“I’ll work harder during the week, and then can always catch up on sleep over the weekend”. If that is something you tell yourself every other week, only to find that come the weekend you find it almost impossible to drift off to sleep, then you have a slight problem. “As our lives get busier, stress and stress related diseases creep in, becoming an inseparable part of our lifestyle. The result is a variety of overwhelming diseases, out of which insomnia has come increasingly common”, says Dr. Sheila Dikshit of Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon. “Stress is known to cause hypertension and increasing cholesterol levels along with depression and anxiety, but what most people do not realize is that stress is also deeply related to insomnia”. What makes matters worse is that many do not even realise they are suffering from stress induced insomnia.

In fact, talk to any doctor about insomnia and they will tell you it isn’t just a term that describes sleep deprivation. Insomnia comes in two forms – inability to fall asleep, and the inability to stay asleep for an adequate amount of time.

So basically, insomnia is a broad term that describes everything related to your quantity and quality of sleep, which can be impacted by your stress levels.

Understanding the relationship between stress and insomnia

What really causes stress? Some would say it is their performance at work, for others it could be the responsibility of trying to balance work with family life, and for others yet it could be financial worries or relationship problems. Even children suffer from stress these days much like adults do, thanks to the pressure to do well in studies.

So if you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night because you suddenly remembered that you forgot to submit a report at work, or you lie awake feeling nervous about a presentation you have to give, you are already well aware of the deep relationship between stress and insomnia. Stress releases a heady cocktail of hormones in your body, one of which is cortisol. These make it hard for you to fall asleep, and stay asleep.

Why should you care about stress-induced insomnia?

A good night’s sleep is crucial for your body to perform at its optimal. Now be that physically, emotionally or mentally – sleep is the body’s way to recharge and repair, without which you will find it hard to manage a regular day’s tasks efficiently. What is worse is that sleep deprivation exacerbates stressful situations, as you aren’t performing to your optimal level, you are likely to feel increasingly frustrated as a result.

You may feel the impact of lack of sleep on your concentration levels, your decision making ability, and even on your memory. For many; prolonged insomnia gives way to depression and anxiety. In fact, some recent research has also linked insomnia with gastrointestinal illnesses. Another danger is dependence on sleeping pills, which can lead to addiction, further exacerbating your issues.

What research has to say?

The role of stress in chronic insomnia has been widely studied and documented worldwide. A Japanese study looked at 3400 male civil servants and found that insomnia was related to daily stress levels, but also found that regular exercise was the best cure. While stress is clearly linked to sleep disturbances, this research has documented the role of stressful life events in primary insomnia.

Although major stressful events have always been believed to trigger insomnia, the truth is that more and more studies now prove that chronic exposure to minor every day stress also increases the risk of insomnia. Even interpersonal conflicts and frequent negative incidents can result in sleep disturbance, as proven by a study done in France on adolescents. Researchers found that children from broken families or those who had a poor relationship with their parents because of lack of attention were more susceptible to insomnia. In addition, a study done in Finland found worrisome evidence that psychosocial stressors are highly associated with insomnia as compared to other health problems.

Taking charge of your life

As it is evident, stress and insomnia are deeply related. Thankfully there are ways to relieve stress-induced insomnia.

• Exercise regularly

• Do not bring work home if you are suffering from insomnia; it will disrupt your sleep routine;

• Give up smoking, especially in excess;

• Limit caffeine intake after 6 pm;

• Create a relaxing ritual before bedtime to unwind. This could be a bath, reading a book, watching TV or listening to music

• Avoid eating around bedtime; and

• Try deep breathing exercises before sleep time.

Today, stress and stress related ailments have started affecting more and more people in India. Rather than trying to ignore your insomnia and holding onto the belief that it will fix itself in time, it is best to talk to a doctor, especially if you cannot seem to get to sleep even after trying relaxation techniques. Image Courtesy: Glow Images

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