Updated at: 03-01-2022 - By: Jane Brody

People in the United States have had a tough year in 2020. Poll results from the American Psychological Association show that overall stress levels are much higher than in previous years, according to the Stress in America 2020 survey. There was a 0.5-point increase in average stress levels from last year to this year’s respondents, making 2018 the most stressful year for respondents since the study began in 2007. COVID-19 and its effects on money, parenting, and other elements of daily living are substantially to blame for these numbers.

Insomnia and other sleep issues can be caused by stress and anxiety. Stress, on the other hand, can be exacerbated by a lack of sleep. Addressing one of these issues can often lead to improvements in the other, due to the reciprocal relationship between stress and sleep problems.

Stress and the Body

Stress hormones are controlled by a network in your brain called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. An enzyme termed glucocorticoid, which is a type of hormone is released by the pituitary gland in response to a signal from the hypothalamus, which is a cluster of nuclei located in the brain. Cortisol and adrenaline, two of the glucocorticoids, are also known as stress hormones.

In our bodies, cortisol levels rise shortly after we wake up and progressively decrease over the day. As a result of the HPA’s control over more cortisol, you may feel hyper-alert and even “crash” after a stressful event.

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There are three main types of stress: anxiety, depression, and irritability.

  • Acute stress: It is common for this form of stress to accompany brief moments of fear or anxiety. Realizing you’ve missed a deadline at work or school, or almost been in a vehicle accident, are all examples of being caught off guard. Anxiety, depression, and irritation are all possible side effects of an increase in blood pressure. Headaches, back discomfort, and gastrointestinal difficulties can also occur. Symptoms of acute stress, on the other hand, often fade within a few days.
  • Episodic acute stress: It’s a collection of small moments of stress that add up to a larger stressor. Anxious people may resort to unhealthy behaviors like overeating or binge drinking in an effort to deal with their stress. Some of the most serious consequences of episodic acute stress include depression, heart disease, and work and relationship difficulties.
  • Chronic stress: Poverty, abuse, and trauma are just a few of the many causes of chronic stress. People are prone to internalizing their trauma, which can lead to mental exhaustion and a sense of hopelessness. Deficits in HPA axis processing and communication with the rest of the body can also be caused by chronic stress.

There is no danger in moderate doses of acute stress, but chronic stress can have a significant effect on your body. There are a number of ways in which these effects can be felt, including:

  • Cardiovascular: During acute stress, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, as well as the contractions of your heart muscles. Messengers like cortisol and adrenaline govern these functions. The body returns to normal once a period of intense stress has passed. When you’re under persistent stress, your heart rate and blood pressure are constantly raised, which puts additional strain on your cardiovascular system. Inflammation of the circulatory system is also a risk factor for hypertension, heart attack, and stroke.
  • Gastrointestinal: Nerves and bacteria in the stomach connect with the brain to help regulate mood and maintain good health in the body as a whole. When this communication is interrupted by stressful situations, it can result in pain, bloating, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. An inability to eat might have negative effects on digestive health if it affects when and what you eat in certain circumstances. Anxiety-induced overeating may also lead to obesity. The intestinal barrier that prevents hazardous microorganisms from entering the stomach can be weakened by stress, as well as causing painful bowel and esophageal spasms as a result.
  • Musculoskeletal: In stressful situations, you may feel your muscles tense up. The dilation of blood vessels in the arms and legs causes this reflexive feeling, which is the body’s way of protecting you from potential pain or danger. Stress can produce muscle tension that can contribute to migraine headaches, lower back and upper extremity discomfort, as well as other issues. Long-term stress may be exacerbated by the persistent discomfort of this constant strain.
  • Nervous: The neurological system communicates with the pituitary gland and adrenal glands during times of acute stress to enhance the synthesis of adrenaline and cortisol. Additionally, the nervous system controls the “comedown” period that occurs right after an event that has briefly stressed you out. Chronic stress can put a strain on your body and nerves, causing them to fatigue.
  • Reproductive: Stress can have a negative impact on both men’s and women’s reproductive systems. In both men and women, high levels of chronic stress can impair sexual desire and make them more susceptible to malignancies and other disorders of the reproductive system. The size and swimming ability of men’s sperm may diminish, whereas the ability of women to conceive may be impacted. Pregnant women who are under a lot of stress might have a negative effect on their child’s development as well.
  • Respiratory: Both shortness of breath and fast breathing can occur in stressful conditions. Asthma attacks and other respiratory issues can be triggered by acute stress in persons who already have them. Long-term stress can lead to more serious illnesses such as COPD, which is chronic obstruction of the airways.

How Does Stress Affect Sleep?

Stress is one of the most common causes of insomnia, which is a sleep condition. Consistent trouble with sleep initiation, maintenance, consolidation, or overall quality is defined as insomnia. Insomnia persists despite enough sleep duration and a comfortable sleeping environment, and those who suffer from it are plagued by excessive daytime sleepiness, weariness, irritability, and other symptoms when they are awake. Insomnia is a sleep disorder. About 10 to 30 percent of adults, according to current estimates, are affected by sleep disorders.

