How Stress and Sleep are Connected?
Stress can cause a lot of physical and mental stress. They both are related to each other in some way or another. If you don’t sleep properly then you suffer from stress and if you are under stress then you may not be able to sleep well at night. An individual should enjoy a sleep of 7-8 hours at night and further depending upon the age and other factors.
Stress often leads to insomnia and by the same token lack of proper sleep contributes to stress so addressing one of these issues can lead to the improvement of the other one. Some people also suffer from anxiety and depression due to a lack of sleep. They can also suffer from back pain, fatigue, and chest or neck pain. If this problem is not managed then they may suffer from a lot of health problems.
This is a very common problem and happens to 40% of males and females. Sleep is an important resource that keeps you healthy, mentally sharp, and able to cope with stress more effectively. There are a lot of causes that can cause stress and eventually disturb your sleep. First, let us see what the causes of stress are.
What are the causes of stress?
Stress can trigger a lot of things in your body. You can suffer from stress because of these causes.
- Worrying a lot
- Financial problems
- Relationship problems
- Work problems
- Facing big changes
- Being under lots of pressure
- Not getting where you wanted to be
- Working long hours
- Working under dangerous conditions
- Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
- Being insecure about a particular thing
- Loss of a job
- Chronic illness or injury
- Emotional problems
- Improper sleep
- Trauma from any incident
Causes of stress can vary from person to person and some issues can be small for one person and big for another. Stress can either come from inside or from outside. Some people suffer from stress due to particular factors like:
Fear: When you hear about the threat of terrorist attacks, global warming, and toxic chemicals on the news then you get stressed about things over which you have no control over events. These are rare events and their vivid coverage in the media may make them seem as if they are more likely to occur than people fare them.
Unrealistic expectations: expecting a lot from yourself and from others, you may put yourself through a lot of stress. People are destined to feel stressed when things don’t go as planned.
Lifestyle changes: if there are some sudden changes in your lifestyle and some major ones can be stressful. Even some happy big events which include a big change can also be stressful. Some major setbacks can also cause stress.
Your body produces cortisol throughout the day but with levels spiking immediately after you wake up and it gradually decreases throughout the day. The cortisol levels are being regulated by the HPA which is the reason why you often feel hyper-alert during stressful situations.
Stress has taken many forms but the feelings are generally categorized into three categories:
Acute stress: these are short-term stress which comes after moments of panic or dread. For example, you suddenly realize that you have missed something or some task that was to be done and you feel stressed that you are not able to complete it on time. Some people experience headaches, back pain, and gastrointestinal issues.
Episode acute stress: this is day-to-day problem stress because of which people feel burdened and struggle in completing their day-to-day tasks. This could increase the risk of drinking and smoking binges. Other serious complications of episodic acute stress include clinical depression and heart disease as well as poor performance at work.
Chronic stress: this type of stress usually comes from a feeling of hopelessness. People who have experienced painful events like abuse or poverty are stuck with a mental image of that incident which stresses them out and they become weak mentally. Chronic stress can also cause deficiencies which are related to how the HPA axis processes stressful situations and communicates with the rest of the body.
How does stress affect our sleep?
When you suffer from a stressful event which can be physical, psychological, real, or imagined then your body releases stress hormone which gets triggered and creates a lot of physical changes which can lead to the release of glucocorticoids like cortisol by the endocrine system. The release of cortisol and other stress hormones creates a burst of energy which allows your body to fight the situation.
Your body’s response to stress is it spikes the cortisol levels which minimises the stress levels. This endocrine system response is controlled by negative feedback loops which are mediated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) in the central nervous system.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder as you know and it is derived from stress. If you are suffering from stress then you have difficulty in sleeping and maintaining your body at peace. People who suffer from insomnia generally experience excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and irritability. Sleeping at an appropriate time can be difficult for a person suffering from insomnia. They often stay up very late at night and feel very low during the daytime.
