How Stress Affects Sleep

We all feel stress. Work is stressful. Relationships are stressful. We stress about money. We stress about the holidays and how stress affects sleepspending time with family. While stress can sometimes be a good thing — it motivates us — it is generally hard on the body. Some of the most common effects on the body of stress are headaches, muscle tension, muscle pain, chest pain, fatigue or an upset stomach. We can also feel anxious and can become angry more easily. In general, we are “wrapped tight” when we are stressed.

Sleep also has a major relationship with stress. It not only impacts our ability to sleep but not enough sleep can increase stress. Read on to see how stress affects sleep.

When you are stressed and the wheels in your mind are turning, it can be challenging to relax enough and sleep. Stress pushes our body into a “flight or fight” mode. We are on edge and our body is not ready for sleep. We toss and turn in bed and aren’t able to get a solid night of rest.

Stress can cause stress-induced insomnia. A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that 43 percent of people say stress kept them up at night sometime over the last month. That means a huge percentage of people are not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep due to stress.

The health impacts of stress also manifest themselves when we don’t get enough sleep.  We need enough sleep to regulate the hormones in our body. That occurs when we get the required amount of sleep. Not getting the necessary amount of sleep puts stress on the body, because it is not relaxed. When we don’t get enough sleep, our blood pressure increases, and we are at greater risk for diabetes and heart diseases.

Researchers at The Ohio State University’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research found that a lack of sleep creates a greater risk of stress-caused inflammation, which has been associated with a variety of diseases such as arthritis. The study found that couples that got less than the required amount of sleep had elevated levels of two known stress inflammatory markers.

To manage stress, people should take the following advice:

  • Understand the cause of stress: You need to figure out what is causing the stress. Work? A relationship? A recent death? Holiday season? Once you get an understanding of the underlying cause of stress, you will better be able to manage it.
  • Seek social support: Friends and family are a great resource when managing stress. They can listen and often helpful advice.
  • Exercise: Exercise is a great way to burn calories and refocus negative energy. You can do a little walk in the evening after work or go to the gym and run on the treadmill. It doesn’t matter the type of exercise. It matters that you exercise. Your body releases endorphins when exercise, which can improve your mood. That means it will be easier to sleep.
  • Eat healthily: Caffeine and sugar both releases chemicals in the body that make it difficult to sleep. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and low-fat meat is more conducive to good sleep and low stress.
  • Get enough sleep: You will be less stressed with more sleep. An afternoon nap can also help to reduce stress.

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