Stress: How is it related to sleep?


SleepUp Blog: Estresse e sono

With the lifestyle we have adopted over the last few decades, stress has become part of our daily lives. Especially in big cities, no one is not stressed. One of the clearest consequences of stress is lack of sleep and insomnia.


In this blog we will try to understand what stress is and what is its relationship with sleep. Plus, you'll find some tips for getting to sleep even under stressful conditions. What is stress?

Stress is a very generic term that encompasses all kinds of threats, real or perceived, to our psychological or physiological integrity (and often a threat to life!). Note that here we already have an important definition: stress does not just refer to our behavior and psychological aspects, but to our entire body.


As stress is a threat to our body, it must always generate a response. This is generally a good thing, as it allows us to try to deal with and defeat the threat, whatever it may be. But sometimes the response can get out of hand and then we start having negative results.


We can classify stress according to its origin, between organic (or biogenic) stressors and psychological (or psychosocial) stressors. Regardless of the type of stress, the response is always very similar and with the same purpose: preparing our bodies to react to danger. For this, several things happen:


· Increased blood pressure and heart rate:

The heart needs to beat harder and faster to deliver blood, oxygen and nutrients to the brain and muscles.


· Breathing is faster

To ensure sufficient oxygen for the body in a dangerous situation.


· The amount of sugar in the blood (blood glucose) increases

If we need to react to a dangerous situation (running or fighting, for example), sugar will be an important source of energy.


· Increased alertness and attention

If we are in danger, it is important to be aware of everything that happens around us. This increases attention and sleep goes away.


All this happens with the help of two main hormones: cortisol and adrenaline, which are called “stress hormones”. Why is stress important?

Although we always associate stress with something bad, stress responses are essential to our body and important for us to react to stressful situations, especially for major acute threats. Let's think about some types of acute stresses:


· You were mugged

· You received very bad news

· You are exercising

· You were injured in an accident

· You have found a snake or other wild animal

· You are walking down a dark, deserted and dangerous street


In all these cases, the stress response is very important, as it ensures that we are able to react to the problem immediately, overcoming it. That's why we say that the stress response is adaptive, as it allows us to adapt to these situations.


But it's important to note that as soon as the stress is gone, the response ends and our entire body starts functioning normally again. In short: the stress response is essential in acute cases.

When is stress an issue?


The stress response was developed throughout evolution to make us react to acute stresses, particularly physiological ones. However, the lifestyle of the last decades has made us go through a new type of stress: chronic psychological stress.


These stresses are caused by psychological, behavioral or social factors. More importantly, these stresses usually don't resolve quickly (like the acute stresses we talked about earlier), tending to recur for many days at a time. Some examples of chronic psychosocial stresses are:


· You are in financial trouble

· You have family or marital problems

· You live in a dangerous region

· You are in a situation of social vulnerability

· You experience abusive relationships at work or school

· You suffer prejudice, bullying or systemic intimidation

· You go through a period of work overload or mental overload


In all these cases our body detects stress and triggers the same response. However, unlike acute stresses, these chronic psychosocial stresses do not last overnight.


If you're exposed to one of these stresses today, you'll go through all the changes we've mentioned before, but the problem won't go away. In fact, it will repeat itself, and repeat, and repeat, day after day. That is why we say that the chronic stress response is maladaptive, as it does not adapt or solve the problem.


Let's take an example of a lady who lives on the outskirts of the city, spends a lot of time commuting to work and getting there has to deal with an abusive and disrespectful boss. This woman is having stress responses all the time! And as the situation will repeat itself every day, it will have the same answers every day.


When we understand that the response repeats itself daily, we begin to understand why chronic stress is a problem. Precisely because the effects that should happen sporadically, to solve specific problems, start to be repeated for a long time.