Not sleeping properly can cause a lot of health problems. Some of them are:
When you sleep you rest your mind and charge it to perform tasks the other day. During sleep, your brain forms connections that help you process tasks and manages your memory to remember information. Lack of sleep can harm your health.
When you don’t get proper sleep your mood triggers a lot during the daytime. You become angry and get irritated easily on small issues. This can also cause anxiety and depression.
When you are sleep deprived the chemicals which signal your brain that you are full get off-balance. This may cause overheating and can result in gaining weight.
With a lack of sleep, you will always feel tired which will make it difficult for you to focus on anything or to concentrate on your daily tasks. Your problem-solving skills were not accurate.
With very little sleep, your immune system does not help in defending against viruses. You are immune to catching small viruses as well such as cold and cough. You are more likely to get sick when you are exposed to these germs.
Lack of sleep can also impact your body balance and coordination which will make you more prone to falls and other physical injuries.
Can lead to health problems
Lack of sleep and chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
Remedies to prevent Stress (Stress buster)
This is very relaxing and aims to make people more aware of the present moment. Meditation helps to provide peace in your mind and helps to calm your body. It relaxes your muscles which also helps to boost sleep and reduce stress.
When you work out your body releases cortisol which enhances your mental health and promotes happiness. Physical exercise impacts psychological well-being which could be very suitable for treating anxiety and stress. Working out, running, or walking are all good for minimising stress levels and improving sleep quality.
Adapt a more healthy diet that includes all kinds of macronutrients. If you are in a habit of binge eating snacks then it may impact your sleep. Drinking energy drinks or drinks containing caffeine can also impact your sleep. Avoid doing all this and if you like to drink something before going to bed then go for warm milk.
Divide your time and tasks. Don’t bulk up your tasks or keep them for the last minute.
Some of the supplements may also help to relax your muscles and minimise your stress.
Lemon balm: a mint that has been proven for its anti-anxiety effects.
Omega-3 fatty acids: a study has shown that students who take this supplement have experienced a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms.
Ashwagandha: this is a natural herb being used to treat tension and anxiety.
Green tea: contains polyphenol antioxidants which provide various health benefits. It reduces stress and anxiety by increasing the levels of serotonin.
Kava kava: It is a psychoactive member of the pepper family. It is used as a sedative in the south pacific and several other countries to relieve stress.
Write it down
If you are suffering from a particular issue which is disturbing your sleep then do write it down in a journal. It will be a great way to vent out the issue and it will also help you to take off some burden.
Foods to prevent stress
It will help promote warmth and calmness. This tea can help reduce stress. Having a warm cup of tea is the one way to calm yourself. Warm beverages can help increase the feeling of interpersonal warmth and friendliness.
They are good antioxidants that help to reduce stress. It has a chemical impact and also emotional impact. Dark chocolate which is high in antioxidants may also help minimise stress by lowering levels of stress hormones in the body.
It is a mood-boosting way that increases serotonin levels which is the hormone that enhances mood and reduces stress. Once the serotonin levels are elevated people who are under tension can have better concentration and focus.
Some other foods are:
- Fish oil
- Warm milk
- Nuts of all kinds
- Citrus fruits
- Foods high in fibre
Stress and sleep are related to each other and solving one problem will resolve another. But not all sleep problems are directly or entirely because of stress. A lot of factors like ageing and other life problems can relate to altering your sleep patterns. If you can manage your sleep then your stress levels can also be managed and as same for stress not only does sleep affect your stress but many other factors.
Frequently Asked Question
1. What are the symptoms of excessive stress?
- Difficulty breathing.
- Panic attacks.
- Blurred eyesight or sore eyes.
- Sleep problems.
- Muscle aches and headaches.
- Chest pains and high BP.
- Indigestion or heartburn.
2. What do doctors prescribe for stress?
A doctor can prescribe medications in any of the following groups: anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines, like Xanax and Valium. antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like Prozac. Sleeping medications, if anxiety interferes with your sleep.