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.