We tend to think of stress as something that just temporarily affects our mood, but stress actually has a much broader impact than that. Short and long-term stress can have a major impact on both the duration and the quality of your sleep.
Moreover, sleep and stress have a bidirectional relationship. The presence of stress can lead to sleep loss, and conversely, a lack of sleep can increase stress.
- Stress Makes It Harder To Fall Asleep
Over 35 percent of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep per night, according to the CDC. One of the most common reasons for a lack of sleep is stress, which causes the body to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones raise your heart rate, increase your blood pressure, and boost the body’s energy supplies. Thus, those with high stress levels are more likely to develop insomnia.
- We Don’t Sleep As Deeply When We’re Stressed
Clinical research studies suggest that stress can reduce slow-wave sleep (SWS). Slow wave sleep (also known as stage 4 sleep) is the deepest phase of sleep, and the most difficult to wake from. Slow wave sleep is very important for memory consolidation, muscle repair, and overall physical health.
The average adult gets about 1 to 2 hours of slow wave sleep in an 8 hour time period. When stress reduces our amount of slow wave sleep, our body doesn’t have the time it needs to fully replenish itself, which can negatively affect our mental and physical health over time.
- High Cortisol Levels Can Wake You Up
Elevated cortisol levels activate your sympathetic nervous symptom, which can cause you to wake in the middle of the night. Once you’re awake, it can be difficult or even impossible to fall asleep again. This situation is clinically referred to as “middle insomnia” or “sleep-maintenance insomnia.”
- Stress Dreams & Nightmares Occur More Often
Dreams spring from our abstract thoughts, desires, and memories.When we experience stressful events in our lives, such as relationship difficulties or problems at work, it can affect what we dream about. Research suggests that stress can increase the frequency and severity of nightmares or anxiety-ridden dreams.
- Stress May Lead To Sleep Apnea
For some individuals, chronic stress can lead to sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by the recurring collapse of the upper airway during sleep. Sleep apnea doesn’t just cause people to snore--it also causes patients to stop breathing momentarily, leading to choking episodes and gasping for breath. Those with sleep apnea often experience excessive daytime sleepiness and trouble focusing throughout the day
- Tension Can Trigger Nighttime Teeth Clenching
Bruxism is the medical name for nighttime clenching and grinding of teeth. When we experience long-term or chronic stress, our muscles become more tense, including the jaw muscles.
When To Seek Help
If you are experiencing one or more of the following, we encourage you to reach out to a qualified sleep medicine practitioner:
- Taking several hours to fall asleep
- Waking up once or more throughout the night
- Excessive daytime sleepiness, even if you’ve slept the night before
- Frequent headaches
- Brain fog, or difficulty concentrating during the day
Premier Medical Associates is an award-winning practice that provides expert sleep medicine services. Our specialists perform sleep studies seven nights a week at our One Monroeville Center location in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. We are the largest multi-specialty physician practice in the Greater Pittsburgh area. Call us if you would like to set up an appointment for you or a member of your family. We are open for in-office visits, and are still offering video visits to patients to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.