Health Care

Increase your sleep to reduce stress

June 30, 2018
TAGS Sleep / stress
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The only two certainties in life used to be death and taxes, but for those living today, stress also has become inevitable.

Think about how many times a week you say the phrase, “I’m stressed out,” or “He/she must be feeling stressed.” It is just a way of life now. While our ancestors had serious issues to deal with, people living today have a new, more constant form of stress that can lead to a slew of different health problems.

Effects of stress on the body

One of the reasons people today are so stressed is because of the ability for humans to be constantly “connected.” Cell phones have made it easy for people to have constant access to work emails, social media channels, text messages and more. But that also comes with a price. Some find it hard to actually “unplug,” and more and more people are now finding it hard to unwind and go to bed at a reasonable time. In addition to the blue light from devices being a factor in insomnia, the stress of thinking about too many things at once makes it hard to quiet your brain before going to bed. Insomnia then leads to poor diet habits which in turn lead to weight gain.

High stress levels are known to contribute to the accumulation of belly fat, as research has shown that our cortisol — or “stress hormone” — receptor sites are located in our umbilical region. When people are stressed out it causes blood sugar to rise and increases risk for diabetes and cell resistance. Someone could do hundreds of daily crunches and ab exercises, but if daily stressors are not properly managed, that person still will likely fail to lose fat in the belly region of the body.

While a little extra “cushion” around the waist may not seem like the end of the world, it can actually increase your mortality rate. For males, every 2 inches above a waist size of 36 inches increases mortality rates by 17 percent. For women, every 2 inches above a waist size of 30 inches increases mortality rates by 13 percent.

While it is significantly easier said than done to control daily stressors, it is important to remember there are some stressors that are easier to manage. We have control over certain aspects of our life and need to focus on those things. One of the things humans have a decent amount of control over is their sleep patterns.

Individuals who suffer from extremely high levels of stress are typically the ones who have the most difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. While it may seem a bit backwards, not getting enough sleep actually contributes to feelings of stress. Sleep is the body and mind’s time to rejuvenate and repair itself, so when people lack quality sleep, they are prone to feeling more stressed, on edge, or irritable. Studies also have shown that people who sleep more tend to have longer lifespans.

Effects of lack of sleep on the body

Sleep has a bigger impact on our bodies’ metabolism than the food we eat or our exercise habits. Sleeping less than seven hours per night has been linked to inflammation, oxidative stress, CVD, Endothelial dysfunction, GI problems, higher risk of cancer, sex and thyroid imbalances, bone loss, diabetes, aches and pains, weight gains and food cravings. Those who sleep seven or more hours per night will feel less hungry, less stressed and they will have increased metabolism, which leads to the increase of lean muscle.

While getting a total of seven hours of sleep per night may seem reasonable for some, it is also important that it is undisturbed sleep. Undisturbed sleep means that you are able to fall asleep within five minutes and not wake up until the next morning. Every time our body wakes up in the middle of the night, melatonin production is disturbed and deep REM sleep, when we are “truly asleep,” is interrupted. Even waking up to quickly use the restroom, as many people do nightly, is considered disturbed sleep.

Those on the extreme end of very little sleep are putting themselves at risk for many different serious health issues. Studies have shown striking metabolic consequences when sleep is cut to four hours or less per night. It will take someone’s body 40 percent longer than normal to regulate blood sugar after a high-carb meal, and insulin secretion response decreases by 30 percent, TSH secretion is reduced, and cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is increased. A lack of sleep also has a drastic impact on testosterone levels. According to studies, just one week of reduced sleep (five hours of less) resulted in a 10 percent to 15 percent drop in testosterone levels and a self-reported decline in mood by study participants, which corresponded with the decreased testosterone levels.

How to get the best sleep

While most people understand the importance of sleep, the next step is to understand how to get a good night’s sleep. A few helpful sleep tips are:

Remove all electronics from the bedroom

This will help reduce the amount of possible distractions when falling asleep. It also is important to reduce screen time in the couple hours before bed, as the “blue light” disrupts the body’s ability to fall asleep. This includes removing TVs, computers, tablets, landlines and most importantly, cell phones.

Set up your room like a bat cave

Make your room as dark as possible. Investing in a good pair of black-out shades and covering lights from any devices, including an alarm clock, will help your fall asleep faster and stay asleep.

Minimize clothing

Light, breathable clothing is best, or none at all if you are comfortable with that. Don’t forget to remove jewelry, too. Getting tangled in clothing or jewelry is likely to wake you up in the middle of the night.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine

Stretch and/or meditate for 10-15 minutes, read your favorite book, or write what you are grateful for in a journal. The time before bed should be as relaxing as possible and it is important to reflect on the day in a positive mindset. Do not use any electronics 30 minutes before bedtime.

Sleep in a cool environment

Lower the air temperature before bed, as a cooler environment is more conducive for good sleep. Also avoid really hot showers before bed, as this will throw off your body temperature.

If you have tried all of the above tips and still feel as though you are not getting restful, quality sleep, it may be time to take a step back and evaluate what is causing the stressors in your life. It could be an indicator that it is time to make a big life change.

Stress plays a huge role in your overall health and wellness, and most importantly, it has a huge impact on quality of sleep. And sleep is everything.

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