Stress causes a lack of sleep, and a lack of sleep causes stress. It’s a subtle thing, and one that you may not be aware of as you deal with stressors on a daily basis.
But if you’re working a job that has a lot of emotional demand, e.g., tense interaction between coworkers or deadlines that are a constant issue, you’re operating with a stress load.
In turn, that stress load affects your sleep cycles and manifests into insomnia.
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In other words, you may feel awake or that you can’t sleep, but in reality, you’re exhausted and walking on a high-tension wire; eventually you crash and burn. If you can’t sleep within a usual resting cycle, you’re at risk of becoming seriously ill.
How The Lack Of Sleep And Stress Cycle Is Created
Imagine yourself as starting out fresh for a job. Your sleep cycles are steady and you’re ready to go. The first day of the job is always going to be a little stressful, because you’re learning how to adapt to a new position.
This eventually fades out, however, and is unlikely to affect your sleep overall. It’s when you’re on the job for a month or two when the daily stresses begin to take hold.
Work means getting things done on a regular basis, and when deadlines aren’t met or a project isn’t going as it should, anxieties take hold. It is very difficult to detach the mind from something for which you are personally responsible. Chances are good that you’re going to fixate on every detail that could go wrong in an attempt to keep everything under control.
This is how the stress cycle begins. The idea that there is something that is going to break down or go wrong is anxiety inducing. Anxiety raises blood pressure into a “fight or flight” response; adrenaline floods the body in preparation for taking action.
However, no action is ever taken because the stress is in response to an artificial as opposed to actual threat. There is no need to fight or flee from the situation because it’s not true danger.
Regardless, the energy levels are raised due to all of the hormones running through the system anyway. A direct result of this is that you are more awake and won’t go to sleep when you need to, or you’ll get less sleep overall.
Getting less sleep means your body’s repair processes don’t execute fully and illnesses can start to creep in. You might think that you’ll get more sleep the next night, but this never happens because the next day is another stressful one at work. The same worries and fears creep back in and you’re back to square one.
Why Not Getting Enough Sleep Is Bad for You
There are a number of health risks associated with lack of sleep. You may think that your brain isn’t doing anything when you’re asleep except for dreaming, but you’d be wrong. Only the conscious part of the brain is asleep.
The rest of the brain is working with the body to repair muscles, ensure that blood vessels are under less pressure, replenish energy levels, rebuild your immune system and regulate the appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin.
Disrupting these cycles disrupts them in a negative way. Blood pressure that is never allowed to drop leads to hypertension and heart disease.
Unregulated leptin and ghrelin leads to overeating and obesity. Just one night of bad sleep impairs the body’s ability to handle the glucose load and can lead to diabetes over time.
There are more than just physical issues. Cognitive function is impaired as well, putting you at risk of getting into an accident or realizing your fear and making a mistake on that important project.
Your ability to make a decision in a timely manner is blunted, making you react more slowly than you would if you’d had a good night’s sleep.
Breaking The Stress-Sleep Cycle
If work is the problem, the ideal solution is to quit and find one that’s less stressful; however, reality may dictate otherwise.
To that end, work on controlling the issues at hand so they won’t follow you home by finding positive ways to deal with them, such as exercising regularly and retraining your brain through cognitive therapy and/or meditation to control the fight or flight response.
Prioritize sleep, set a regular bedtime every night, and go to bed even if you don’t feel tired.
Making regular bedtime a habit helps you train your mind into a set pattern so you can get the rest you need and avoid the health problems that come with a lack of sleep.