Everyone experiences stress in their lives, albeit to varying degrees. Whether the stress comes from school, work, friendships, relationships, or family, we all realize it has a significant impact on our emotional well-being. But what about our physical well-being? Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of research on the impact of stress on sleeping. According to experts, an above average amount of emotional stress can damage a person’s sleep, which affects every part of their day to day life.
Medically and psychologically speaking, there are two distinct types of stress: eustress and distress.
Literally meaning “good stress”, eustress is stress that has a positive affect on a person’s emotional state. This can be physical, in the case of exercise, but more often it’s psychological. In medical terms, eustress typically manifests as a positive response to a stressor. In layman’s terms, it means that when encountering a situation that could possibly be stressful, such as being assigned more responsibility at a job, a person perceives the situation as an opportunity for success rather than an opportunity for failure.
Otherwise known as bad stress — is the opposite of eustress, and is what most people think of when they hear the word “stress.” Distress manifests in an entirely negative way. It causes negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety, disgust, and anger, and these emotions tend to persist for as long as the stressor exists. While eustress is not harmful except in truly extreme amounts, distress can have a significant negative impact on a person’s health in anything more than the smallest dose.
An excess of distress affects sleep in a variety of ways, the most prominent of which being time. The negative emotions created by stress linger in many people’s minds, keeping them wide awake and preventing any sort of relaxation. If you’ve ever lay awake in bed worrying about something you don’t have control over, or reliving a situation over and over in your mind, trying to figure out what you could have done better, that’s stress interfering with your sleep. Stress can also prevent people who have woken in the middle of the night from falling back asleep.
In addition to keeping people awake and reducing the amount of time they are able to sleep, stress also damages the sleep those people do manage to get. A very large percentage of people report sleeping worse is due to stress. Reported symptoms include restlessness, tossing and turning, and waking up more often in the middle of the night. Stress can also exacerbate existing sleep conditions, such as sleep apnea and insomnia, if not managed properly.
So how can you mitigate the effect stress has on your sleep cycle? Well, removing sources of stress is the first step, but even if you can’t reduce the amount of stress you are experiencing, there are a few ways to manage it in order to prevent it from affecting your sleep. The primary way to do this is to maintain a consistent rhythm: try to get to sleep at the same time every night, and avoid any substances that make sleep difficult (such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and even chocolate). Another practice that helps is establishing a psychological buffer between the stress and your sleep. This essentially means distracting yourself with positive experiences — especially relaxing ones, but eustressful experiences help as well — so that you aren’t feeling the effects of distress when you lay down to sleep.
Whether people realize it or not, stress has a measurable effect on the quality of our sleep. However, by taking steps to reduce negative stress and decrease the impact it has on our sleep cycles, we can successfully reclaim our sleep.
If you or someone you know is in need of a better night’s sleep, contact us for a no obligation consultation. We are the sleep specialists at Chevy Chase ENT located in the Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. metro area dealing with sleep apnea and sleep-related problems. We can help diagnose your condition, recommend whether a sleep study would be beneficial, and offer you a variety of treatment options including CPAP, Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) and more.