Sleep and Stress

Sleep and Stress

Most adults need seven-nine hours of sleep every night to stay healthy and perform their best. Getting enough sleep isn’t just good for you physically; adequate sleep also improves mood, fosters feelings of competence and self-worth, enhances mental functioning, and supports emotional functioning.

Sleep and Stress Stress hormone levels in the bloodstream vary throughout the day and are related to sleep patterns. Peak concentrations of these hormones occur in the early morning, followed by a slow decline during the day and evening. Concentrations return to peak levels during the final stages of sleep and in the early morning hours.

Even though stress hormones are released during sleep, it is the lack of sleep that has the greatest impact on stress. In someone who is suffering from sleep deprivation (not getting enough sleep over time), mental and physical processes deteriorate steadily. A sleep-deprived person experiences headaches, feels irritable, is unable to concentrate, and is more prone to forgetfulness. Poor-quality sleep has long been associated with stress and depression. Acute sleep deprivation slows the daytime decline in stress hormones, so evening levels are higher than normal. A decrease in total sleep time also causes an increase in the level of stress hormones. Together, these changes may cause an increase in stress hormone levels throughout the day and may contribute to physical and mental exhaustion. Extreme sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms, as well as to a significant increase in heart attack risk.

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Sleep Disorders According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 Sleep in America Poll, adults sleep just under seven hours per night during the week, on average. (Compare this to the recommended seven-nine hours per night.) Many Americans cope with lack of sleep by trying to get extra sleep on the weekends, by napping, and by consuming lots of caffeine during the day. As many as 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders medical conditions that prevent them from sleeping well.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 50% of adults suffer from at least one symptom of insomnia trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. The most common causes of insomnia are lifestyle factors, such as high caffeine or alcohol intake before bedtime; medical problems, such as a breathing disorder; and stress. About 50% of people who suffer from chronic insomnia report some stressful life event at the onset of their sleeping problems.

Another type of chronic sleep problem, called sleep apnea, occurs when a person stops breathing while asleep (Figure 10.4). Apnea can be caused by a number of factors, but it

Normal breathing during sleep

Obstructive sleep apnea

Blocked airway

FIGURE 10.4 Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when soft tissues surrounding the airway relax, “collapsing” the airway and restricting airflow.

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