A good night of sleep will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.
On the other hand, a sleepless night leaves you feeling groggy and tired.
The fact of the matter is that no matter who you are, a lack of sleep will hinder your performances. Worse still, chronic sleep deprivation will make you more stressed.
This article offers some practical advice on improving your sleep, along with answering your question “how does getting enough sleep reduce stress?”.
What Lack of Sleep Does to You
To fully understand how stress and sleep are related, we should first look into the general effects of sleep on your health and mental state.
So, what happens when you’re tossing and turning in bed every night?
As it turns out, a lack of sleep leads to a cascade of events that are all tied to higher stress levels and negative health consequences. These include:
Lowered Immune System
During sleep, our body makes cytokines. Cytokines are essential because they protect us from viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders. They’re like our internal army.
However, when you’re sleep-deprived, your cytokine levels go down. This makes it easy for the environmental intruders to breach your immune system and wreak havoc on your health. (4)
Not only that, stress hits us harder when the immune system isn’t up to par.
Sleep affects your blood sugar, inflammation, and blood pressure. What’s more, our bodies repair themselves during sleep.
Sleep deprivation can bring about unnecessary inflammation and certain things that lead to health problems – including heart disease and diabetes. A 2010 review found that chronic sleep deprivation can even increase the risk of early death. (3)
More inflammation also means the body has to deal with more internal stress, which will reflect on your mental state.
Cortisol is one of the biggest problems with stress. It’s true that cortisol is good for us in small amounts. We need it to wake us up in the morning and give us that energy kick.
Too much cortisol, however, can cause problems. It can disrupt your sleep because higher cortisol levels at night will make you stressed, restless, and anxious. As your cortisol levels stay high, you’ll find it harder to get to sleep.
This starts a vicious cycle where you’re sleeping less and feeling even more stressed because your body and mind can’t rest. (2)
Luckily, there are natural methods of improving your sleep and reducing cortisol with it. We’ll get to them in a second.
How Does Getting Enough Sleep Reduce Stress?
When you get your recommended 7-9 hours of quality sleep, you’ll find it easier to deal with stress.
Not only does better sleep lead to better health, but it also strengthens you mentally. The less tired you are, the less agitated and impatient you’ll be. And we have the science to prove it.
- A study found that sleep can improve your emotional responses to things. On the other hand, just one night of sleep deprivation will aggravate your adverse emotional reactions by 60%! (1)
Good sleep will also help your neurons communicate better. This leads to better memory, sharper focus, and a good mood. Naturally, this means less anxiety and stress hormones like cortisol.
Dr. Raymonde Jean, the director of sleep medicine, put it best when he said, “Many things that we take for granted are affected by sleep. Sleep can definitely reduce levels of stress. If you sleep better, you can certainly live better.”
How Much Sleep is Ideal For Stress Reduction?
The official recommendation for the optimal amount of sleep is as follows:
- Older adults (65+): 7–8 hours
- Adults (18–64 years): 7–9 hours
- Teenagers (14–17 years): 8–10 hours
- School children (6–13 years): 9–11 hours
- Preschoolers (3–5 years): 10–13 hours
- Toddlers (1–2 years): 11–14 hours
- Infants (4–11 months): 12–15 hours
- Newborns (0–3 months): 14–17 hours
That said, the amount of sleep required differs for every person.
Some people do fine with just 6 hours of sleep. Although, as Dr. Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist and sleep expert said, cases where people need less than 7 hours of sleep are rare. The same is true for adults who need 10 or more hours of sleep per night.
The general idea is to wake up before an alarm clock. If the alarm clock wakes you up, that means you didn’t get enough sleep. Therefore, it might take some trial and error before you find your sweet spot.
Tips For Improving Your Sleep
Here are several tips on improving your sleep quality and duration:
- Avoid stimulants – This includes caffeine and fat burners, which contain things like yohimbine and ephedra. Not entirely, but you’ll want to avoid these at least within 6 hours of going to bed.
- No alcohol – That nightcap might seem like a helpful thing for making you fall asleep faster, but your sleep quality will suffer. Try a natural alternative like valerian root, melatonin, or lemon balm, which increases GABA in your brain and helps you drift off naturally.
- Avoid blue light before bed – Our body naturally absorbs blue light from the sun during the day. Then at night, as the sun sets, our body recognizes there’s no more blue light and starts producing melatonin which helps us fall asleep. However, looking at digital screens that emit blue light at night can impair this natural melatonin production.
- Meditation & yoga – These practices can relax and unwind the ‘monkey mind’ and help you get to bed with a clean slate.
- Minimize sugars – A poor diet can increase your cortisol levels. Try to avoid sugary foods and beverages that can trigger inflammation in the body and wreck your sleep.
- Exercise – Our bodies evolved to move. If you work an office job, study in a class all day, or spend most of your time at home, your body won’t get the exercise it needs. This will make falling asleep harder. Try going for long walks, or perhaps consider training in the gym for 30-60 minutes a day.
- Sleep nootropics – Nootropics are brain enhancers that can help you relax and unwind. Choose stimulant-free nootropics which use natural sedatives like valerian that will help you fall asleep.
Sleep is incredibly important, not just for keeping stress at bay, but for virtually all areas of your life.
When you get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, you’ll find yourself refreshed and ready to go after your goals. On the flip side, chronic sleep deprivation can make us miserable and tired, and greatly increase our stress levels.
Exercise, meditation, avoiding stimulants, and taking natural sleep enhancers such as valerian are all great ways to start improving your sleep – and reduce cortisol with it.
The role of sleep in emotional brain function. (source)
Sleep quality but not sleep quantity effects on cortisol responses to acute psychosocial stress. (source)
Sleep Duration and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. (source)
Sleep Loss and Inflammation. (source)