Sleep problems affect about one in every three persons worldwide. In the US alone, up to 70 million individuals suffer from sleep deficiencies, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to consider insufficient sleep as a public health epidemic.
This pervasive health issue is not surprising, especially because stress is identified as one of the main reasons for sleep deprivation. In this day and age when stressful situations surround us wherever we go, it’s important to keep our heads cool, especially as chronic stress exacerbates serious health issues.
We may not have control over toxic bosses, traffic jams, family fights, relationship strains, and whatnot. But, at the end of the day, we can take steps to improve our sleep quality and avoid long-term stress.
What makes dozing off important and how does stress affect the quality of our sleep? What can we do to achieve a good night’s sleep? We’ve got some answers right here.
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep is an important physiological process that facilitates growth, development, and restoration. Research has shown that a deep slumber facilitates and regulates a wide range of bodily processes, such as muscle repair, brain restoration, and weight regulation, to name a few.
Strengthens the immune system.
Sufficient sleep strengthens the immune system, allowing us to fight infections and diseases better. Researchers found that sound sleep encourages the production of immune cells known as T cells which are immune cells that fight against intracellular pathogens or virus-infected cells in the cases of flu, HIV, herpes, and cancer.
When we sleep, our brain recaps the day’s events and string it to form part of our long-term memory. This process, simply called consolidation, is important in building memory retention. Without this process, we tend to forget things when we lack sleep.
Keeps attention span.
Ever wonder why, after sleeping inadequately, you feel you’re very slow? That’s because a lack of shuteye impacts our short-term memory and attention span negatively. Researchers studying the importance of sleep also found out that children who have less than eight hours of sleep on a regular basis were more likely to develop attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Regulates stress levels.
Stress can impact us in a lot of ways, almost always in a bad one. In fact, chronic stress can exacerbate serious diseases such as heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders, high blood pressure, and stomach issues.
A deep slumber can help regulate the various hormones that promote sleep, among them the growth hormones and melatonin. Sleeping can also help reduce high levels of cortisol triggered by stress. Cortisol is responsible for increased blood pressure and blood vessel constriction. In turn, regulated cortisol levels could help control blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, regulate metabolism, and enhance memory formulation.
Promotes a healthy heart.
As the body’s cortisol levels are reduced, blood pressure is likewise regulated, and, in turn, prevents the heart from working too hard to pump blood around the body.
Minimizes weight gain.
It seems heightened levels of cortisol brings nothing but bad things to the body. Besides messing up with the body’s sugar and blood pressure levels, cortisol can also increase fluid retention and impede or slow down metabolism, resulting in weight gain.
Helps reduce inflammation.
A high-quality slumber helps reduce C-reactive protein which are inflammatory proteins found in our blood, that, when left unimpeded, exacerbates the body’s inflammatory processes, leading to arthritis and cardiovascular diseases.
How Does Stress Happen?
The acute stress response refers to the physiological changes that undergo in the body when we are faced with physically or mentally terrifying situations. It allows us to react to threats, whether real or imagined.
Stress is one of the key drivers for human survival. By activating the flight-or-fight response, stress allowed our ancestors to deal with dangerous situations in the early stage of evolution.
When faced with stressful situations, a human being’s endocrine system releases adrenaline and cortisol hormones, responsible for physical manifestations that include; pale or flushed skin, dilated pupils, trembling, and rapid breathing and heart rates. The release of cortisol and other stress hormones causes a burst of energy that prepares you to fight or flee from a real and present threat.
What is Chronic Stress?
The National Sleep Foundation survey indicated that 43 percent of people aged 13–64 reported having sleep disruptions due to stress, at least, once in the past month.
As a normal biological response to threats, stress cannot be avoided. Feelings of stress can cause a heightened state of arousal. In normal conditions, the hormone cortisol decreases once the stressful event has passed. However, in some individuals, the state of heightened alertness stays longer than the ideal period.
If such situations happen too often, it can create and cause further health problems. If one does not know how to manage it, this state can remain for long periods, negatively impacting the physical and mental state of an individual.
Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders triggered by chronic stress. It affects up to a third of the total adult population, with most cases likely undiagnosed, as most sufferers may be unaware of the symptoms. Persons with insomnia experience trouble falling and staying asleep in spite of the time allotted for slumber or the high level of comfort offered by their bedroom.
Most insomniacs experience symptoms like excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, irritability, forgetfulness, and trouble concentrating, leading to reduced productivity while a sufferer is awake.
When sleeplessness occurs, at least, three times a week and run for, at least, three months, the condition becomes chronic insomnia.
How Chronic Stress Affects Sleep
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal access (HPA) is the body’s central stress response system. It plays an important role in regulating the 24-hour sleep-wake cycle too. Chronic stress is shown to trigger HPA access hyperactivity, reduced sleep duration, poorer sleep quality, impaired memory, and erratic mood regulation, exacerbating stress.
Being in an active state for a prolonged period, a stressed person will find it difficult to relax and become comfortable, two key factors for deep slumber. Even worse, this heightened state may also force the sufferer to develop anxiety.
