counselors from Independent Living, Inc. working with the NY Project Hope program.


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