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HOW STRESS AFFECTS YOUR SLEEP

The stress response is like an alarm system for your body… And what good is an alarm system that allows you to sleep through it right?

Let me paint a familiar picture…

It’s been another manic day at work. You’ve just hung up on the second telemarketer for the evening and you have a pile of bills to pay before crawling into bed. The red ink on your credit card statement flashes before your eyes as you turn out the lights… Good night.

Ha! Yeah, right.  You’re more likely to end up staring at the cracks in the ceiling as your mind and body tries to make sense of the mixed messages it’s receiving.

It’s a simple fact that, if you bring a large dose of stress hormones into bed with you at night, there’s not much chance of falling into an ideal, restful sleep pattern.

It really helps to understand why this is the case… and it’s actually a very simple process.

The hormone cortisol has many roles in the body, one of which is to regulate sleep patterns.   Cortisol levels are naturally higher in the morning, to help get you up and moving… and lower at night, to help you fall asleep.  This is a part of what is called your circadian rhythm.  You know, the thing that gets all mucked up when we have jet lag.

Now, cortisol is also one of the primary stress hormones in the body… the chemical messengers that prepare us to defend ourselves or run for our lives!  This little hormone is a real powerhouse.  In fact, its presence can put your body in a state or RED ALERT, resulting in, among other things:

  • An acutely defensive and alert mindset
  • High blood pressure
  • Increase breathing rate
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Short tense muscles

Just the recipe to fall asleep right??

Mmmmmmm…. Not so much.

And for those of us who deal with chronic stress… there is a particularly VICIOUS CIRCLE at play.

  • Persistent levels of stress cause sleep deprivation, and
  • Sleep deprivation aggravates levels of stress…

The British Journal of Health Psychology published a study that assessed the effects of stress on the sleep patterns of 816 people with no history of sleep issues.

The study, performed over a year, found participants who experience stress episodes are twice as likely to develop sleep problems! 5

This kind of cycle can be particularly damaging, not only to mindset and performance but also to long-term health outlook.

In a recent article published by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, insufficient sleep is linked to a number of chronic diseases including:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Depression

Now, you may have picked up on the irony here.  Our bodies are preparing us to stand our ground or run for our lives… in the safety of our own bed!!  Our stress hormones are keeping us awake, alert and prepared for physical action at a time this is least needed.

Bringing the stress hormones of the day into bed at night leaves our minds fighting at shadows… mistaking tomorrow’s challenges for immediate physical threats to our safety.  These stress hormones are powerful… but they are not so smart.  To free ourselves of their exhausting messages we need to do a better job at clearing them from our systems when they are not needed.

Essentially, we need to learn how to flip the switch of our bodies alarm system when it is going off at night… just like that annoying car alarm down the street.

This switch exists in each and everyone’s nervous system and, with a little practice, you can learn how to flip it from a stressed to a calmer setting anywhere, anytime.  Learning how to control your alarm system is a powerful ally in the pursuit of a good nights sleep.

This is just one of the reasons we have worked so hard to bring the Power of Calm program to life.