Why does stress affect sleep?
Stress and sleep deprivation often form a vicious cycle, with one problem usually exacerbating the other. When it comes to stress, most of the repercussions it has on your sleep pattern stem from the chemicals that are released as part of your ‘fight or flight’ reflexes. This inherent stress response is designed to keep you alive in dangerous situations – after all, unlike us, our early ancestors often had to fight off all kinds of threats just to survive.
These days though, the sources of stress in our lives aren’t usually lethal – instead, most of us will worry over our finances, our personal relationships and our jobs – unfortunately our nervous system doesn’t make this distinction. Inflammatory chemicals such as cortisol will be released which could potentially upset your sleep cycle by inhibiting your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. What most people don’t realise is that the impact of stress on your sleep patterns doesn’t end here!
5 surprising ways stress can impact your sleep
1 – Grinding your teeth in the night
Grinding your teeth, or bruxism as it is sometimes known, is linked to a variety of triggers but stress tends to be one of the most common causes. If you go to bed feeling stressed and tense then unfortunately this can affect the muscles in your jaw, causing you to clench your teeth during the night. This might not sound like a very problematic symptom but grinding your teeth can actually strain the muscles in your jaws stimulating pain in this area, as well as in your head and ears. It can also wear down your teeth, potentially exacerbating the need for fillings or even inciting permanent damage.
What can you do to stop grinding your teeth?
Unlike many of the other symptoms on this list, teeth grinding presents a unique challenge as you’re typically unconscious while it takes place. You cannot then consciously make an effort to stop or avoid this action when it happens but you can take steps to prepare for it and avoid other triggers. It’s usually recommended that, if you’re grinding your teeth, you try to avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks as these can encourage the issue. It might also be a good idea to invest in a mouth guard which can reduce teeth grinding and protect your teeth from any wear and tear this symptom may cause.
2 – Muscle aches and spasms
Have you found it difficult to nod off recently because of newfound aches and pains? If so, perhaps you might want to consider your stress levels! When you experience stress, your muscles will instinctively tense which, over time, can lead to aches and pains in the neck and shoulders and may even spur on migraine headaches. It also doesn’t help that those stress hormones I mentioned earlier, namely cortisol, can also contribute to high levels of inflammation – never good news for your muscles and joints.
However, arguably the biggest way stress can upset this area is by obstructing your absorption of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. These nutrients are absolutely essential for healthy muscles and joints and, if stress is chronic, overtime this will deplete your stores. This can affect your bone density, the severity of menstrual cramps and may even cause spasms. None of these symptoms are ideal for getting a good night’s sleep so I’d suggest you try and learn more about them by reading my blog, ‘How does anxiety affect our body?’
What can you do to relax your aching muscles and joints?
When it comes to easing muscle and joint pain, the first step is to address your stress levels. Gentle exercise, mindful meditation and deep breathing techniques can be very useful in lowering stress and anxiety in the short-term but in the long term you really need to tackle the source of your distress. This might involve having a long overdue conversation with a loved one or employer, or even just airing your thoughts and feelings aloud to someone you trust. If you feel as though you need a little extra support with this, you could try our gentle stress remedy AvenaCalm.
Once you feel you have a better grasp of your stress levels, you can then look at taking more proactive measures to address your muscle and joint pain. This may involve taking a magnesium supplement which, in addition to helping to relax your muscles and joints, can also have positive repercussions for your mood too. Our Muscle and Joint Advisor Earle also provides plenty of useful tips and advice about how to treat your muscles over at A.Vogel Talks Muscles and Joints – his blog, ‘How to release tight muscles’ would definitely be worth a read here!
3 – Raises your body temperature
This might seem like an obvious response to stress but it’s still one that often gets overlooked. As I’ve mentioned, when your body experiences stress it elevates your heart-rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels which can contribute to raising your body’s overall temperature. This may cause embarrassing symptoms such as sweating to occur, plus it can worsen other symptoms such as menopausal hot flushes. It can also cause problems if you suffer from a skin condition such as rosacea as this sudden increase in blood flow can damage the small capillaries under your skin, making them more visible and causing redness and inflammation to occur.
What can you do to cool down your skin?
