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Hormones, Stress and Sleep

June 09, 2017


The effect of stress on our hormones and sleep patterns

Have you ever noticed that when you are stressed out, anxious and carrying the woes of the world on your shoulders, that one of the first things to suffer is your quality of sleep? Now, you might think that you are not sleeping properly because your mind is busy being stressed out, and while this is true, there are lots of other processes at play, behind the scenes as it were, that are causing you not to sleep. You see, our bodies work through a series of interconnected reactions – just as ‘the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone and the thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone,’ so too is our sleep connected to our stress levels which in turn is connected to our hormone levels.

It is first important to understand what hormones are.

Hormones are chemicals messages that are sent around the body via our bloodstream that control all of the main functions that our bodies need to happen in order to operate properly. They are produced by endocrine glands. Each endocrine gland produces a specific hormone that has a very specialised job to do. For example, the pancreas, which works as an endocrine gland, produces insulin to help our bodies break down the sugar from our food and use it as energy.

Hormones control our appetite, our reproductive systems, our mood and emotions, and the way we sleep. But stress has a huge impact on our hormone levels.

When we are highly stressed our bodies over produce the hormone cortisol. This hormone has several functions, one of which is to help us deal with stress – it puts us on high alert so that we can cope with stressful situations. It is normal to have elevated cortisol levels during the day, but by the evening these levels should have dropped down. If you are under a lot of stress, your cortisol levels are always up, and so you are always on high alert, therefore getting to sleep can be difficult.

Another stress hormone that can affect sleep is adrenaline. This is produced by the adrenal glands. It controls how we react to stress. It is also known as the ‘fight or flight’ hormone. When we are in stressful situations our adrenal glands pump adrenaline through our bodies so that we can react immediately. If we are constantly under pressure and stressed the adrenal glands work over time, and the adrenaline surges through our bloodstream putting all our cells and organs in a state of constant alertness.

What happens is that your stress hormone levels are so elevated that you can’t sleep so you wake up tired, which in turn creates more stress, so you can’t sleep the following night, and you wake up feeling more stressed and so the cycle continues.

The hormone that is involved in sleep, and helps our bodies to shut down so that they can repair themselves from the day’s stresses and strains, is melatonin. Melatonin, produced by our bodies in the dark, helps with good quality sleep. So, when your cortisol levels are supposed to drop, melatonin production is supposed to kick in so that you can get sleep. Melatonin and cortisol fight a constant battle for dominance. If you are stressed then cortisol stops you sleeping, so you don’t produce melatonin so you don’t sleep well and your body doesn’t repair and regenerate the way it’s supposed to.

In a ‘normal’ functioning adrenal system, cortisol and adrenaline (which are your adrenal hormones) are pumping through your body during the day. They peter off at night, and melatonin kicks in so that you can sleep and your body can repair. But when you are highly stressed, your adrenal system runs in overdrive preventing you from sleeping and preventing the melatonin from being produced.

So, it is vital to find ways to manage stress. Whether it is meditation, exercise or standing under a bridge and screaming it all out, unless we find ways to deal with life’s daily toils the stress sleep cycle doesn’t end. There are supplements, dietary solutions and special techniques that we can use too. And of course a comfortable inviting bed is vital as well. So, as a first step to managing your sleep why not visit your nearest Bed King and try out our range of beds and mattresses.


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