Sleeping Well in Hard Times

What You Can Do to Avoid Sleep Problems and Rest More Easily

From the WebMD Archives

Watching coverage of world events, we find ourselves virtually on the battlefield, in real time, round the clock. The images and scenes are vivid, intense, and seemingly everywhere. Adding that to the seemingly endless stresses of everyday life may cause sleep problems for many.

In times of conflict and stress, anxiety runs high, and many of us have problems falling asleep and staying asleep. In a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, those surveyed were more likely to rate their sleep as fair/poor on nights immediately following the attacks compared with a typical night. They were also more likely to have experienced symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights a week. Troubling dreams and nightmares were not uncommon as well.

Stress-related insomnia may be transient, lasting a day or two, or it may be short-term, lasting two to three weeks. In either case, sleep should return to normal with resolution of the stress.

The consequences of sleep problems go beyond feeling anxious, fatigued, and sleepy, because poor sleep can significantly impact our mood, energy, concentration, and performance. So what can we do to sleep more soundly? We can take action to reduce anxiety and make lifestyle choices that support sound sleep.

Seek Support

Getting reassurance that sleep problems or temporary insomnia is a natural response to stress and that it will be resolved is often quite helpful.

Simply sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with someone can reduce the anxiety and stress that intrude upon our sleep. Those with whom you have an established relationship may prove most helpful and may include a friend, clergy, or perhaps a therapist.

Take Action

Keeping a stress-relief journal has been shown to be quite effective for many. Record the stresses daily, and then create a solution and action plan. Getting things out of your head and on paper clarifies issues and feelings, allowing you to understand better what is upsetting you and get a sense of control that reduces anxiety.

Participating, doing something -- no matter how small -- can provide a sense of meaning and purpose that decreases the feelings of a lack of control and the anxiety they cause. You may wish to make a donation of time and/or money, help others, join a rally, or speak out in some way.