Stress and Sleep – Part One

Stress, worry and anxiety make it almost impossible to relax and still your mind enough to fall asleep and when you do, it tends to be lighter with more REM sleep.

When your body is under stress it will release more adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones which activate the ‘fight or flight’ response. These hormones prevent blood pressure from decreasing which makes sleep difficult.

A lack of sleep resulting from stress can cause more stress. Not a good  downward spiral to get into! Remember that a good night’s sleep interrupts the production of stress hormones, so we feel less stressed. Now that’s a circle to get onto!

But how, and why does stress exist?

Imagine you have two lovely big buttons inside you. When you, or people you care about, are in danger, or you’re in pain or have low blood sugar or are excited or are stressed you automatically press the first button. Actually, this is pressed even when you think something bad is about to happen to you, even if it’s wrong or exaggerated. It is also pushed when you feel negative emotions. So, a lot of people are seeing this pushed a lot of the time today. Once this button is activated, the SNS (the sympathetic nervous system) kicks into action.

The job of the SNS is to protect you by turning on this fight or flight response. This prepares your body for emergencies within seconds by pumping more blood to the muscles (to the arms if you are angry and to the legs if you are scared) and releases chemicals, especially cortisol and adrenaline. It acts a bit like an accelerator in a car by increasing your energy which raises your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and so on. You feel threatened and your body quickly gets ready to fight or to flee.

The effect of this button is worse if you feel you have no, or little control over the situation; if you lack hope that there is a way out of the situation; and if you feel you have no emotional support from other people. It’s all made worse because as the cortisol level increases in your body it has a knock-on effect which makes you feel more apathetic, more distracted and less able to enjoy anything. In short, you feel lousy.

Our bodies were built to activate the SNS in emergencies

Sor example, when being chased by a wild and hungry animal. But because we live in a world that is intense, exciting, stressful, aggressive at times, and busy we think there are emergencies a lot of the time. So, the SNS is over-activated and its base level is too high for our comfort and health for much of the time.

Obviously, this is not good for our physical or mental well-being as it makes us tune into, pick up and dwell on negative experiences and negative feelings a whole lot more easily. All this makes us tense, not able to sleep well and generally feel down.

What can you do to help yourself? The answer is: lots and lots!  See our next blog for what happens when you push the second button.

Find out more about how you can get from Stressed to Calm HERE and get a better night’s sleep with our online course.




Would you like me to come to your place of work and do a talk or workshop on sleep, to help your people ‘wake up with zest’, so that they are more productive and focused?
Email me for more information.