Many of us deal with stress every day in one form or another. However, extreme stress over a long period of time can have significant impacts on your health and may even place additional stress on those around you. If you or a loved one suffers from repeated stress, now is a great time to learn about the impact it can have on your sleep and health. April is National Stress Awareness Month, so tune in as we cover the topics of stress and sleep apnea.
What is stress?
You’ve likely felt stress in many forms throughout your lifetime. Whether it’s waiting to see if you’ll get chosen first on the elementary kickball team, worrying about making your house payment or taking care of an aging parent, you’ve likely already experienced a form of stress at every level. When you are in moments of stress, a small part of your brain called the hypothalamus controls your hormones. When stressed, your brain goes into action, producing these hormones to signal the fight or flight reactions to your body.
The “Good” Stress
You may be surprised to learn, but there are some forms of good stress.1 Imagine the last time you went in for a job interview. How did you feel? It has been said that it is a bad sign to not be nervous or experience any form of stress. It can give you a sense of motivation and purpose. Psychologists refer to this as eustress. In some studies, it has been shown to even lessen signs of fatigue.2
You can experience good stress from a rollercoaster or any thrilling activity that makes your heart start pounding. However, too much stress can eventually lead to chronic or acute stress. Like most other things in life, everything should be done in moderation. You may find yourself sleeping better after experiencing moderate forms of good stress.
How It Impacts Health
The main issue with stress is that when it becomes prolonged, it can become chronic and cause degradation to one’s health. Not only can stress cause you to engage in poor lifestyle choices, but it can cause a variety of issues. Because of the flight or fight response caused by stress, your body is in a constant state of alert. The body is not meant to remain in this state for long and it can become out of balance, without really knowing what a true normal state is. Some of these symptoms include headaches, high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction and problems sleeping. It can also impact your emotional health by causing depression and anxiety. In some cases, stress will exacerbate or cause diseases that you already have3. These are:
- Heart Disease: Stress damages the arteries in conjunction with high blood pressure. Over time this can contribute to high blood pressure.
- Gastrointestinal Issues Stress can worsen irritable bowel syndrome and heartburn. Stress can double the amount of stomach acid.
- Fertility Problems: There has been some research to support that a decrease in stress increases pregnancy rates for couples struggling with infertility.
- Lung Troubles: Think about the last time you experienced a high level of stress. Was it hard to breathe? This is because stress causes the lungs to tense, making breathing difficult. This is already a challenge for those dealing with OSA.
Sleep & Stress
When you have high levels of stress, it can make sleep a challenge. Think about your last sleepless night and the cause. It was likely due to some form of stress. If you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, this can make dealing with it even more difficult. The degree to which one experiences stress impacts our ability to fall and stay asleep and this is true with any age group.
There hasn’t been a study directly linking OSA and stress, but they are certainly related. If you are undergoing CPAP therapy, it is recommended to eliminate stressors in your life as much as possible. Although, many often find that once they have their OSA under control, they are less stressed and find themselves more capable to handle the challenges that come to them. If you find yourself constantly struggling with stress, you may want to consider getting tested for a sleep disorder.
How Much Sleep Is Needed
In the same way that stress can impact the body, not getting a proper amount of sleep can also negatively impact your health. Sleep helps to repair the stress caused by your body every day.
A 2015 study on neurology and sleep states,
“Each phase of the sleep cycle restores and rejuvenates the brain for optimal function. When sleep is deprived, the active process of the lymphatic system does not have time to perform that function, so toxins can build up, and the effects will become apparent in cognitive abilities, behavior, and judgment.”
This is why getting a proper amount of sleep is so important at all ages. On average, children ages 6-13 need 9 to 11 hours of sleep. Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep, whereas adults and older adults need at least 7 hours each night. If you have an untreated sleep disorder and stress, it’s likely you are not getting enough sleep.
Sleep is something we all need to survive and knowing what impacts it is important to your health. Reach out to us for any of your sleep questions today!
Schneiderman N, Ironson G, Siegel SD. Stress and health: Psychological, behavioral, and biological determinants. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. 2005; 1: 607–628. 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.144141
Appl Psychol Health Well Being. 2015 Nov; 7(3):293-315. doi: 10.1111/aphw.12049. Epub 2015 Jul 30.