top of page

STRESS AND INSOMNIA: The Evil Twins


Insomnia

Stress and insomnia have one thing in common: they enable each other in a vicious and life-stealing way. Medications for sleep may help but the side-effects frequently outweigh the benefits such as the dulling of the brain, mind, and even spirit. They are really only useful for brief time frames maxing out at about one month. After that, the above side-effects will begin to take hold which will compound the insomnia/health issue(s).

How Serious is Insomnia? I hope you are sitting down because sleeplessness is the fast track to most of the big diseases. Cancer Cancer and tumors are seen to grow at astonishing rates associated with insomnia. In one experiment of injecting rats with cancer cells found that when the scientists fragmented the rats sleep (insomnia), tumors and cancers grew at dramatic rates AND these cancers/tumors became highly virulent which increases their lethality (death rate) and decreases the likelihood of recovering from them. Cancers spread more readily and invaded more tissues as a consequence of poor sleep. Obesity & Diabetes It is also a fact that 40% of Americans are sleep deprived, according to the NIH. Diabetes, for example is associated with insomnia – in fact, if you ask most diabetics if they have a history of insomnia, the answer is likely an exacerbated and clear ‘YES.’ Too little sleep can turn a healthy person into a ‘pre-diabetic’ state in only one week! Short sleep leads to obesity by stimulating cravings for carbohydrates. Short sleepers consume 500 calories more per day and have a lower metabolic rate which in turn alters the net calorie overage to 1,500 calories/ day! If you get less than 6 hours of sleep you are cognitively impaired according to Dr. David Dinges, Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry, Chief of the Division of Sleep and Chronobiology in the Department of Psychiatry, and Associate Director of the Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology in the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. If you take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep that is referred to as a sleep disorder in the field of Sleep Medicine. This issue is even worse for teens as their sleep need is up to 9-10 hrs. per day at age 15-17. Some schools have already gone to later start times for their first classes until 9:00 AM. Our Emotional Brain People are NOT able to judge how impaired they are from sleep deprivation. The amygdala in our brain becomes overactive in sleep deprivation. This organelle in the brain controls our more basic or primitive emotions like fear and anger. Sleep issues lead to a 60% decrease in our ability to controlling these emotions and we are 60% less able to resist being triggered by these emotions. That means it is more likely we will do the wrong thing while dealing with the stress. This leads to ‘over spills’ of stress and the damage that the outbursts in our relationships and careers. ALL mental illnesses have an insomnia component including depression, bi-polar, psychiatric issues, anxiety, and PTSD. The Fatigue Issue in Accidents and Death Dr. Charles Czeisler, of Harvard Medical School Faculty, found through his research that physicians make 400% more diagnostic errors from sleep deprivation! So, ask your doctor(s) if they are sleeping enough before they give you their diagnosis! Fatal Accidents from Fatigue are well documented such as The Exxon Valdez disaster and 3 Mile Island to name a few were directly tied to workers fatigue from insomnia, according to both accident investigators reports. In the trucking industry the rule is that a driver cannot legally drive more than 11 hours due to the National Transportation Safety Board and The Department of Transportation requirements for rest. In aviation it is more strict mandating that every pilot must by law have 10 hours of rest and 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If less than 6 hours of sleep regularly you are considered ‘cognitively impaired.’ Addiction is Highly Correlated to Insomnia In thousands of treated addictions either in-patient or out-patient facilities, I have NEVER seen a case in which the addict had anything resembling good or decent sleep – usually for several years. This statistic cannot be ignored as a causal agent to the addiction itself. That’s because insomnia promotes primitive emotions and irrationality in thinking and behavior which is terribly painful mentally and which opens the door to self-medicating the mental pain away. Nearly all addicts having a long history of sleep issues and insomnia usually for several years, acquiring a mere 2-3 hours of poor-quality sleep on average. This stand alone fact nearly renders an active addicts brain well within several diagnoses of mental illness. Even if only predicated on the sleep factor alone, which is not going to be the case, demonstrates how disabling sleep is and how complicit it is in addiction. That leads to not only an inability to say ‘no’ to drugs but also to the pure irrationality that addiction is known for. I challenge all addiction professionals to look closer at the insomnia issue and not just medicate them but find non-medication way to help them with sleep. Compromised Sleep Leads to Brain Constipation, Literally A history of insomnia has been connected to Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. The reason is because of how there is a similarity of how muscles secrete a byproduct called lactic acid just like the brain secretes byproducts from thinking and feeling (all brain work) proteins called amyloid BETA (and other chemicals) due to ‘work done.’ Muscles contract or get shorter and that is the basis for all human motion including digestion, exercise, and moving the blood throughout our body. In the brain, its work is essentially ‘computing’ and that is the basis for all thinking, feeling, and experiencing. Like muscles, the lactic acid can be harmful and painful in that it will eventually cause you to stop moving. Similarly, the brain gets bogged down by the amyloids because they sit between brain cells blocking the transmission of signals. One crucial purpose of sleep is to metabolize out (get rid of) these byproducts of thinking (amyloids). One theory of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is that insomnia causes the amyloids to remain inside the brain which is a type of brain constipation. Over time these chemicals change from a liquid to a solid – similar to plaque in veins. This is the basis for dementia-type diseases. