The stress and sleep connection
Everyone is stressed and tired these days, and it is no secret. Our hectic, on-the-go schedules make stress and poor sleep impossible to avoid. Early mornings, late nights, and everything in between, we have become so complacent with feeling moody and sleepy. So much so that it seems as if we forgotten why our attitudes and energy levels have changed in the first place. We tend to attribute these feelings to reasons other than stress and poor sleep.
Stress does not discriminate.
What is stress? Stress is any change that causes physical or emotional strain, including situations that make us feel angry, lonely, or overwhelmed.1 If you think that you are unaffected by stress, think again. We experience stress in everyday situations like wall-to-wall traffic, a lingering work assignment, and even kids’ after-school activities can become stressors. The very definition proves that stress is an equal opportunity occurrence.
Life is one huge stressor, and you feel every bit of it. Maybe you have noticed that your mood has changed or that you seem a little outside yourself. It feels like we are running a never-ending race. Stress can wear you down, and the weight on some days can feel heavier than others, like a weighted blanket minus the warmth and coziness.
The impacts of stress and how it works.
Stress can negatively impact your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If you are stressed, chances are you are not feeling your best, and this reaction can cause your mood to change. Meanwhile, your body is busy developing its response, a release of stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. Each hormone is critical to the body’s answer to stress. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure, boosting energy. It also can cause a fight-or-flight reaction.2 At the same time, cortisol enhances the brain’s use of glucose, sending increased levels through your bloodstream. Why is this important? When we are stressed, adrenaline and cortisol are at their highest, and if hormone levels remain too high for too long, it can negatively impact our health. However, there is good news, as your stress decreases, so do your adrenaline and cortisol levels.3
Stress has become a way of life.
In today’s society, stress has become a way of life. By normalizing stress, we unintentionally compromise our physical and mental health, often disregarding the reason for the tension. Being aware of your stressors can make it easier to identify stress symptoms. Stress can create problems for your health; ultimately, it can even affect the quality of your sleep.
While sleep problems may sound less menacing than other health risks associated with stress, poor sleep can cause irritability, stress, weakened immunity, and a decline in brain function. Unfortunately, poor sleep has also become normalized, which commonly results in underestimating its effects. Ever gone blank mid-sentence or had an issue remembering things after a lousy night of sleep? What about dosing off at random? Most of us have.
Good sleep is necessary to maintain a healthy life. A good night’s rest gives you the best chance for having a good mood, high energy, and focus throughout the day. Sleep is your body’s reset button. Your sleep quality needs to be good to receive the full benefit of that reset.
Imagine that your laptop’s battery is running low. Instinctually, you connect it to an active charger so it can charge to its original energy levels, keeping its battery robust. Much like a computer, we must use sleep to restore our bodies physically and cognitively, allowing us to maximize our abilities.
Not all sleep is good sleep.
There is more to a great night’s sleep than meets the eye—Literally. Non-Rapid Eye Movement (non-REM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) are cycles that occur during sleep. Non-REM has four stages. During the first stage, you float between consciousness and sleep. The second stage is light sleep, prepping you for the desirable deep sleep stage. Finally, the third and fourth cycles consist of deep and REM sleep.3 Once you have reached the fourth cycle, you start a new non-REM cycle, and so on. These cycles are essential to physical and cognitive function and only occur during times of sleep. If your concern is getting to stage one of the non-REM cycles, you might want to check your circadian rhythm.
Sleep has a rhythm. A circadian rhythm.
What is a circadian rhythm? Your body’s 24-hour internal clock cycling between sleepiness and alertness.4 In other words, it is when your body signals that it is time to go to sleep, giving you your best chance at a meaningful slumber. When this cycle is disrupted, it influences hormone release, eating habits, and other aspects of your health.3 Disruption of the regular rhythm can be affected when stressors are introduced. Pregnancy, medical, and mental health problems are only a few conditions that can throw a wrench in your sleep strategy.
Stress and sleep go hand in hand.
Stress and sleep are heavily influenced by one another. Stress can result in poor sleep quality and is one of the factors why cortisol is released. When cortisol is released at high levels, especially during sleep time, it results in poorer sleep.2 The same occurs when poor sleep is the source of stress. Poor sleep can cause the release of cortisol, triggering stress.2 Both stress and sleep alone can impact your overall health.
It isn’t easy to manage one without the other. Stress can cause poor sleep, and poor sleep can cause stress; it is a dizzying cycle, but there is a solution. By managing both, you not only give yourself a chance to return to a sense of calm, but you also give yourself the rest you need to restore your well-being.
Managing sleep and stress is self-care.
The remedy for stress and poor sleep is good old fashion self-care. Self-care is essential to living a healthy, happy life. Minimizing stress and improving your mood and focus can lead to a great night’s sleep and getting an excellent night’s sleep can lead to less stress.
Managing both can give you greater control of your physical, cognitive, immune, and emotional health. Take your life back. By reducing stress and receiving quality sleep, you can get ahead of your health and not run behind it. You deserve calm, great rest, and a chance to be your best you.
1 What is stress? Questions and answers – The World Health Organization.
2 Stress Management – Mayo Clinic
3 Sleep deprivation – The Cleveland Clinic
4 What is Circadian Rhythm? – The Sleep Foundation