Posted on: 16 September, 2020

What is Stress, and How Can You Manage Your Symptoms?

Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, neuropsychiatrist and co-founder of the London Sleep Centre, has kindly contributed to this article with his expert tips on how we can boost our sleep health to ultimately reduce stress.

We all experience stress from time to time – whether it’s due to an upcoming deadline, or you’re experiencing a significant life change. But what is stress, exactly, and how can we manage the symptoms?

Stress occurs as a response to a life change or event – and surfaces through mental, physical and emotional reactions. Whilst a short-term burst of stress is completely ‘normal’, prolonged stress is shown to have detrimental effects on our health – putting us at an increased risk of various long-term health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.

What many of us fail to realise, though, is that there’s evidence to show that stress is strongly linked to sleep – or, rather, a lack of it.

Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, neuropsychiatrist and co-founder of the London Sleep Centre, has kindly contributed to this article with his expert tips on how we can boost our sleep health to ultimately reduce stress.

The 'Stress-Sleep' Cycle

In this week’s guest article, Dr Ebrahim introduces the ‘stress-sleep cycle’ – a concept that links feelings of stress to a lack of sleep.

Dr Ebrahim explains more below:

The UK has seen an overwhelming increase in the number of reported cases of adults affected by stress, with 74% of the nation saying they have felt overwhelmed at some point in the past year[i], and 54% of people worrying about the impact it’s having on their health.[ii]

Stress is our body’s reaction to pressures from a situation or life event.[iii] In many everyday situations, it can be seen as a normal reaction that helps keep us awake and alert, but when stress becomes excessive or persists over a period of time, the opposite happens.

The knock-on effects of stress can have a vast impact on our mental and physical wellbeing, whilst disrupting the balance of hormones released.

When our internal neuro-chemical systems are working normally, they regulate biological processes like sleep, appetite, mood and energy levels. If we are stressed, the Adreno-Cortical System is dysregulated and our energy sources are diverted, resulting in sleep disruption and mood changes.

Before we sleep it’s important to de-stress, reducing levels of cortisol, and replacing them with increased levels of melatonin, the hormone released in the brain that signals to the body it’s time to sleep.

The persistence of stress can, in turn, worsen our ability to sleep. As we continue to accrue a sleep deficit – the cumulative effect of not getting enough sleep,[iv] our ability to concentrate worsens, mood drops and productivity decreases, all of which can emphasise feelings of stress and anxiety. The physical effects of stress can lead to a heightened risk of respiratory problems, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.[v]

Feeling stressed increases physiological and psychological arousal in ways that are incompatible with the conditions your body and mind need to enter a relaxed, restorative sleep.[vi] When this process repeats, a stress-sleep cycle is formed. 

Many peoples’ sleep issues are worsened through anticipatory stress, whereby we fear an outcome before the event has taken place. When this happens repeatedly, a cycle begins to form. 

The stress-sleep cycle occurs when feelings of stress stop you from achieving a sufficient night’s sleep, or when the thought of not achieving a good night’s sleep intensifies feelings of stress, thus exacerbating the cycle and making it harder to break.

1 in 4 Britons report that stress is the main contributing factor for losing sleep[vii]. In order to break the cycle and improve the number of hours sleep achieved, and equally the quality of sleep obtained, we can make simple changes to our daily lives.

I’m seeing a growing number of patients whose battle with achieving sufficient sleep is becoming increasingly more difficult. Managing feelings of angst is something we need to tackle in order to improve the quality of sleep achieved.

5 Tips on How to Break the Stress-Sleep Cycle

1. Ensure consistency with your bedtime routine.
Going to bed and waking up at the same time helps maintain the circadian rhythm – the body’s 24-hour internal clock.

2. Switch off your electrical devices
Bright lights before bed can stimulate us, again interfering with a person’s circadian rhythm. Turning off your electronic devices an hour before bedtime is a powerful intervention to assist sleep – give it a try for two weeks!

3. Consider trying a traditional herbal remedy (THR).
Based on long-standing use as traditional herbal remedies, Kalms Night One-A-Night is used for temporary relief of sleep disturbances, whilst Kalms Day is used for the temporary relief of symptoms associated with stress. Both contain Valerian Root – a natural calming remedy.

4. Relax and clear your mind
Reducing cortisol levels, and in-turn stress levels, before we go to bed is a must. Try 15 minutes of meditation or breathing exercises beforehand to help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

5. Exercise regularly – but not before bed
Physical activity is great for helping our body balance hormone levels, improving sleep and reducing stress. It’s a great way to release endorphins and other chemicals in the brain which reduce stress and regulate mood.

A huge thank you to Dr Ebrahim for taking the time to impart some insightful advice; not only offering tips for reducing stress, but also advising on the best ways to get a good night’s sleep.

Along with emphasising the importance of reducing the stress response within the body, Dr Ebrahim has opened our eyes to the staggering statistics reflecting the sleep patterns of today’s adults.

It’s hardly surprising that the statistics are so high, considering the uncertain times we are currently experiencing, and the immense pressure that many of us are subjected to in daily life.

It’s important that we all take time to reflect, and engage in activities that help to calm the mind as we prepare for sleep.

To find out more about how you can reduce stress, take a look at our previous article.

Press enter or esc to cancel