Cookies on the Healthspan site
More than 63 per cent of us are unhappy with the amount of sleep we get , according to one survey, and 74 per cent actively worry about not getting enough.1
Regularly suffering from a lack of sleep puts us at greater risk of conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and mood disorders like depression and anxiety.2
Not everyone who has problems sleeping is under stress - there are other causes including noise, medication side effects, pain conditions, shift work, menopausal night sweats, light pollution or even an uncomfortable bed. But often people who are under constant or severe stress will develop insomnia because it's difficult for them to switch off, relax and sleep.
Research shows how just one night of sleeplessness can affect cognitive tasks3 - setting off a cycle of stress and sleep problems.
How do you know if your insomnia is stress-related? Experts suggest asking yourself when it started. If it comes and goes and coincides with stressful periods (as opposed to being a persistent problem), you have your answer.4
One of the first signs you are stressed is lying awake worrying, your brain racing or waking early - and the cycle continues. The onset of depression is also linked to stress exposure,5 and between 60 and 90 per cent of people with depression are estimated to suffer with insomnia.6
We all know how a poor night's sleep can affect our mood - making us irritable and snappy with the people around us. There's also evidence that being sleep-deprived makes us less empathetic towards others7 and less able to regulate our negative emotions.8 If we become chronically sleep-deprived, these negative effects on our psychological health appear to be cumulative. One theory is that being constantly deprived of sleep over time causes our brain to become rewired, making us more vulnerable to mental health problems.9, 10
Even short-term sleep deprivation can have a significant effect on mood. A US study carried out on healthy adults allowed participants just four to five hours sleep a night over a week and these people reported feeling more stressed, angrier, and mentally exhausted. As soon as they went back to getting a normal amount of sleep, their mood lifted dramatically. 11 Experts suggest dipping below six hours a night puts you at risk.12
So how can you break the vicious cycle of sleep problems and stress?
Here are some ideas:
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.
1 Dreams,(2016), The 2016 UK Sleep Survey Results
2 NHS,(2018), Why Lack of Sleep in Bad for You, Sleep and Tiredness
3 Linde,L. Bergström,M. (1992),The effect of one night without sleep on problem-solving and immediate recall, Psychological Research, 54(2):127-36.
4 Neil B. Kavey, Stress and Insomnia, National Sleep Foundation.
5 Vargas,I. Friedman,P. Drake,C. (2015), Vulnerability to Stress-Related Sleep Disturbance and Insomnia: Investigating the Link with Comorbid Depressive Symptoms, Trans Issues Psychological Science, 1(1): 57–66.
6 Drake,C. PhD Pillai,V. PhD Roth,T, (2014), Stress and Sleep Reactivity: A Prospective Investigation of the Stress-Diathesis Model of Insomnia, Sleep, 37(8): 1295-1304.
7 Guadagni,V. Burles,F. Ferrara,M. Iaria,G. (2014), The effects of sleep deprivation on emotional empathy, The Journal of Sleep Research, Empathy and sleep.
8 Mauss,I. Troy,A. LeBourgoise,K. (2013), Poorer sleep quality is associated with lower emotion-regulation ability in a laboratory paradigm, Journal of Cognition and Emotion, Issue 3.
9 Anwar,Y. (Press Release: 22nd October 2007), Sleep loss linked to psychiatric disorders, UC Berkley News.
10 Mind.org.uk, (2016), How to Cope with Sleep Problems. Mind; for better mental health.
11 Dinges,DF. Pack,F. Williams,K. Gillen,KA. Powell, JW. Ott, GE. Aptowicz, C. Pack, AI. (1997), Cumulative sleepiness, mood disturbance, and psychomotor vigilance performance decrements during a week of sleep restricted to 4-5 hours per night. Sleep, Apr;20(4):267-77.
12 NHS,(2018), Why Lack of Sleep is Bad for Your Health, Sleep and Tiredness
13 Sleep.org, Learn to Leave Stress Behind at Bedtime, National Sleep Foundation
14 Peuhkuri, Katri & Jaatinen, Nora & Korpela, Riitta. (2012). Diet Promotes Sleep Duration and Quality, Nutrition Research, 32(5):309-19.
15 MS, RD, Kirkpatrick,K. (2014), Foods that Help you Sleep, Cleveland Clinic. Health Essentials.
16 Abbasi,B. Kimiagar,M. Sadeghniiat,M. Shirazi,M. Hedayati,M. Rashidkhani,R. (2012), The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, Journal of Residential Medical Science,7(12): 1161-1169.