HuffPost Stress-Less Challenge, Day 9: Break The Sleep/Stress Cycle

beautiful girl sleeps in the bedroom
beautiful girl sleeps in the bedroom

Welcome to Day 9 of HuffPost Healthy Living's 14-Day Stress-Less Challenge! In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, our goal is to use these two weeks to focus on becoming less stressed and more calm. Today's expert is Chris Winter, M.D., medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center, who will be examining the link between stress and sleep. Read through today's challenge, then tell us -- either in the comments, on Facebook or @HealthyLiving -- how it's going. Just joining us? Catch up on what you've missed here and sign up to receive future newsletters for the rest of the challenge here.

It's a vicious cycle: A stressful day keeps us tossing and turning way past our bedtimes. And then a bad night's sleep exacerbates stress the next day -- in fact, one study found that just 24 hours of sleep deprivation significantly ups the stress hormone levels in our body.

What's worse, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, three quarters of adults who report their stress or anxiety affects sleep also say sleep issues exacerbates stress and anxiety.

"In the sleep world, stress is to sleep as yin is to yang -- opposite forces that are forever linked," Winter says. "Stress prevents sleep. Sleep deprivation increases stress and its consequences."

More than half of people report that stress ups anxiety about falling asleep at night, according to ADAA. But as anyone who has watched the glaring red alarm clock numbers tick by through the night can attest, stressing about falling asleep only makes things worse. "Think about your sleep as a skill," Winter says. "It is something that requires effort and some work. It also requires confidence." Try his three tips tonight:

-"When you get into bed tonight, approach the night in a completely different way. Instead of 'trying to go to sleep,' try to do something different. Try to name as many presidents as possible. Build an imaginary dream house in your mind. Still not asleep? Then decorate the house. Pick a movie. Name an actor in the movie. Now name another film that actor is in and repeat. The point is to give yourself a task that does not involve trying to fall asleep," Winter says. "While you are struggling to name another actor in Cast Away, your mind is moving its focus away from sleep initiation, which is helpful for sleep."

-If you went to lunch with a group one day with friends and you didn't feel hungry, would you feel anxious about it? Probably not. We have faith in our bodies that we'll eventually be able to eat. Try the same approach to sleep, Winter suggests. Instead of stressing about falling asleep, trust that your body will make it happen. Working yourself up over an inability to sleep will only perpetuate the problem.

-"Meditation and deep breathing can be helpful too. Feeling stressed in bed? Do what the Pirates do to reduce stress: 4-4-4. Bernie Holliday, the mental conditioning coordinator of the Pittsburgh Pirates advocates the following tactic when stress levels are high," Winter says. "Breathe in for a four second count and exhale for a four second count. Do this four times (hence the 4-4-4). In these powerful 32 seconds, you can quickly move your mental stoplight from red to green."

Are stress and sleep linked for you? Send your answers to HealthyLiving@huffingtonpost.com, Tweet us @HealthyLiving or post to our Facebook wall.

Stress-Less Fact Of The Day: Burned out at work? Fido can help. A study published earlier this month in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management found that people who brought their dogs to work reported decreased levels of stress, HuffPost reported at the time.