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) has this same problem. Although the theory is not fully proven these same plaques of brain constipation disable sleep severely, leading to Traumatic Encephalopathy or TE. Football players and boxers are known to have high incidences of TE as well as those who have suffered TBI(s). It is this authors opinion that TBI and TE are many times more prevalent in out society than we know. TBI, Stress, and Insomnia Any TBI will at the moment of impact cause percussion waves through the gelatinous brain, like high-speed waves on a lake. The box in which the brain sits is of a shape that reflects these waves from an impact and focuses them into a smaller point at the center of the brain where the limbic system is located stimulating the limbic brain to be more and more active. That means very high stress and that leads to insomnia. TBI also encourages hyper-vigilance or the feeling of being keyed-up anticipating God knows what at nearly all times of the day and night. How can a human being sleep under such circumstances? Literally what is happening is the brain is stuck in the Fight/Flight/Freeze stress reflexes and it can’t stop them. This is real suffering because to the person it makes no sense and even if it is simply, thoroughly, and thoughtfully explained it won’t decrease their suffering. It is immense emotional pain and those who have not suffered a TBI and its consequences have great difficulty understanding the syndrome called Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS). A major hurdle of recovering from PCS or TBI is the fact that virtually all the recovery literature says that rest, in particular sleep is the most needed item in recovery. Guess what. They rarely get to sleep in quantity or quality that amount need for recovery. And so, the suffering continues. In November of 2010, I had a conversation with Dave Deurson, Safety for the Chicago Bears and Superbowl winner. We were connected via a mutual friend in Los Angeles, CA. We spoke for about 45 minutes – most of which was his explaining that he knew something was wrong with him as he had many violent outbursts that he said didn’t make sense to him and seemed sometimes “uncontrollable.” He described how he ‘stopped feeling like himself many years ago'. He shared how nobody could help him to get sleep, to stop feeling so stressed out and having disturbing and horrible thoughts. Dave was courteous to me, but he was resigned to his fate of involuntary self-alienation. I understood this particularly painful result from TBI as I had it myself some time ago and consider myself recovered from it. Dave, however, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the heart at age 50. That's what the headlines said, but it didn't really tell the story of Dave's suffering and many NFL men like him and how they suffer from untold numbers of TBI's, literally disabling their brain. We even have a class now of "diseases of despair" which is clinically and literally tied to stress. And remember, the universal problem with stress is it leads to sleep fragmentation and overall poorer sleep result. In essence, the brain ceases to possess the ability to restore and repair itself from the very sleep it is denied from stress, brain injury and insomnia. How does Stress Affect Sleep There is a Primary (childhood/adult trauma) and secondary (current breathing patterns, pain, etc.) causes to sleep loss or fragmentation from stress. But let’s define our terms first. Stress that is mild and occasional will not affect sleep significantly or at all. We are in fact ‘designed’ to accommodate even large amounts of stress. But chronic stress states become behaviorally habituated, that is to say that the more you have stress spillovers, the lower the threshold to react to all stress types and the more likely you will be dragged into stressfulness. It becomes easy to be stressed and ever more difficult to achieve meaningful peacefulness. Stress that is Ongoing, Overwhelming, and Oppressive (OOO) in your life does not bear any relation to the above temporary stress. The reason is that occasional stress occurs within a normal physiological condition whereas the chronic type occurs after your physiology has been hijacked and therefore is no longer operating within a physical normalcy but rather is like the brake and accelerator pressed firmly to the floor. This makes the physiological aspect more heavy-handed than the psychological - meaning it will generally win out over your mental or emotional resistance to being highly stressed. One way to think about it is that your breathing rate or speed per minute is likely under your radar and as a result influences your relative amount of stress without you knowing anything about it. This convinces the mind that its stress reactions are ‘justified’ and ‘proportionately correct’ and are due to the perceived stress in front of you. The mind is unable to evaluate and/or even notice the physical consequences of fast or non-rhythmic breathing. In many ways the breathing is more responsible for OOO stress states than the items in your life that you are certain are the reasons for your stressfulness. So, as a result of the adrenaline and cortisol stress hormones being present in high amounts nearly all the time your brain is unable to shift to a sleep mode. It is impossible to sleep while being ‘keyed up’ like that without medication which is definitely less than optimal. Physiology Trumps Psychology If you pit your will against your physical body to try to sleep, the body wins. When keyed up we are in ‘sympathetic’ state which facilitates all functions when awake and will not support sleep at all. Sleep is nested within the ‘parasympathetic’ state only. Some relaxation must occur prior to sleep or sleep fails. If you breathe irregularly and/or too fast your brain thinks and acts in ways that match wakefulness, (sympathetic) not sleep. The 5 Insomnia Types

