Sleep is our body’s way of recharging our energy and repairing our cells. Our health improves and we feel refreshed to start the new day. If we don’t get the sleep we need, we don’t get those benefits.
Adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep per night, while adolescents need about ten hours per night. So don’t think your teenager is being lazy when they sleep in. They need it! However, adults can do with more sleep too.
The reality is that many of us do not get enough sleep. The sleep deprivation that many of us experience can often be due to stress. Stress is one of the main reasons behind sleep deprivation, and the cycle goes round and round, as a lack of sleep can also add to your stress.
It’s a cycle that is seemingly difficult to break, but we need to break the cycle if we want to live a long and healthy life.
The Link Between Stress and Sleep Deprivation
When we are in a stressful situation, an alarm in our body goes off, alerting the brain that there is an immediate threat. Our adrenal glands then release stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which enables us to better respond to the threat. This is our instinctive fight-or-flight response.
When cortisol and adrenaline are released, our blood sugar levels and heart rate are increased, priming us to take immediate action. Heightened levels of adrenaline and cortisol also alter other systems in the body, such as the immune system and the digestive system, as the body deems these functions unnecessary in responding to stress.
This response to an imminent danger allowed our prehistoric ancestors to run away from predators and other dangerous situations. Once the stress goes away, the rest of the body goes back to normal.
However, unlike our predecessors, stress follows us everywhere. We cannot hide from it in a cave or simply move to another mountain. We get stressed because of work, studies, or even because of our relationships. Our fast-paced lifestyle has caused us to be constantly stressed, and our sleeping habits inevitably suffer.
Being chronically stressed forces our bodies to be in a hyperarousal state. Therefore, if the body is constantly releasing adrenaline and cortisol, it is keeping us more alert and awake.
After all, how can we run from any danger, like a predator, if we are sleeping soundly? Unfortunately, even though we no longer need to run from predators, the body doesn’t seem to recognize that. Consequently, we stay awake for longer periods, dramatically decreasing our body’s time to recharge.
Our body’s way of responding to stress has not evolved at anywhere near the pace it needs to cope with our modern lifestyles, and it still perceives stressful situations as imminent dangers that we need to overcome quickly. As a result, we are often constantly under stress, and it can cause serious, long-term health problems.
Effects of Stress and Sleep Deprivation
There are several damaging effects of stress-induced sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep increases our risk of life-threatening diseases.
It not only affects the physiological functions of the body, but it can also cause changes in our mood and our cognitive abilities. Not getting enough sleep also affects our appearance. Dark circles form under the eyes, while premature wrinkles on the face begin to appear and worsen.
As cortisol and adrenaline raise the heart rate, sleep deprivation has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Chronic stress and sleep deprivation also elevate blood sugar levels, which can contribute to Type 2 diabetes.
Not getting enough sleep because of stress can also cause obesity, as the persistent presence of cortisol encourages fat storage and suppresses fat burning.
The high levels of cortisol present in the body due to stress lead to a weaker immune system. We become more prone to infections and diseases because our body’s natural defense is weak.
Although stress is almost unavoidable, that doesn’t mean that we have to succumb to it constantly. There are simple ways in which we can learn to respond to stress more calmly and healthily. Whatever works for you, do it. There are many sleep apps that are calming and soothing you can try too.
Getting a good night’s sleep is imperative for overall wellness, therefore we should prioritize getting enough sleep if we want to live longer and live well. That sounds harsh, but it is very true. So break the stress and sleep deprivation cycle as quickly as you can.