How Does Sleep Reduce Stress?

March 16, 2022

How Does Sleep Reduce Stress?

Stress occurs as a natural response to the way the body and brain react to a difficult, scary, or dangerous event or situation. Nearly 8 in 10 people in the U.S. report experiencing weekly stress — meaning millions of Americans are stressed. Stress is a crucial, natural response allowing a person to respond and cope with difficulties at home, school, social settings, or work. While millions experience some type of stress, long-term or chronic stress can have a significant impact on a person’s overall health, including mental health, physical health, and even sleep, which is why it is crucial to understand how to manage stress.

What is Stress?

While the term stress holds a negative connotation for many people, stress is a natural chemical response to a particularly challenging or negative event or situation. A person may experience triggers that bring about stress; however, not all stressful situations are associated with stressors or triggers.

There are three stages to stress response:

1) Alarm Response

The initial response to stress is often referred to as fight, flight, or freeze or the body’s fight or flight response. When there is a perceived threat to your physical being, or a potentially harmful event, the body experiences a psychological reaction, where the person will either stand up against the perceived threat, be frozen in fear, or run from the danger.

During the alarm response, stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol are produced, which in turn increase alertness to better help you deal with the event. As stress hormones are increased, a person may experience high blood pressure and tachycardia or a high heart rate.

2) Adaptation

During the adaptation or resistance stage of stress, the body begins to come down from a “high” state. A person’s blood pressure, heart rate, and other elevated levels will begin to normalize, and the body enters into the recovery phase. Though the body is beginning to level out, there is still an increase in hormone production, allowing the body and brain to remain alert.

3) Recovery

Each person responds to perceived danger differently, making the recovery phase different from one person to the next. As the body enters into recovery following high levels of stress, exhaustion becomes more prevalent, making you more likely to just want to sleep. Depending on how long your body experienced the first two stages of stress, your physical and mental health is at risk of serious compromise.

Stress often exacerbates mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and mania.

What are the Symptoms of Stress?

Stress presents itself in many different ways, often varying from one person to the next. Some of the most common reports of signs and symptoms of stress include:

  • Anxiety
  • Appetite loss
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the back, chest, and/or neck
  • Sleep disturbances, including too little or too much sleep

Stress has also been linked to many negative health problems, such as:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Hair loss
  • Persistent or recurring illness
  • Physical tension
  • Tooth or jaw pain from grinding teeth during sleep

How does Stress Impact the Body?

Sleep experts recommend the average adult get enough sleep, and receive at least 8 hours of sleep each night to maintain healthy bodily functions, such as hormone promotion and regulation, memory formation and consolidation, and immune system support. The HPA axis (hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal axis) is responsible for regulating the body’s hormonal response to stressful events and situations.

Throughout the day, the body produces small amounts of cortisol to maintain focus and awareness; however, when stressors occur, the amount of cortisol produced is greatly increased.

When a perceived threat is detected, the body naturally increases the number of stress hormones produced, including two key glucocorticoids, adrenaline and cortisol. Stress hormone production begins with the pituitary gland releasing a hormone that triggers the adrenal gland to produce adrenaline and cortisol. The sudden spike in stress hormones leaves the body at an increased risk of experiencing a “crash” as the stress levels begin to dissipate, leaving you feeling tired.

The various systems within the body are affected differently in regards to stress including:

The Cardiovascular System

The initial “fight or flight” response to a stressful event results in a sudden spike in your resting heart rate, and causes high blood pressure – all of which result in an increase in heart muscle contractions. As cortisol levels and adrenaline are pumped throughout your entire body, the heart must work harder in order to compensate.

Although acute stress does not produce lasting effects, chronic stress levels put added pressure on the cardiovascular system, and increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, heart disease, and stroke.

The Nervous System

When stressors occur as a result of a perceived threat, the body increases the production of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. The increase in these hormones is regulated by the nervous system, meaning the “crash” is regulated by the nervous system as well. Long-term or chronic stress experienced by the body can result in nerves being overworked, and premature wear to the body.

How does Stress Contribute to Sleep Issues?

According to the Sleep Foundation, 10 percent to 30 percent of self-reporting adults experience insomnia, with even more experiencing poor sleep. Insomnia is one of the most common sleep problems, often caused or exacerbated by stress.

A person living with insomnia experiences sleep disturbances at least 3 times per week for 3 months or more. This sleep disorder is marked by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and is often associated with one or more of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Changes in sleep schedule
  • Family or relationship troubles
  • Death of a loved one
  • Injury
  • Persistent illness
  • Difficulty or unhappiness at work
  • Significant life changes

Sleep disturbances are more prevalent in those dealing with chronic stress. Not only is insomnia caused or exacerbated by stress, but stress can also lead to sleep apnea - temporary pauses in breathing as you sleep. Since sleep and stress are closely linked, it’s more important than ever to understand the relationship between the two.

How can Sleep Reduce Stress?

Stress and sleep go hand-in-hand. When you are stressed you do not sleep, and when you do not sleep, you are more prone to stress. Healthy sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining an overall healthy physical, emotional, and mental well-being; therefore, when a person experiences sleep deprivation, or a lack of sleep, they are at an increased risk of harmful side effects.

A good night’s sleep regulates hormone production, allows time for the body to relax and reset, allows muscle repair, improves concentration, sharpens decision-making, and many other critical things. Managing stress helps us to fall asleep, enhances sleep quality so we get better sleep, and helps improve our overall mental health.

Tips to Improve Sleep to Help with Stress

Have you found yourself wondering how much sleep affects your stress levels? A lack of sleep or poor sleep quality can lead to an increased risk of stress. So, how can you combat stress and improve sleep?

Create a Healthy Sleep Environment

More often than not, we climb into bed at night, and turn on our favorite television series, or turn to our cell phones and scroll through social media. Mental health professionals and sleep experts recommend cutting out artificial light sources as the blue light from the TV and cellular devices alters the natural sleep-wake cycle in the brain.

Make Your Mental Health a Priority

Are you struggling with persistent anxiety or depression? Mental health conditions have been proven to exacerbate or worsen your response to stress as well as cause insufficient sleep. Caring for your mental health can be the result of therapy, medication, or relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga.

Enlist the Help of Eco Terra!

At Eco Terra, we understand the importance of a good night’s sleep. Sleep stress is a vicious cycle; however, with the help of our handcrafted hybrid mattress, you can enjoy a deep, comfortable sleep every night. We spend at least 8 hours of the day in bed, so why not have a sleep space where we can relax, and are comfortable?

Quality sleep has been proven to reduce stress levels and enhance the overall mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being of an individual.

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 13 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.