  • Acute insomnia: A brief episode of sleeping difficulty

  • Chronic insomnia: A long-term pattern of difficulty sleeping

  • Co-morbid insomnia: Insomnia that occurs with another condition such as chronic pain

  • Onset insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep at the beginning of the night

  • Maintenance insomnia: The inability to stay asleep

Of the 120 separate diagnosis for sleep, 100 of them are a direct result of maladaptive breathing or some type of breathing problem! Good Breathing Efficient breathing is slower (at or below 7 per minute) and properly ratioed at 70/30 diaphragm to chest. At this rate and mechanical means of breathing, a chemical change occurs within the lungs which spreads in seconds to the brain and body. Immediate delivery of oxygen occurs at a greater rate. Because of this, the brain and body’s sensors which are responsible for the release of the stress hormones are effectively shut off or at least lowered significantly. A Secret Key To Relaxation: The 'Upper Lung Primer' The chest is active also and provides about 30% of breathing force. But the chest or more specifically the top 10% of the lungs has a special role to receive the first part of every breath. The lungs are shaped like a pyramid. The upper part of the lung is a breath primer and MUST get air before the remainder of the lungs or there will be a stress reflex in the body usually in the form of a small breathlessness feeling but which leads to larger stress issues and is associated with stressed breathing. Pause Breathing on the Exhale A low speed diaphragmatic breathing in addition to a brief pause at the end of the exhale substantially enhances greater oxygen delivery within the brain and body causing cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine (stress hormones) to recede rapidly. This immediately reduces the assault and intensity of the general stress experience including the body-wide muscle tension experienced during stress. Further, diaphragmatic breathing promotes the delivery of the serotonin’s and dopamine’s - the hormones associated with the relaxation of mind and body. During a pause ranging from 3-8 seconds, 3 seconds for beginner, 8 seconds for advanced, the body collects and stores small and critically needed CO2 (carbon dioxide). This CO2 allows the oxygen molecules to offload from the blood (specifically red blood cells) and are placed within the cells needing the O2. This effect, known as the Bohr Effect, has been known since 1904 by the Danish Physiologist Christian Bohr and is without controversy. Without enough carbon dioxide the oxygen gets stuck to the red blood cells leading to oxygen deprivation and the Stress Reflex. Oxygen deprivation triggers adrenaline responses releasing this powerful stimulant to become more alert, the antithesis of sleep. Practice on Your Back Lay on your back in a comfortable position. Nose only breathing unless you can’t. Inhale a comfortable medium breath and without hesitation or force allow the inhale to become an exhale with the air falling out not pushed out. At the end of the exhale stop breathing for 3 seconds and then begin the inhale again. Try to settle into this breathing rhythm for a 4-minute period. There will be variations in how this works at first but keep practicing and you will get the relaxation from this ideal anti-stress breathing technique. Do this before sleep at night to promote improved sleep onset and sleep consistency. Do You REALLY KNOW How Well You Sleep? Most People Use the Wrong Tools to Measure It! Many times, when I ask most people how well they sleep, they might say “I sleep fine.” Then I check their respiratory rate and it says 19 or higher. I know immediately that their sleep is poor to extremely poor. The reason for the discrepant answer is what the person is measuring. And that usually is from the time they fall asleep until the time(s) they wake up. A common mistake. The only thing to measure is how the person feels in the first 30 seconds when they open their eyes in the morning. The four categories of ascending SLEEP RESULT quality below are:

  • Exhausted

  • Fatigued

  • Recovered

  • Refreshed


Sleep Chart

If You Can’t Breathe Well, You Can’t Sleep Well Memorize the following statement: “Breathing is King, and sleep is Queen: If you can’t breathe well, you can’t sleep well.” If you resonate with any part of this article, you owe it to yourself to get checked out. We offer free virtual consultations. All that is required is for you to submit our online assessment form. We will take care of the rest.

0 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page