If your body is in a prolonged state of stress, it could interpret that you’re in always in danger, which, in turn, keeps you awake. Many adults who suffer from sleeplessness report that the length and quality of their sleep were much shorter when their stress levels were high.
How to Achieve Better Sleep
There are about 80 types of sleep disorders responsible for sleep disruptions. Besides stress, insomnia, narcolepsy, caffeine, medications, and certain health conditions can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep.
If your sleep problems are triggered by or made worse by stress, one of the best things to do is to perform relaxation techniques. These techniques include emotional engagement or disengagement. Here are a few more:
This practice aims to improve your stress response by teaching your body to relax. Meditation also improves your control of the autonomic nervous system which predominantly controls our fight-or-flight response and regulates bodily functions. Meditation promotes deep sleep through these functions:
- increases the sleep hormone called melatonin
- boosts serotonin hormones (the precursor of melatonin)
- reduces heart rate
- decreases blood pressure
Apart from serious physical conditions, stress is often the main cause of sleep problems. Calm yourself before going to bed by practicing muscle relaxation which eases tension and yoga, among other methods.
Performing deep breathing is a great way to ease tension, allowing your body to relax before going to sleep. Experts recommend the 4-7-8 technique, which includes: inhaling for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. Repeat the steps until you feel calm, relaxed, and ready to doze off.
Sleep therapists recommend exercising as a way to reduce stress and to promote a quality shut-eye, and it’s not only because it tires you out. Working out early morning and afternoon could help correct your circadian rhythm, too, slightly increasing your body temperature and setting off sleepiness once your temperature drops a few hours later.
Increase sunlight exposure.
Besides helping your body clock adjust properly, sunlight can encourage cortisol production by warming up the body. It’s also said to promote serotonin production, another hormone that helps regulate sleep.
Supplements may also offer help you doze off. Health supplements can replicate the sleep-promoting effects of melatonin, a hormone naturally produced by the body, which sends signals to the brain when it’s time to sleep.
Maintain work-life balance.
You might be working from home these days and are tempted to do overtime for a salary increase. To maintain work-life balance, don’t take your work to your bedroom. Separate your workspace from your bedroom, and don’t do anything else related to work while you’re in your bedroom.
Create a “Zen” bedroom.
As comfort and relaxation are keys to getting a good night’s sleep, you need to assess your bedroom and check whether there are things that you need to change in to achieve a much-needed break. Here are a few questions to consider:
Do you have the right mattress and pillows?
Your choice of mattress and pillows influence the quality of sleep you get. A mattress that eases pressure on your body should give you a good night’s sleep, but requirements still depend on the person.
If you’re struggling to doze off and often wake up with back problems, check whether it’s time to buy a new mattress. An ideal mattress is firm, but not hard.
A soft pillow to sleep on could likewise prevent a restless night. Consider products like US Made Buckwheat Pillows to doze off on and achieve sound sleep.
Is the light becoming heavy on your eyes?
Your body’s circadian rhythm, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle, can get disturbed when one travels to a different time zone or works on a night shift. Too much light can prevent you from sleeping too.
Blackout curtains or blinds can help to prevent any external light, ensuring your bedroom remains dark all night long. Otherwise, try adjusting ambient light in your home for a more restful sleep.
Are you keeping it cool?
A cooler room might be better to help you sleep well because lower temperature helps speed up the sleeping process. Apparently, a cold room temperature ranging from 60 to 68 degrees promotes melanin production. Hence, if you have a programmable aircon unit, set it to the said temperature to help you doze off.
Keep devices away.
Electronic devices such as televisions, computers, cell phones, and others emit a blue light that can impede your sleep. Keep them out of your bedroom if you can manage. If not, avoid using these electronics, at least, one hour before bedtime.
Maintain a strict sleep-wake schedule.
To help regulate or correct your body’s circadian rhythm, sleep and wake up at the same times daily. No matter how tempting, maintain this schedule even during the weekends and when on vacation.
Avoid consuming alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, and nicotine two to three hours before going to bed. Besides giving you indigestion, caffeine will prevent you from dozing off. In addition, all the fluids you consumed will likely wake you up because of the need to use the bathroom.
The Negative Impacts of Sleep Deprivation
Adequate sleep helps to ensure your mind and body are prepared for the next day, and it helps you function better. However, many people struggle to have deep sleep., If you’re part of the statistics, here are why you should address the issue as soon as possible.
Insufficient sleep can cause the following:
- Reduced alertness
- Memory problems
- Trouble solving problems and making decisions
- Bad decision-making
- Inability to focus
- An impaired or weakened immune system
- Increased pain sensitivity
- Diminished sex drive
- Weight gain
People who have high, prolonged levels of stress are more susceptible to heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and stomach issues, among a host of other serious medical conditions.
Stress is unavoidable. But, too much stress negatively impacts your sleep, robbing your body of useful benefits it would otherwise get. Managing stress properly through lifestyle changes, various relaxation methods, and creating a sanctuary out of your bedroom may prove helpful.
If sleep disruptions keep you awake almost every night and impedes your ability to function properly on a daily basis, it can be a sign of insomnia or another serious medical condition. Talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist to address the underlying cause of the problem.
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