As if there isn’t already enough worrying us in our lives these days with the economy, the H1N1 flu pandemic, health care reform and the wars, surviving the holidays, and tackling new year resolutions can really tax our ability to manage stress.
New scientific investigation confirms that our ability to handle stress is directly tied to the quality and quantity of our sleep. We’ve long known that inadequate sleep can lead to all sorts of health issues including high blood pressure, a weakened immune system—even obesity and diabetes. Now we’re beginning to see how important sleep is to our emotional health and stability—including the ability to manage stress.
When we’re tired, we become irritable; our emotions are more volatile. This emotional instability also makes it hard for us to cope with stress. Research reveals that the tired brain reacts much more strongly to negative events than when well-rested. We’re more sensitive to stressful events when sleep deprived—we overreact, sometimes to the smallest of irritations.
Sleep, specifically rapid eye movement (REM) sleep features a process that “resets” the brain’s reactivity to negative events so that the next day, we better deal with emotional challenges. REM sleep, also known as “dream-state sleep” dominates the latter half of our night in bed—so skimping on sleep usually means cutting out valuable REM sleep. Once again, this underscores the importance of long (7 ½ – 8 hours), uninterrupted sleep each and every night.
Unfortunately, stress itself is often a cause for sleep disruption—which leads to an inability to deal with additional stress the next day! So during particularly stressful periods of time, it’s important to break this cycle by dealing with both issues simultaneously—reduce our levels of stress, and ensure that we get adequate amounts of high quality sleep.
When stressed, our bodies respond in a manner to help us deal with it. Hormones are released to elevate our blood pressure and add more fuel to our bloodstream. Fortunately, most stressful situations come and go and our bodies return to a more peaceful, stable state. If stress becomes chronic and your body doesn’t have a chance to return to “normal”, stress can take a destructive toll.
Chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, headaches, muscle tension, neck and back aches, gastrointestinal disturbances, and a constant state of anxiety and nervousness. Many people react by overeating or with other destructive behaviors, such as overusing alcohol. Eventually, major depression might set in.
Take steps now to manage your stress in 2010 and do what you can to preserve those precious nights of sleep!