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Stress, A Hidden Cause of Insomnia | Vitality and Wellness

Stress - Little Word, Big Problem

We've all had days, weeks, and even months when we felt out of control and more stressed than usual. Stress can leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, short-tempered, unable to cope, emotional, and a significant cause of insomnia. There are many forms of insomnia, for example, not being able to stay asleep or the opposite having trouble falling asleep. In this blog, we will focus mainly on stress and how it contributes to insomnia. 

What is stress?

Stress is a reaction that occurs when the Sympathetic Nervous System is overstimulated or overactive. When a person is confronted with a challenging situation, whether it be running late for an appointment, pressures of work, family or financial problems, finding ourselves on the wrong side of the law or struggling to accept some terrible news, a stress response is triggered. 

Within the body, there are two significant components of the nervous system. The first is the Sympathetic Nervous System, and it is what keeps us awake, motivated, balanced and is heightened when it senses danger. The second component is the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which relaxes and calms the body. It is responsible for  digestion, bowel movements, sexual arousal, salivation, and urination. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the opposite of the Sympathetic Nervous System; one stimulates the other relaxes. 

When a stressful situation presents, the Sympathetic Nervous System stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline (epinephrine). Elevated adrenaline leads to a rise in heart rate, breathing, blood flow, blood pressure, and muscle strength. The body is now prepared to fight or flight. This response was great 10,000 years ago when we were confronted by a sabre-toothed tiger or a warring tribe. In today's society, the constant over-activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System causes real and long term harm to our health.

Stress Support | Vitality and Wellness Centre

How Does The Body React To Stress?

With the release of adrenaline, the body scrambles to help support the flight-or-fight response and reducing the adverse effects on the body of stress. It does this by secreting cortisol, the body's primary anti-stress hormone. Once a perceived threat has passed, adrenaline and cortisol levels return to normal, allowing the normal function of heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.

Unfortunately, if the stressors are always present, our body feels that it constantly feels under attack and the fight-or-flight response remains switched on.

The long-term activation of the flight-or-fight and the subsequent excessive cortisol exposure can cause physical and emotional harm by disrupting nearly all essential body processes. Resulting in increased health risks:

Adrenal fatigue Hair loss
Anxiety Headaches
Auto-immune disorders Heart disease
Cancer Infertility
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Insomnia
Dementia Loss of libido
Depression Memory and concentration impairment
Digestive problems Weight gain

How Does Stress Cause Insomnia?

A good nights sleep requires ample amounts of melatonin and GABA. Melatonin is produced from the happy, feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, made from the essential amino acid tryptophan. Low serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety, anger, crying, carbohydrate cravings and, of course, insomnia.

Elevated cortisol increases the production of the enzyme tryptophan pyrrolase, which inhibits the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin and destroys available tryptophan. This two-fold attack on serotonin levels results in less melatonin being available to initiate and maintain sleep.

GABA is the body's major calming and tranquillising neurotransmitter, and it plays a crucial role in activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System and is responsible for maintaining sleep throughout the night. Elevated cortisol reduces GABA and Parasympathetic Nervous System activity resulting in continued high-stress levels and poor nights sleep.

Effects of Stress on Melatonin Infographic

How To Reduce Stress and Elevated Cortisol? 

Breathing - Many breathing techniques can profoundly affect the way we feel, sleep, and and stress levels. A simple deep breathing technique is to inhale deeply through the nose, briefly hold and then exhale back out through the nose. Breathing nasal activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, reduces adrenaline, cortisol while increases Serotonin and GABA levels. Trying doing this for 5 minutes morning and night, you'll be amazed at the difference.

Herbs and Nutrients - We are lucky to be blessed with some wonderful herbs and nutrients that help reduce elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels . At the same time, strengthen and support the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

Magnesium, known as the 'lullaby mineral', is the main mineral supporting the nervous system, making it highly beneficial during stress and insomnia.

The amino acid Glycine acts as a relaxing neurotransmitter on the nervous system, helping to reverse the adverse effects of stress on the body and facilitating a good nights sleep. Another critical amino acid L-Theanine, found in tea, helps increase the relaxing alpha brain waves and GABA. 

Herbs have such exceptional nurturing and healing properties on the whole body, individual organs and systems. Herbs have such exceptional nurturing and healing properties on the whole body, individual organs and systems. Herbs that help induce sleep include California Poppy Chamomile, Magnolia bark, Lemon Balm, Passionflower and Skullcap. Herbs to help lower elevated cortisol and adrenaline include St John's Wort,  Ginkgo biloba, Withania, Bacopa.

B Group vitamins play a significant role in stress reduction by supporting the Parasympathetic Nervous System and adrenal function.

If you suffer from stress and associated insomnia, we recommend the Stress Support Pack, Containing contains vital nutritional supplements that help reduce stress and promotes a good night's sleep

Reducing Stimulants - Coffee, cola or energy drinks offer a boost to peoples flagging energy. Unfortunately,  for some people, these caffeinated drinks can have adverse effects by increasing adrenaline and causing the urinary excretion of magnesium. Caffeine can also overwork the adrenal glands and liver while exacerbating the toxic effects of stress. 

Improving the Diet - Improving the quality of fresh and healthy foods goes a long way in supporting the body during times of stress, while helping to counteract its negative effects. Incorporate a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, beans, seafood and grass fed meats is important not only for stress support, but our long term health and longevity. 

Exercise - Regular exercise improves breathing, activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, reduces stress, decrease elevated cortisol while producing endorphins, special brain chemicals that make us feel good.

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Testing 

There are two important tests that can help sufferers of stress and insomnia, they are the Mental Health Test that measures the neurotransmitters Serotonin, GABA, Adrenaline, Glutamate, Dopamine, PEA, and Nor-Adrenaline. Plus the Adrenal Fatigue Test which measures cortisol 4 times a day, thus providing greater understanding of adrenal function and cortisol levels.

The information provided here is of a general nature intended for educational purposes only. We make no claims to diagnose, treat, prevent, alleviate or cure illnesses or diseases with any information or product stated. With any health issue we suggest you consult your healthcare professional before undertaking any health treatment.

I hope you found this blog useful and if you did please leave a comment or share on social media.

Thanks and have a great day!

References:

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  8. Gooneratne NS. Complementary and alternative medicine for sleep disturbances in older adults. Clin Geriatr Med. 2008;24(1):121-viii. doi:10.1016/j.cger.2007.08.002
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  10. >Ngo DH, Vo TS. An Updated Review on Pharmaceutical Properties of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. Molecules. 2019;24(15):2678. Published 2019 Jul 24. doi:10.3390/molecules24152678

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