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Symptoms of chronic insomnia must occur at least three times a week for at least three months before a person can be diagnosed. Chronic insomnia can be exacerbated to a great extent by long-term sources of stress. One or more of the following may be a source of stress:

  • Workplace issues or unhappiness.
  • Other marriage or family problems.
  • Bereavement is the loss of a loved one.
  • A life-threatening condition.
  • Life-altering events.

Chronic insomnia does not affect everyone, but people with anxiety disorders are more likely to suffer from its symptoms. Even life events and changes can lead to insomnia, which can be exacerbated by changes in one’s sleep regimen. Having chronic insomnia can cause a person to worry about their sleep as well as other elements of their life. As a result, people are more likely to experience symptoms of sleeplessness due to increased daily stress.

Irregular sleep patterns can also cause or worsen stress in the daytime.

  • An overall sense of exhaustion and apathy.
  • Inability to focus, concentrate or recall past experiences
  • Disadvantages in social, family, professional, or academic contexts.
  • Mood swings and irritability.
  • Problems with hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and impulsivity.
  • Reduced levels of vigor and drive.
  • Errors and accidents will be more likely to occur as a result of this.

When insomnia symptoms last for less than three months, the condition is known as “short-term.” Acute stressors, like long-term stress, can lead to short-term insomnia symptoms in the same way that chronic stress does. One or more of the following may be a source of stress:

  • Having difficulties in interpersonal relationships.
  • Problems at work.
  • Loss of money.
  • Bereavement and mourning.
  • Medical condition’s earliest symptoms or signs of sickness.

If you’ve recently made big alterations to your bedroom or sleep environment, you may also experience acute stress. The presence of a baby in a parent’s bed can cause sleeplessness, even if the infant is not audible. When children share a room with a sibling for the first time, they may have sleep disturbances. Short-term insomnia can be caused by traveling or moving to a new environment.

Once the stressful scenario has ended and the acute tension has subsided, short-term insomnia symptoms may begin to fade. Chronic insomnia is a problem for some people, but it can be avoided if you take steps to improve your sleep.

Chronic stress can cause sleep apnea in addition to sleeplessness. Snoring, choking, and excessive daytime sleepiness are all symptoms of this sleep disorder, which occurs when the upper airway collapses repeatedly during sleep. These medical disorders, which are commonly linked to stress, can increase the risk of sleep apnea in people. Another important risk factor is being overweight or obese. The disruption of your sleep and fatigue you experience throughout the daytime are both symptoms of sleep apnea, which, like insomnia, can increase stress.

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Does Sleep Help Stress?

Stress can be alleviated by getting enough sleep at night. While it may seem like a no-brainer to get some shut-eye while you’re stressed out, it’s not always possible.

You can take various steps to alleviate your tension. A healthy lifestyle includes frequent exercise and a close-knit circle of friends and family. However, in order to keep stress at bay, proper sleep is generally required. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations, healthy adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.

How to Sleep When Stressed

The ability to effectively regulate stress is essential for a restful night’s sleep, and how well you do so can be influenced by your day-to-day habits. Additionally, you can decrease the tension by controlling your breathing and other relaxation techniques, such as meditating. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential, as is the capacity to “discharge” stress in a productive manner only when it is actually causing stress.

Practicing good sleep hygiene can also help you get a better night’s sleep, allowing you to wake up feeling more rested and ready to take on the day. Guidelines for good sleep hygiene consist of:

  • Strict sleep schedule: Maintain consistent sleep and waking schedule. On the weekends and while you’re on vacation, this applies.
  • Optimal bedroom atmosphere: When you’re ready to go to sleep, you should be able to rest in your bedroom. It’s best to keep the lights low and block out as much background noise as possible. Experts normally recommend temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, however, 65 degrees is considered best.
  • No electronics: The blue light emitted by electronics like televisions, computers, and cell phones can disrupt sleep. Always keep these gadgets out of your bedroom if you want a restful night’s sleep.
  • Reduced evening intake: Preparing for bedtime, refrain from ingesting nicotine and caffeine. When it’s your typical bedtime, these stimulants can keep you awake. It’s also possible that alcohol will keep you up at night. Because of alcohol’s calming qualities, many individuals believe that it aids in sleep. However, the body’s reaction to and breakdown of alcohol may cause sleep fragmentation. Finally, avoid eating a lot of food right before going to bed.
  • Regular exercise: Getting some light exercise in the morning or early afternoon can make it easier to wind down and go to sleep at night.

When you’re too stressed to sleep, lying in bed doesn’t do you any good. Get out of bed and do something relaxing like reading, meditating, or listening to quiet music if you haven’t fallen asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed; avoid watching TV or other activities that use blue light equipment.

Anxiety can also be a result of checking the time on a bedside clock in the middle of the night. When you wake up, don’t glance at your clock. If you need to, cover it up.