If you’ve ever spent a night during summer tossing and turning, unable to cool down then you’ll know how distracting this particular symptom can be. The good news is that there are things you can do to cool down – again, getting a grasp on your stress levels in an important first step but you can also do things in the meantime to make your situation more bearable. Firstly, you can start by addressing your fluid levels – if you’re sweating more, you will be losing fluids which can place you at risk of becoming dehydrated. That’s why it’s important to try and compensate for this loss by drinking more water – not coffee, tea or fizzy drinks, good old-fashioned plain water.
After you’ve addressed this important factor you can look at other ways of dealing with this shift in body temperature. I’ve written a blog, ‘7 tips to keep cool at night’ which may offer some guidance but it might be worth avoiding other triggers such as spicy foods which can also increase your body temperature. If you’re menopausal and looking to tackle night sweats, we do also offer a remedy called Menoforce which contains sage, a natural ingredient traditionally associated with alleviating menopausal hot flushes and night sweats.
4 – Intensifies allergy symptoms
If you suffer from allergies such as hayfever, the chances are you dread the summer months when coughing and sneezing assault you during the day and prevent you from getting to sleep at night. In fact, according to our Hayfever Advisor Louise, some of us seem to find that our hayfever symptoms get worse at night so the last thing you need is a bad bout of stress keeping you awake as well.
Studies have linked stress to increased allergy symptoms before, as Louise mentions in her blog, ‘Can stress affect allergic rhinitis?’ Simply put, once again the chemicals released by your body during stress are to blame but this time histamine, not cortisol, must take centre stage. Histamine plays a key role in stimulating those dreaded allergen symptoms as it encourages inflammation, irritation and itchiness! If you’re stressed then your body will be releasing more and more of this chemical, intensifying your allergy symptoms at night while you’re trying to sleep.
What can you do about your allergy symptoms?
Stress doesn’t cause allergy symptoms but it certainly doesn’t help them either and can definitely make them worse. If allergies at night are a problem for you though, don’t worry! As Louise says in her blog, you’re definitely not alone and there’s plenty you can do minimise your contact with the allergen, whether it’s regularly changing the sheets on your bed or banning your favourite pet from your bedroom. I would look over what she has to say on the matter but in the meantime, we also provide a number of hayfever remedies here at A.Vogel.
Our Pollinosan Nasal Spray is excellent if you’re trying to cleanse your nasal passages of pesky allergen particles and it’s suitable for using alongside other hayfever medications or supplements such as our Pollinosan Hayfever Tablets.
Don’t let the name fool you – these tablets aren’t just for hayfever but can be used for wider cases of allergic rhinitis too! They contain a blend of 7 tropical herbs which are based on traditional use in homeopathic remedies and they’re great for helping your body to tackle the more typical symptoms of hayfever – the runny eyes, blocked nose and sneezing! Best of all though, unlike many conventional remedies, these are non-drowsy so shouldn’t affect your work performance or sleep patterns at night.
5 – Upsets your digestion
Bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and reflux – experiencing any of these symptoms during the night will definitely affect the quality of your sleep but, unfortunately, digestive upsets are extremely common when stress comes into the picture. Earlier I mentioned that, in a fight or flight scenario, digesting your food isn’t exactly a priority. Therefore, you may find that your digestive system slows down or suddenly speeds up leading to bouts of constipation or diarrhoea. Worse yet, since stress releases pro-inflammatory chemicals, it can actually influence the structure of your gut, leading to IBS type symptoms or leaky gut.
What can you do about your digestive upsets?
If you find that your digestion is a bit upset there are a number of things you can do to help, as our Digestive Advisor Ali discusses in her blog, ‘6 easy ways to improve your digestion.’ As always, the simplest tips tend to be the most effective – avoid heavy meals before bedtime, chew your food thoroughly and make sure you’re getting some brisk physical exercise during the day. She also recommends a range of herbal remedies that could help with more specific programmes. In cases of constipation, for example, our Linoforce granules can be very stimulating for your bowel whereas Tormentil has the opposite effect, helping to reduce bowel spasms.
However, if you suffer from IBS and feel as though stress could be triggering your symptoms, our soothing Silicol gel might be a better alternative. This helps to comfort the digestive tract, binding to toxins and facilitating their safe removal from the body. This remedy may also be worth considering if acid reflux and heartburn are a concern for you.