Did you know that we are sleeping two hours a night less than our ancestors did 100 years ago?
In the modern world one in three people will experience insomnia, with it now becoming a problem of epidemic proportions. According to Sleep Health Foundation the issue cost the Australian economy $66 billion in 2016/17. So we are in desperate need of a solution. The same report found that almost 40 per cent of Australians don’t get enough sleep. The most common unrecognised source of this is severe or chronic stress. In fact, experts no longer consider insomnia a sleeping disorder, but a stress disorder.
So, what is stress?
Severe stress is defined as situations that are overwhelming even life-threatening. Situations that challenge our sense of security and leave us in a permanent state of fight-flight. The fight-flight response is your body’s internal alarm system for dealing with danger. The fight-flight response involves a range of physical and mental changes designed to ward off threat. As a result it sends cortisol to give you increased energy and alertness but it’s only meant to be short-term.
Severe stress leaves your nervous system in a state of constant alarm with symptoms such as being apprehensive, irritable, unable to relax, increase anxiety and immune system problems. The types of situations that would cause this kind of stress include one-off life-threatening events such as a car accident or combat, or a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, or prolonged circumstances such as emotional abuse; neglect in childhood, or domestic violence, or even dealing with a chronic disease or pain. Research suggests that it is long-term severe stress that has the greatest impact on health and well-being.
How common is severe stress?
Traumatic or severe stress is more common than you might think. Statistics show that one in five people will suffer from an anxiety disorder, one in ten will develop PTSD, and one in ten people will suffer from clinical depression at some point.
Do we really need sleep?
In modern life there can be a bit of an attitude that we don’t need sleep. Inventor Thomas Edison even described sleep as a complete waste of time! Many successful people in society today pride themselves on being able to get by with a minimum of sleep, but scientists have discovered we really need sleep. Sleep is essential for things like memory consolidation, brain repair and regeneration, and re-energising our bodies. This is why children, especially infants, need more sleep than adults. One-year olds need 11-14 hours. Even teenagers need 8–10 hours. In fact, sleep is so important that you would die from lack of sleep before you would die from lack of food! Animals that are deprived of sleep die within a few days.
How does stress keep you awake?
There are five main effects of stress which inhibit sleep;
1. Increased physical tension
Stressed people are in a state of constant physical tension. Therefore, they feel on-edge, easily startled, and they find it hard to relax. All of this is counter to being in a relaxed state that allows sleep.
All this physical tension promotes worry. Stressed people fear the future, their mind is always going, sometimes consciously worrying about what is going to happen next sometimes just worrying, with no specific thought in mind.
3. Decreased feelings of safety
As the previous two symptoms suggest, stressed people have lost their sense of safety and security in the world – a vital precondition for falling asleep. A sense of safety is something without which no living creature will find it easy to fall asleep.
4. Trouble falling asleep
One of the two main effects of stress. And of course the longer you have trouble falling asleep, the more anxious you feel about going to bed and the less able you are to fall asleep.
5. Night waking
Once they manage to fall asleep, stressed people often suffer from night-waking, which reduces the quality of their sleep.
So how to overcome the effects of stress on sleep…
The key to getting more sleep is finding the root issue of your sleeplessness and then doing something about it.
There are lots of different approaches you could take. A qualified naturopath or health professional could prescribe herbs, or a tea, that is good for calming your nervous system.
Many people benefit from doing some physical exercise before getting into bed. Perhaps yoga or mediation would assist you.
You could consider the use of bilateral stimulation (bls), which is a treatment element of EMDR. Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, better known as EMDR, has been around for over 25 years after being developed in the 1980s by American psychologist Francine Shapiro. Research shows that using EMDR can treat all kinds of pain and trauma. Sufferers of all kinds of emotional and physical pain have had amazing results. Bilateral stimulation (bls) creates an auditory illusion that something is moving, which engages the brain and holds attention long enough for a relaxation effect to develop. This effect harnesses the brains survival response to reduce stress-related brain activity. Bilateral stimulation has been found to decrease brain activity associated with stress and stimulate brain activity associated with restful sleep. Bilateral stimulation is increasingly incorporated in stress-management audio programs.
Look into good ways to get yourself some quality sleep, so that you can reduce the stress out of your days.
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