In the current world, it may seem like it's impossible to avoid stress. Uncertainty lies everywhere we turn.
With heightened stress linked to irregular sleep patterns and lowered immunity, now more than ever it is important to balance stress levels.
Read on to learn why this happens and what you can do to help your body!
When the body is faced with a short term stressor, otherwise known as acute stress, it triggers the fight or flight response. This response releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands. Adrenaline produces a more immediate response, whereas cortisol is released through a multistep process and therefore takes more time to activate.
Once the stress is over, these hormone levels return to normal, but repeated bouts of acute stress can turn into chronic stress. During chronic stress, these hormone levels stay activated.
Continuous exposure to the stress hormone cortisol can disturb many different bodily processes including sleep. Both stress and sleep response are regulated by the Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis. When the HPA axis is overactive, your sleep cycle can be disrupted. Lack of sleep causes the body to stimulate more cortisol to be released during the day to mimic "awakeness," which perpetuates the cycle.
Additionally, when you sleep, your body creates cytokines. Cytokines are chemical messengers between immune cells and can be pro or anti-inflammatory. Lack of sleep lowers the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, leading to increased inflammation in the body.
High cortisol levels also impair the production of T-cells. T-cells are a type of white blood cell which are essential in the body's immune response. The T-cells called TH1 Helper Cells aid in the body's defense system. During times of stress, these TH1 cells are suppressed and fall out of balance with their counterparts, TH2 cells.
Unbalanced hormone secretion from chronic stress and lack of sleep can lead to a lowered immune response and/or elevated levels of inflammation. Because a healthy immune system is of the utmost importance, it is essential to find healthy ways to improve hormone balance and sleep.
For better sleep, try cutting back on caffeine. Caffeine can raise blood pressure and cortisol levels when paired with a stressor. If you still have trouble sleeping, periodically taking supplements like melatonin has been shown to help regulate circadian rhythms.
Fixing stress levels on the other hand is easier said than done. Everyone has different reactions to stressors based on their own genetics and life experiences, so there is never just one solution.
Some people like meditation, exercise, or talking with their loved ones. The most important thing is to find a strategy that works for you.