How Does Stress Affect Sleep?

We all know how it feels to wake up feeling refreshed after a long much-needed rest session. Oftentimes when we need it most, this long sleep slession can help us feel alert and ready to conquer the day and all the challenges it may bring. I’m sure we can also relate to the feeling of not sleeping a wink and tossing and turning during a stressful time, only to wake up feeling exhausted, overwhelmed by the to-do list of the day, and still foggy from the nights’ sleep deprivation.

Stress can play a key role in the kind of sleep we have each night, which is why it’s important to make sure that you not only understand what stress does to your body and how it might affect sleep, but also the importance of reducing stress at home whenever you can.

Sleep is one of the most essential activities you can do each night, as it plays a key role in the recovery portion of our day. Even though you probably already understand that sleep is so important, you might not realize exactly what’s going on and why it’s so essential. What is actually happening when we sleep and why do we need it?

The Importance of Sleep

Did you know that close to one-third of Americans reported not getting enough sleep? Nearly one-third of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep which means that you or someone you know is walking around sleep deprived every now and then or on a regular basis.

What is enough sleep and what does sleep do for our bodies?

The recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night gives our bodies the chance to repair cells, restore energy, allow the nerve cells to recalibrate which supports proper brain functioning, allows the brain to retain new information, deletes the useless information, and release hormones and proteins into the body. When we sleep, our cortisol levels, or stress hormones are lowered and our sympathetic nervous system gets to rest. This part of the nervous system is the area where our ‘stress panic button’ lies, which produces our ‘fight or flight’ responses.

If your sympathetic nervous system is overstimulated and doesn’t get a chance to relax, there can be significant negative effects to many systems of the body. Stress can not only impact your ability to get a good night’s rest, but it could have lasting health implications that include heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms, higher blood pressure, and more.

Lastly, the pituitary gland releases a growth hormone which allows the body to grow and heal any damages. Without the proper amount of sleep, your body can miss out on these essential healing hours that we need for brain and body functioning. You might think that pulling one all-nighter or getting a lack of sleep every now and then isn’t going to affect you, but even a little bit of insomnia can have a drastic effect on your productivity throughout the day and ability to recover properly.

It’s essential that you try and get the recommended amount (7 to 9 hours of sleep) each night to ensure that your body not only has a chance to recover properly, but to set yourself up for success moving forward when you’ve got to tackle everything on your to-do list.

Sleeping is essential for every human being and whenever our sleep cycle is temporarily or long-term disturbed, the effects can be inconvenient, unhealthy and even detrimental to your health. If you find that you’re routinely interrupting your normal sleep schedule or you’re not even on one, then you need to make it a priority to get on a solid schedule where you can get in the recommended amount of sleep consistently.

The Cycle of Sleep and Stress

Stress and sleep are two very important pieces in the puzzle of life’s balance. These two variables coexist and have a very dependent relationship which needs to be balanced appropriately. If we do not get enough sleep either chronically, through insomnia, or every once in a while, our mood can change and we can become overwhelmed and irritable.

We can feel stressed out whenever we don’t get adequate sleep because our body wasn’t able to replenish itself with the rest it needed. On the other hand, the emotion of stress can leave us laying awake at night. So, it’s important to understand how stress and sleep work hand-in-hand and how we can work on these two factors in our daily lives so we avoid the cycle of being stressed out and sleep deprived.

There are 70-91 percent of individuals suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who report having trouble falling or staying asleep. This is a direct testament that chronic stress can negatively impact your sleep patterns.

Chronic stress can keep even the soundest of sleepers wide awake when their mind won’t stop racing. Each person across the country needs to take a more proactive stance on reducing the stress in our lives as individuals report feeling more stressed than ever and health officials labeling it as a national health crisis moving forward.

Oftentimes, it’s not one thing that stresses someone out to the point that they can’t sleep. More often it’s things that can build up over time or fade in and out which can sap away mental power which could otherwise be used to focus on putting your mind at ease to fall asleep quickly. Stress can affect your sleep cycle by keeping you up at night when your mind is racing about one thing and then snowballing into stressing about other things at the same time.

With health officials labeling rising levels of stress as a national health crisis, new research is constantly being conducted to determine the impact that stress and a lack of sleep from stress can have on an individual’s mental health. Sleep deprivation can take a toll not only on your mental health, but also your physical health. Depression, weight gain, and high blood pressure are all associated with lack of sleep.

The Impact of Stress on the Body

When you are feeling stress, your body will react by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones alert the body to create a panicked reaction and can upset the nervous system if alerted too frequently.

Stress can take the form of high blood pressure which isn’t healthy for your heart or circulatory system, and create restlessness when trying to sleep at night. It can also create muscle strain throughout your body, weight gain, and a compromised immune system. The symptoms of stress can not only prevent you from falling asleep, but also staying asleep and sleeping the proper amount of time each night.

Stress can also impact your body through gastrointestinal discomfort. If you have been absorbing stress more than usual, then you could have an upset stomach, loss of appetite, or a desire to consume junk food as a comfort method. Elevated stress levels can also impact your muscles as they can tense up randomly and create extra tension spikes subconsciously. Stress can even impact your breathing rate as it can create the sensation of a shortness of breath where you try to compensate that feeling through rapid breathing techniques.

Stress can play a whole host of tricks on both your mind and body, which is why it’s important to make sure that you’re getting ample amounts of sleep and reducing the stress you’re exposing your body to on a regular basis.

A chronic lack of sleep can also make nagging injuries worse. While your body can display evident signs that it’s dealing with stress and keeping you awake at night, it could also be preventing your body from recovering from those nagging injuries. Injuries, like stress, can keep you awake at night, but your stress could be compounding the time it takes to recover properly. As you worry about not getting enough stress because of how it’s affecting your injury recovery, then you begin to compound that stress and it only gets worse.

Stress can have a significant impact on both your mind and body, which is why you need to actively take steps to reduce your stress levels and take preventive steps to ensure that stress doesn’t keep you up at night in the future!

Stress Relief for Better Sleep

If you are feeling stressed throughout the day or the majority of your days, consider adding exercise into your daily schedule. We help patients channel some of that stress into proper exercises and stretches which can help take their mind off stressors in their daily life and channel it into a more productive and safe activity. Exercise can help to clear the mind, get your blood pumping and your endorphins flowing throughout your body.

Book an appointment today to see how Physical Therapy can help you reduce your stress with exercise and proper stretching!

It’s also worth a try to assess your daily eating habits and incorporate healthier food into your diet. A bad diet can contribute to stress and make matters worse when you’re not focusing on eating healthy options. Another idea is to confide in a trusted loved one who you can share your stress emotions with.

All of these stress relieving tactics can help alleviate the stressful feelings and help you focus on creating healthy habits that can assist you in taking control of your day and your life!

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