The Sleep-Stress Connection

It's a vicious cycle: Stress leads to poor sleep, and poor sleep increases stress. Break the cycle for a healthier, happier, calmer life.

A recent study reinforces the two-way relationship between sleep and stress. Results indicate that poor sleep may be a potential cause of stress; individuals who report more fatigue and less total sleep are more likely to report more stress. And, people with chronic stress report shorter sleep duration, worse sleep quality, and more daytime functioning impairments. In fact, fewer typical hours of sleep was one of the best predictors of high stress.

One of the lead researchers said, "The simplest, and likely best advice for individuals with high stress and poor sleep is to look at some of the lifestyle choices they are making and ensuring sufficient sleep is at the core of those choices."

Previous studies have found that 65% of Americans lose sleep due to stress, with 19% of individuals ages 45-64 saying that they lose sleep due to stress a few nights per week and 36% at least once a week.

And people who bring stress into the bedroom aren't the only ones finding it hard to fall asleep at night -- it affects their partners as well. Nearly half of Americans say they toss and turn throughout the night because of their partner's sleeplessness.

There are a number of reasons why stress and sleep deprivation seem to go together:

• Taking "work" to bed: Whether from your job, family, or school, external stressors, to-do lists, and problems to be solved can invade your thoughts at bedtime. This makes falling asleep difficult, and can even disrupt your sleep in the middle of the night, as you transition between sleep stages.

• Caffeine: People under stress tend to consume significant amounts of caffeine to get a boost that gets them going in the morning or helps them make it through the day. But caffeine can actually increase stress levels and significantly affect the amount and quality of sleep you get.

• Overscheduling: A hectic, busy life not only means more stressful days, but often means less time to dedicate to sleep. Pushing your bed time back further and further or getting up earlier and earlier to get things done may seem to make you more productive, but may at the expense of getting enough sleep.

• Anxiety: Anxious thoughts can make sleep difficult and wake you up at night. The feelings of apprehension or dread that accompany anxiety lead to a racing mind that is not easily turned off. Anxiety also raises your cortisol levels, making it harder to fall asleep.

• Cortisol: This stress hormone is responsible for the fight or flight response - that jolt of energy you get when you feel stressed or threatened that enables you to respond. Unfortunately, chronic stress can lead to excessive levels of cortisol and this can disrupt healthy sleep patterns. Prolonged sleeplessness also causes the body to continuously release cortisol into the bloodstream, leading to the cycle of poor sleep-increased stress-worse sleep-more stress. The chronic release of stress hormones caused by sleep deprivation ultimately affects your immune system and your general health.

But you CAN break the cycle of stress and poor sleep. For lifestyle tips on how to get better sleep and lower stress, see Dr. Cherry's Guidelines for Better Sleep and A Happy, Healthy You.

In addition, God has provided us with natural herbs, minerals and extracts from His plant kingdom that naturally promote relaxation and restful sleep, support balanced cortisol levels and regulation of the sleep/wake cycle, and help fight anxiety and manage stress. Read more about these natural compounds at God's Calming Herbs, Part II – Stress and God's Calming Herbs, Part I – Sleep.

Manage your stress and you will be on your way to a much better night's sleep; improve your sleep and you will find yourself less stressed during the day. This much improved cycle will help put you on the pathway to healing.