At what age did we go from fighting bedtime to thinking about it as soon as we wake up? We spend the whole daydreaming about crawling into bed only to get there and be unable to sleep. This is a common effect on someone who has high-stress levels and is ‘stressed and wired’.
Stress is a great example of how our external environment can have such a drastic effect on us at a cellular level. For example, the nervous system has two ‘branches’ that play a significant role in stress response. There is the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). The SNS is responsible for our ‘fight or flight response, and the PNS is essentially responsible for the ‘rest and repair’.
History of ‘fight or flight response
Historically, the SNS would come into effect when faced with danger to maximize survival. For instance, if you come face to face with a tiger, to stay alive, you’re either going to need to fight it or run away. The SNS gets your body prepared for either of these actions by ramping up your adrenaline, noradrenaline, DHEA, and cortisol levels, increasing oxygen circulation to muscles, decreasing digestion, dilating pupils, and intensifying awareness – to name a few. Our body and subconscious have only ever known these responses to mean we are trying to escape from danger or run towards survival. Unfortunately in today’s environment, something as small as someone stealing your parking space, or having a project due date looming, or having a To-Do list a mile long can cause enough stress to kick our SNS into constant overdrive. When our SNS is overly active, our subconscious mind still thinks that our life is in danger whether our conscious mind knows otherwise or not – so good luck trying to sleep in that state.
Chronic stress and sleep deprivation
When the stressor has been eliminated, the SNS is usually suppressed with the aid of the PNS. But what happens if your stressor is constantly around? Well a lot of the time, we don’t even realize how stressed we are due to our body’s almost detrimental ability to mask the effects that enormous amounts of stress cause. This resistance is where the body forms a mechanism that learns to cope with whatever it is that is causing the stress. So even though it seems as though your body is coping, and you may feel reasonably un-stressed, the body’s resources are gradually being drained and there will eventually come a time where the body’s resistance will fade away. Modern-day life has us wearing many hats and juggling many balls. Most of which, needed to be worn and juggled yesterday, so you’re left at the end of every day, lying in bed thinking about what needs to be achieved tomorrow, what wasn’t achieved that day, what Doris the neighbor thinks of you, or whether you have time to cook your husband the meal he demands every night. Welcome to sleep deprivation.
The benefits of sleep are too vast and varied to get into without writing its own blog – just know that not getting an adequate amount of quality sleep is harmful to your health.
So with the SNS being instrumental to sleep, and sleep being instrumental to your health, how do we go about suppressing your SNS, lowering your levels of stress, and improving your quality of sleep?
1. Eliminate what it is that’s causing your stress. If it’s an aspect of your life that can be eliminated or replaced, then eliminate or replace them. Life’s too short to invest your health and energy into something that is causing you damage.
2. Exercise. Exercise is a great tool to help enable you to cope with stress by releasing feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and enhancing overall cognitive function. This is especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate. Exercise also helps strengthen circadian rhythms, which is basically your body’s body clock, so it helps you to be more alert during the day, and sleep better throughout the night.
3. Eat nutrient-dense foods. Steer clear of foods that put added stress on your body, like refined sugars and processed foods. Your body’s coping mechanism for stress depletes a lot of nutrient and mineral stores, so it’s vital to be fuelling up on the right foods. Avoid high GI foods that will cause rapid spikes in energy levels especially close to bedtime.
3. Use supplements. Stress also depletes the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate sleep and wake cycles. Taking a melatonin supplement before bed will help you fall asleep quicker and will help increase your quality of sleep. This however shouldn’t be used as a long-term fix. Your primary concern should be managing the stresses in your life to enable sleep to come more easily and be of greater quality.
A healthy body and a healthy body are greatly interrelated. No matter how busy you are, if you don’t have time to look after yourself, your priorities need to change. Here at OBF, we can’t think of too many things more important than your health.
Contact OBF Gyms for a complimentary assessment to get started with one of our trainers today!