With the Coronavirus still in full swing, the continued stress it is causing people is only growing. We are stressed not only about the virus, but about the economy and what is going to happen in the future. We worry if normal life will ever return or if this is our new “normal”. All of these things contribute more to our already busy and stressful lives. But have you wondered how all this stress can negatively affect you? The increased, continuous stress level can really worsen the quality of your life, especially in one of the most important areas we need - sleep. Stress affects your body in a multitude of ways, but one of the most impacted areas is our sleep.
Stress is a natural response our body has to adversity or challenging circumstances. It can affect us in ways that are physical, emotional, or behavorily. In and of itself, stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The right amount of stress can be a positive force in our lives, motivating us to perform at our best and keeping us alert and attentive. Too much stress is where problems start happening.
How Stress Impacts Your Sleep
Stress can easily derail the benefits of a good night’s sleep. You probably already know some of the ways stress and anxiety can interfere with your sleep. Ask any student that has pulled an all nighter to cram for an upcoming test and they will tell you all about it. Stress and anxiety ignite our nervous system, putting us into fight or flight mode. This is an innate survival mechanism we have that our body activates when we are in some kind of trouble.
This reaction is part of our biology. Our bodies are just programmed to keep us awake when we are stressed. When faced with a challenging problem, our body releases stress hormones into our body. These hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine, are elevated causing your muscles to tense, your heart rate to speed up, and your brain to work overtime. These effects can linger for some time, even after the initial stressor is long gone. This means once something riles you up into stress mode - money, family, work, a global pandemic - it can be quite challenging to come down from your stressed state.
Trying to get quality sleep while you are stressed is hard. It’s like trying to make a full court basketball shot with your feet hard. While it is in the realm of possibilities, it's very difficult to actually do in practice. Almost half of all Americans already deal with this problem on a regular basis with one survey citing that 45% of Americans have a hard time sleeping due to stress.
Most of us can recognize when our lack of sleep is directly caused by stress.But when stress lingers for weeks without end, it becomes what experts call chronic stress. This is concerning because the body becomes accustomed to the high level of stress hormones circulating the body. Not only does this get in the way of you getting the quality rest you need, but it can also cause more serious health issues like depression, diabetes, and heart disease.
Don’t let bad stress have far reaching effects on your life. Here are some low-profile signs that you can watch out for to make sure you’re getting the quality sleep your body needs. If you resonate with a couple of these, you may want to check out this article on some self care tips and tricks.
Sign # 1: You Keep Waking up in the Middle of the Night
Many people report waking up once or twice in the middle of the night. While a common problem is still one that is very frustrating. When you can’t get back to sleep quickly enough, you won’t get the much needed quality sleep that will keep you refreshed and healthy for the next day.
Stress is one of the main causes for people waking up in the night. It keeps your sleep lighter and prevents your body from getting the all important deep sleep to repair itself. The reason this happens due to the stress hormones lingering in your body that can cause you to randomly wake up. When in fight or flight mode, our brain does not let our body relax because it believes we are in some sort of danger. If stress is keeping you up, it is important to figure out what can be causing it so you can treat the problem and get some rest.
Sign # 2: You Find it Harder to Remember Things
Stress can hamper the way our brains form and retrieve memories. This creates a situation where stress can have a big part in how your memory works. When stressed, we have a more difficult time creating short term memories and making those short term memories into long term ones. In short, this means it is much more difficult to learn and retain new information when stressed.
Sleep is a vital time where your body can heal itself and prepare for the next day. When you don't get enough sleep (quality deep sleep) your brain and body are not able to do the repairs they need to. In regards to memory, your brain does not have the resources available to create the pathways that help you learn, remember, and grow in a cognitive way. This explains why it is harder to remember things after a poor night's sleep. Add chronic stress into the mix and the effect adds up over time. You shouldnt be struggling to remember what you did the day before, everyday.
Sign # 3: You Wake Up Tired After Sleeping the Recommended 8 Hours
We’ve all been told about the legendary 8 hour rule of sleep. We are told in order to give your body the proper amount of rest it needs to recover, we need to be sleeping around 8 hours of sleep a night. 8 hours is the gold standard when doctors talk about sleep, so why do you still feel so tired after doing everything properly?
There are many reasons that can cause your feeling of tiredness, but the most likely culprit is that you aren’t getting enough quality sleep. If you’re still waking up after a full night's sleep feeling totally drained, it is a sign that your sleep quality is suffering. Are you seeing a trend here? A big cause for loss of quality sleep is stress (big shocker). It’s hard for your body to relax with all those stress hormones floating around in your system. While it can help in some situations, it's not ideal when trying to catch some quality Z’s.
Sign # 4: You Feel Like You’re Getting Sick More than Normal
As stated before, when you don’t sleep, your body doesn’t have the time or energy to recover. So naturally, it would make sense that your body would have more trouble fighting illnesses and infections when deprived of rest. When your body isn’t at 100% then your immune system won’t be at 100% either. When you’re asleep, your immune system is hard at work defending your body against deadly bacteria and viruses trying to find an easy host.
So if you think that you’ve been feeling sickly or been getting colds more frequently, try switching up your sleeping habits. It may change up the game and you’ll end up feeling more recharged and refreshed, and more importantly, healthy.
Sign # 5: You Keep Having Weird Dreams
They can be nightmares or just flat out odd dreams, but if you start to notice the trend of consistent absurdity in your head in dreamland, then you might need to take a day off. Higher than normal levels of everyday stress - or chronic stress - can be enough to trigger these weird dreams in people. These weird dreams often manifest themselves as nightmares which also contribute to a lack of deep sleep. Research shows that anxiety and stress issues are linked to the higher rates of nightmares in individuals.
In these cases, taking some steps to help better manage your stress is all it usually takes to keep the spooky dreams at bay. But if you are dealing with chronic nightmares and they are becoming a big problem preventing you from sleeping, talk to your doctor about it.
Sign # 6: You Seem Hungrier than Usual
There is truth to the idea of “stress eating”. A continued, stress related lack of sleep really messes with the hormones in your body. Cortisol, one of the main stress hormones released into the body, is responsible for increases in appetite and ramps up motivation in general - including the motivation to eat.
This is why lack of sleep usually comes hand in hand with cravings and overeating. If you find yourself unusually having a harder time managing your weight and you’re sleep-deprived and stressed, these factors are probably related. Getting enough sleep is key to eating healthier and managing your weight. Also brushing up on some good eating habits can help better your relationship with food and avoid unhealthy and unnecessary weight gain.