If you’re still having trouble sleeping, you should consult a doctor or a medical professional. An insomnia diagnosis and therapy based on this information may be beneficial to you if you suffer from these symptoms.

Other Stress Management Tips

Cognitive-behavioral stress management (CBSM) can help alleviate some people’s stress (CBSM). In this type of short-term therapy, the focus is on the way your thoughts and beliefs influence your behavior and interactions with others. You may be able to modify your behavior and outlook by detecting and replacing unreasonable or erroneous beliefs with more positive ones.

Persons with HIV/AIDS, people with substance addiction disorders, and people in the nursing profession have all been proven in studies to benefit from CBSM as a stress management technique.

CBT has been shown to be useful in treating insomnia symptoms, as well. CBT-i, as it’s commonly referred to, is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that aims to help people overcome their negative views of sleep in order to improve their quality of sleep and end their insomnia. Getting out of bed when you can’t sleep is an important part of CBT-i, as is practicing good sleep hygiene and relaxing before going to bed.

Many people successfully manage their stress by taking the following strategies in addition to following sleep hygiene guidelines and undergoing CBSM therapy:

  • Recognize the signs of stress: Everyone’s body reacts differently to stress. Anxiety, impatience, and rage are all symptoms of poor energy and motivation, as are problems sleeping and abusing alcohol or drugs. When you’re stressed, it’s important to be able to identify these emotions.
  • Relieve stress by engaging in soothing activities such as meditation, muscular relaxation, and regulated breathing techniques. Adding these stress-relieving activities to your daily routine can have a big impact on your overall well-being.
  • Set yourself up for success by setting goals for yourself. Desperation is characterized by a lack of concern for the future and a willingness to give up. These negative emotions can be induced by stress, especially persistent stress. Goals for your social, familial, and professional life might help you maintain a happy outlook.
  • Call on your network of friends and family for assistance: Maintaining regular contact with loved ones might help alleviate stress by providing emotional support. Community and religious organizations can also provide a sense of belonging for some people.
  • Stress can soon become overpowering if left unchecked; talk to your doctor about it. A good way to start managing stress is to make an appointment with your doctor or bring up the subject of stress on your next visit.

How to Deal With Stress-Related Insomnia

You may be suffering from sleeplessness as a result of worries about your finances, your career, or your relationship. You’re not the only one in this situation! Insomnia prevalence statistics vary because of the criteria used to define insomnia, but about one-third of adults sampled at any given time will experience some form of insomnia1, whether difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or insomnia so severe that it interferes with daytime activities. Insomnia, anxiety, and depression are all linked in some way, according to updated diagnostic criteria due out in 2020. Insomnia is an essential problem for us to discuss because of these linkages with mental health and the speed of daily life.

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Insomnia can have a wide range of negative effects on your life because of how critical sleep is to good health.

Stress can be made worse if you don’t get enough sleep because it slows your thinking and makes you more sensitive. Having to deal with persistent insomnia can lead to increased stress, which in turn can exacerbate the effects of persistent insomnia. Being overtired and anxious doesn’t help solve the problems that are causing your stress in the first place if insomnia is the result of it. If you’re having trouble sleeping because of stress, here are a few ideas you might want to consider.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

It can be difficult to sleep if you’re feeling tense. The body tenses up as a result of stress, even when the person is unaware that they are under stress.

For the past two decades, the evidence-based treatment for insomnia known as progressive muscle relaxation4 has been widely acknowledged. De-stressing your body is easy with PMR.

Journaling

You may benefit from journaling if you wake up at night because you can’t stop thinking about something that’s bothering you during the day.

Journaling5 has been shown to provide a variety of health and stress-relieving effects. You may be able to clear your mind, deal with troubling feelings that keep you awake at night, and develop strategies to deal with stressful events by journaling about them.

Work Through Your Stress

If anxiety is keeping you awake at night, a shift in perspective may help you sleep better. A normal reaction to events that necessitate immediate action is anxiety, including the kind that keeps you awake at night. In order to move forward, you must view your circumstance as a task to be overcome, rather than a threat to your well-being.

Different perspectives can help you notice possibilities you might have otherwise overlooked.

When confronted with a stressful scenario, you may benefit from cognitive restructuring to alter your frame of reference6.

Take the Pressure off Sleep

As previously indicated, going to bed at night can become a source of anxiety if sleep deprivation has established a pattern. Many things can be done to alleviate insomnia if you get to this point.

In the first place, you may want to get out of bed and do something if you’re having difficulties falling asleep. In order to alleviate the stress of constantly checking the time, you can set an alarm for a specific amount of time, such as 15 minutes.

It’s also a good idea to use your bedroom mostly for sleep so that you associate your bed and your bedroom with sleep and not tension. Completing things like reading a book or doing chores around the house will help you fall to sleep when you’re ready to do so. Caffeine should also be avoided in the late afternoon and early evening.

Don’t Do It Alone

Insomnia is a problem that many people ignore. If you’re suffering from insomnia, there are a number of treatment options available to you, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication.

Consult your physician about your treatment choices if you’re suffering from chronic insomnia.

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