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Stress and Sleep: What’s the Correlation?

Stress and Sleep

Why Stress Makes You Sleepy

Mr. A and Mr. B both are scared of flying. Before every flight they have to take, they become severely stressed. But their responses to stress are different. While Mr. A spends his time on the flight clutching the armrest for dear life, Mr. B goes off to sleep before takeoff and wakes up after the flight lands. This led Mr. A to wonder, how someone could fall asleep if they were really stressed or scared about something. Wasn’t anxiety and stress supposed to keep you awake and alert? For years, stress has been associated with sleeplessness. The more stressed you are, the less sleep you are going to get. However, recent findings show that stress and sleepiness also go hand in hand. This happens in two ways: Stress is caused when cortisol is produced in excess in the body. This affects the production of serotonin and melatonin, both of which are responsible for sleep and relaxation. When this happens day after day, the natural sleep cycle is affected. Adults who get fewer than eight hours of sleep every night have higher levels of stress compared to those who get at least eight hours of sleep a night. Lack of sleep causes an elevation in stress levels, and this leads to a vicious cycle, where the person remains sleep-deprived because of stress, and the lack of sleep feeds the stress. The second reason why stress causes sleepiness is because of the fight-or-flight system. When a person is stressed, there are different coping mechanisms for it. Some tend to get anxious and overwhelmed, while some others simply respond by falling asleep. This is a classic case of the body choosing ‘flight’ over ‘fight’. When the person wakes up from sleep, there is a marked difference, a real chemical change. Sleep makes all the systems in the body relax, letting the tension, anxiety, and the sickness in the pit of your stomach to ease and go away. That’s how we wake up feeling refreshed. While sleep may not always make the stress go away, it does help the brain calm down and feel fresh. Being sleep deprived day after day can take a serious toll on the brain, leading to burnout and even severe illnesses. Therefore, if you have the rare ability to fall asleep when stressed, it is a blessing. Sleep is a natural stress buster and helps the brain relax and lower stress levels. If you find yourself falling asleep when under stressful circumstances, you can either feel good about getting some extra sleep, or try to reduce the stressors in your life so that you sleep well at night and have more energy when you’re supposed to be awake.  

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