Stress & Sleep: A Match Not Made in Heaven

by | Jul 31, 2014 | General Health, Periodontal health

insomniaDo you wake up every morning feeling refreshed? For many people, that doesn’t happen. Stress keeps them tossing and turning all night, often waking up for unusual stretches of time.

You already know that stress is the bane of life. It makes you feel gloomy, irritable, hyper, tense, pressured. It’s effects are physical, as well. Chronic – ongoing – stress is a drag on health, as well. A recent poll from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that

People who identified as being in poor health were more than twice as likely (60%) to report experiencing a ‘great deal’ of stress within the past month. Eight in 10 (80%) of those in poor health reported that their own health problems contributed to their stress, and more than half (58%) attributed the health problems of a family member.

Just this month, a new study found that stress raised the risk of stroke or “mini stroke” by nearly 60%!

Stress compromises your body’s immune system, increasing your chances of getting sick. For instance, normally, your body is typically able to fend off oral pathogens. But under stress?

this delicate balance is thrown off. Inflammation tends to increase due to stress, allowing bacteria to thrive and cause gingivitis, a precursor to periodontal disease.

The biological effects of stress don’t end when you fall asleep. As University of Pittsburgh sleep researcher Martica Hall recently explained to NPR, this is because chronic stress keeps you in “fight or flight” mode.

Stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenalin, are pumped out, your heart rate goes up, sugar is released into the blood, and more blood is sent to your brain and muscles. Hall says it’s really hard to stay asleep through all that biological activity. She has found, for example, that cortisol — which surges to deal with that deadline or cope with that car payment — stays elevated throughout the night. So, even if you’re sound asleep, cortisol is constantly nudging your brain to wake up, deal with danger — real or perceived.

“Daytime stress follows you into the night,” Hall says.

And so you wake up intermittently during the night, don’t reach REM sleep, and don’t feel energized and refreshed the next day. Stress-induced bruxing – habitual clenching or grinding of teeth – may also interfere with sleep.

A pattern of unnatural sleep disruptions may have long-term health consequences – diabetes, obesity, heart disease, muscle aches, and brain damage. Yes, brain damage.

In one recent animal study, sleep deprived mice lost 25 percent of the neurons located in their locus coeruleus, a nucleus in the brainstem associated with wakefulness and cognitive processes. The research also showed that “catching up” on sleep on the weekend will not prevent this damage.

Other research published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging suggests that people with chronic sleep problems may develop Alzheimer’s disease sooner than those who sleep well.

Luckily, lifestyle changes you make today can greatly benefit you today and tomorrow. You’ll find some excellent tips for better sleep here and here and here.

True, one night of poor sleep isn’t going to cause too many issues, but you should still be mindful of the effects that stress has on your body. Overall, you want to make sure you’re getting quality sleep for approximately 7 to 9 hours a night – not 7 to 9 hours in bed but 7 to 9 hours actually sleeping.

Good sleep is needed to recharge you. After all, you’re not the energizer bunny… you can’t just keep going and going and going…

Image by Sarah

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