When stress is mounting and you’re feeling overwhelmed as your day progresses, getting enough sleep needs to be one of your top priorities. Sleep study experts say at least eight hours of sleep every night is a key in managing your stress, even if you feel like you can ‘get by’ on less.

Being really passionate about what you do can easily lead you down the sleep deprivation path. You can become so emotionally involved in your tasks that you don’t even realise, it’s ‘sleep time’! I personally have to make myself aware of this and I have been diary noting my sleep time each day for many years now as a life threatening accident almost took my earthling life away almost twenty years ago.

Over the past year I have also been weighing myself every morning immediately on rising, and if I feel I haven’t slept enough and my body needs more recovery time, I climb back into bed for an hour or two more. Over the past twelve months I have observed a very interesting happening. If I decide that I need more sleep and jump back into bed and grab a bit more, I can lose anything from half a kilo to over two kilos just by sleeping another hour or two. A very healthy outcome. And the lost weight is belly fat, the nasty stuff.

Losing sleep can send your levels of stress hormones in the wrong direction. Although research has been mixed, one study seven years ago in the journal Sleep found that sleep deprivation boosted stress hormones. When your body doesn’t get enough sleep, (and we are all different and have different sleeping needs) the hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal axis does not shut down and it keeps secreting chemicals, mainly cortisol. This is the nasty hormone which does damage not only in the now to your health, but also long term.

A great format to follow each day is firstly putting sleep on your schedule. The National Sleep Foundation recommends “winding down” for an hour or two before bed… no catching up on work reading, tablet work stuff and no phone calls.

Also, your bedroom is reserved for relaxation, pleasure reading, sex and sleep. A bedroom without a TV set is ideal. Don’t go to bed unless you actually feel tired. And if you find yourself wide awake between the sheets, get up and do something else until you feel sleepy again.

Good sleep is essential and worth the effort to create it. However you look at it, rest is better than stress.

People with insomnia feel more stressed out than people who have no trouble sleeping at night. As reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, people who sleep soundly enjoy a daily reprieve from stress hormones. For insomniacs, however, hormone levels stay high all day long.

A good night’s sleep seems to block this chain reaction. As Stanford stress expert Robert Sapolsky describes in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers , there’s “decent evidence” that the same brain chemical that brings on deep sleep also tells the pituitary gland to slow down the production of ACTH. As a result, the adrenal gland never gets the signal to pump out stress hormones, and the body gets a chance to truly rest.

By Dr John Hinwood
for the Stress to Strength team

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