Stress and anxiety are normal responses of the body to imminent danger or perception of it. They allow generating the necessary alert and activation to face these dangers or threats and seek solutions. However, they become a problem when they become too intense or disproportionate to the stimulus that precipitates them, too long-lasting (once the danger or challenge disappears or due to inability to cope), or too frequent.
The activation and alert response that they unleash whose primary objective is to mobilize resources for survival is incompatible with sleep. For this reason, when these emotions are maintained over time, they end up generating psychophysiological problems such as insomnia.
Likewise, once insomnia problems are established, stress and anxiety levels increase, which makes it more difficult to rest well and have a good sleep.
Stress generates many physiological changes, such as the elevation of cortisol, alters prolactin and serotonin, also related to emotion and love.
AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO SLEEP WELL, TO HAVE ADEQUATE MENTAL HEALTH?
Sleeping is a very important physiological process for our mental health, as it allows the recharge of energy, the immune activation, the thermal and cerebral regulation, and according to the stages it regulates hormones and different substances.
Many mental health disorders are caused by difficulty in sleeping and it is bi-directional: many mental health diseases are manifested by sleep disturbances and not sleeping could also be a primary disorder.
There are theories that say that sleep works as an emotional response valve and therefore helps us prepare to respond to many problems, which might be causing stress and anxiety in the first place.
IS INSOMNIA A MENTAL HEALTH DISORDER OR ANOTHER KIND OF DISORDER?
Insomnia can have two origins: a primary origin and a secondary origin, it is very common and occurs more in women than in men. It is characterized by difficulty in falling asleep or staying asleep, or both, and this causes alterations in attention, difficulty in learning, difficulty in reacting, alterations in memory, judgment and decision-making, producing changes in humor and accident risks, among many other things.
Within the primary origin, it is when it is not related to other pathologies and secondary it is when it is caused by other diseases, environmental factors, use of medications or some substances, including caffeine and energizers.
With the passage of time the hours of sleep decrease. In youth, it is easier to restore energy with a few hours of sleep, but that is only the physical part, not the physiological or mental part of the dream. Sleeping only 4 hours is not good at any age.
DOES SLEEPING POORLY PRESIST DEVELOPING DEPRESSION OR AN ANXIETY DISORDER?
Sleep disorders are very common in the university population and have been associated with symptoms of depression and increased anxiety and suicidal ideas.
For many, going through college produces a lot of pressure and changes, which generates risk factors for stress, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders. That is why when initiating sleep disturbances early, it is very important to see what is happening and if they improve by performing adequate sleep hygiene and following all the recommendations or if there is no improvement, look for something else such as symptoms of depression or anxiety, but if the first symptoms were not sleep disturbances, but anxiety, insomnia will be more a consequence of it.
HOW DO SLEEP DISORDERS AFFECT OUR MIND?
When there is voluntary or involuntary sleep deprivation, the next day we will not be able to focus our attention in an optimal way and therefore we will not be able to be at 100% of our cognitive abilities, which will prevent us from learning properly or from being in optimal capacities to consolidate memory and learning cannot be stored.
It has been shown that a sleepless night reduces the probability of storing knowledge by almost 40%, additionally we become slower, less precise and with less ability to solve problems and make decisions.
WHAT IS SLEEP HYGIENE IS?
We call sleep hygiene to all the measures that we must adopt to have a good sleep: comfortable environment, a space that generates tranquility, aromatherapy, music therapy, comfortable clothes, screens turned off, the routine that is followed to prepare for sleep, using the bed only to rest… put our body in a state of rest; also avoid energy drinks, caffeine.
To know more you can read our article: 10 commandments of sleep hygiene.
STRESS NAPS ARE A REAL THING
One of the worst moments of anxiety a child goes through is a tantrum. They cry, kick, scream and are completely out of control and yet a few minutes later they fall asleep peacefully.
This sleep gives a restorative effect, frees from anxiety and helps in starting over. It is a self-defense mechanism that solves – for children and parents – the situation effectively.
Children with tantrums often fall asleep soon after.
The problem becomes a bit more complicated when we talk about adults. As Javier Puertas, former president of the Spanish Sleep Society (SES) and head of the Sleep Unit at Hospital University of La Ribera de Alzira, said, the most common mechanism associated with stress is insomnia: The normal thing is that stress and the inability to fall asleep feedback. Anxiety triggers insomnia and causes the person to raise their level of concern about sleep, so that in the end, the problem that caused the insomnia does not matter, the problem is the insomnia itself.
However, some people could cope with these situations differently, through what are called “scare naps” or “stress naps” in English. “It is the real adaptation of the saying ‘consult it with the pillow’.
Stress makes some people sleepy because it facilitates a superficial and not very restful rest and that generates daytime sleepiness, a psychologist at the Sleep Institute.
This nap is the real adaptation of the saying “consult it with the pillow”.
SHOULD A PERSON WHO HAVE THESE SYMPTOMS GO TO SOMEONE TO MANAGE THEM? EITHER THE GENERAL DOCTOR, THE PSYCHOLOGIST OR A SPECIALIST.
One of the red flags is that you have done all these measures that we have talked about to improve sleep and have not achieved improvement; then it is good to consult the General Physician or the Psychologist, or the Psychiatrist, it does not matter which of the three is consulted; the important thing is to consult.