You’ve had a long day, you’re thoroughly exhausted and can’t wait to get in bed. You climb in, get comfortable and 40 minutes later you’re still lying there, not able to sleep. Your brain will not stop. So far you’ve thought about what you need to get at the store tomorrow, the email you have to send to your team in the morning, and why the toaster always burns one side of the bread.
Or perhaps you fall asleep quickly only to find yourself waking frequently throughout the night. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 74% of adults in the United States experience a sleeping problem a few nights a week or more. Odds are, you’ve been in this 74% at one time or another.
Why are so many people having problems sleeping? I believe one of the major culprits is stress. Stress releases cortisol into the body as part of the fight or flight response, which does many things including controlling the body’s use of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, body fat storage, immunity and ability to sleep.
Think about this from an evolutionary perspective: Stress was related to predators, food, physical injury and climate. Imagine you are on the Serengeti, evening is approaching and there are lions nearby. How well are you going to sleep? We had to stay awake to stay alive. How did we stay awake? The stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol plays a major role when it comes to sleep. Levels naturally begin to rise about an hour before you wake up and are one of the things responsible for ending the sleep cycle. For most people, cortisol levels reach their highest point at about 7 a.m. After peaking, levels decrease during the day and reach their low in the evening and during the early phase of sleep.
Cortisol increase = wake up
Cortisol decrease = sleep
Many of us have high levels of repeated stress exposure throughout the day, which results in bursts of cortisol repeatedly being released. This in turn leads to elevated levels of cortisol over the afternoon and evening instead of the natural decrease.
Researchers compared patients with insomnia to those without sleep disturbances. They found that “insomniacs with the highest degree of sleep disturbance secreted the highest amount of cortisol, particularly in the evening and nighttime hours,” suggesting that chronic insomnia is a disorder of sustained hyperarousal of the body’s stress response system. (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, August 2001)
People who are very stressed out don’t have the adequate decrease of cortisol levels later in the day. Elevated levels of cortisol in the evening are a sign of stress.
Stress can affect both the quantity and quality of sleep. It decreases slow wave sleep (the most restorative), and increases the amount of time spent in shallow sleep – which means you wake up more easily and have fragmented sleep.
This can result in a stress feedback loop. Not getting enough sleep is a stressor and being stressed makes it hard to sleep!
Lack of Sleep Also Affects Fat Distribution:
· When people become sleep deprived, their ability to utilize the food they’re consuming falls by about 1/3. In this way we find an increased need to eat more food.
· When you are tired, your body is craving energy – food is energy. I’m always hungrier when I’m tired, and it’s not for broccoli. A few weeks ago I returned from a business trip to Dubai, was jet-lagged and had to hit the ground running. That afternoon I ended up eating 2 cupcakes and a Diet Coke – not something I normally do.
· Sleep deprivation leads to increased levels of cortisol (remember lack of sleep is a stress, stimulating the stress response and release of cortisol) as well as elevated blood glucose, all resulting in an increase in the amount of fat stored in the abdominal area. This is because the fat cells in the abdomen are more sensitive to cortisol. Lack of sleep can lead to a spare tire!
How Exercise Affects Sleep:
Exercise is scientifically proven to increase the quality of your sleep, and can be a very effective way to handle stress. Compared with those who do not exercise, physically fit people claim they fall asleep more quickly, spend more time in deep sleep, and feel less tired during the day. Scientists have shown that people who exercise spend more time in slow-wave sleep, which is the most restorative.
PowerHouse Hit the Deck™ can improve the quality of your sleep as it has been scientifically designed to burn off the stress hormone cortisol, and to release the “feel good” hormone endorphins. Endorphins are opium-like substances produced naturally in the brain, which give a feeling of calm, relaxation, contentment and well-being.
It also trains the body to be able to handle more stress. What happens to your heart rate when you experience a stressful event? It increases. What happens to your heart rate when you exercise? It increases. What happens to your heart rate when the stress is over? It decreases. Exercise physiologists measure someone’s level of fitness by how quickly their heart rate drops after the stress of exercise. In doing PowerHouse Hit the Deck™, you’re training your heart rate to recover from stress! How quickly do you recover from a stressful event?
It can also raise the trigger point at which your body decides something is stressful. Your threshold for stress increases – which means you can handle more stress before you freak out.
Even though exercise improves your ability to fall asleep more quickly and to sleep more soundly, you should not do it right before bed. Exercise increases energy levels, so working out right before bed makes it more difficult for most people to fall asleep (though you may be one of those rare individuals that can workout, hop in the sack and get right to sleep). You should try and complete your workout at least 3-4 hours before you go to bed, or even do it earlier in the day if convenient.
To have Jenny Evans come and speak to your group or organization on stress, productivity, performance and health, contact her here.