Unmask the sleep-stress connection
One night of lousy z's, just one night, is all it takes for your stress level to go through the roof, scientists are discovering. "The quality of your shut-eye plays a crucial role in the way you cope with stress," says Jennifer Martin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at UCLA. "Lack of sleep affects the brain's ability to regulate your emotional response to events," she says. More specifically, after that single bout of tossing and turning, the areas of the brain that are involved in processing emotions become so hypersensitive that your reaction to something stressful may rocket out of proportion, according to studies from University of California, Berkeley—meaning you freak out for no reason.
It doesn't end there, because the extra stress makes sleep even more elusive the following night. "Your cortisol levels are elevated and your heart is pumping faster—two things that keep you awake and impair the quality of your rest once you do drift off," Martin says. In fact, research shows that people who slept just four hours one night had higher levels of cortisol the next night, making it hard for them to get back on track.
It's a classic catch-22: You need sleep to de-stress but are too frazzled to turn in, and the lack of rest makes you even more tense. Break free of the draining cycle with the latest research and expert advice.