There's no denying that the global COVID-19 pandemic is an extremely worrying and stressful situation for all of us. The influx of negativity on social media, scary news bulletins and uncertainty can really take a toll on our mental health... in turn, affecting our physical health and bodily functions, including sleep.
Recent studies have shown that one in four Brits name stress as being the main reason they lose sleep - and that was pre-Coronavirus. Prolonged amounts of stress has been proven to cause some serious disruption to our sleep-cycles and there are countless pieces of research naming the multitude of ways sleep deprivation affects our physical and mental well-being.
First of all, what is stress? Dr Hassan Yasin, psychiatrist and medical director at the Dr Yusra Clinic explains:
"When we feel under significant pressure or in danger, we have both a psychological and physiological response to it. This is what we refer to as stress. It is a useful tool that we have evolved to keep us alert to threats and motivate us to take action in our lives in order to reduce the pressure we may be under. This can be helpful to us when we have to balance the demands of busy jobs, family life and whatever else may be happening in our lives. It can provide the motivation to continue to meet the demands that are set on us. If however, these demands get too heavy stress can have negative impacts. It can affect how we feel about ourselves, how we react to situations and can even affect our relationships. It can have a significant impact on our mood and anxiety levels also. It can have significant impacts on us physically if we have prolonged periods of stress. We may notice that the stress triggers panic attacks, in which our breathing quickens, our muscles tense and our heart rate increases. It can also cause us to lose our libido, and have an impact on our blood pressure too. All of these physical changes can make us feel dizzy, or nauseous and can bring on headaches and sometimes even chest pains. The result is often a constant feeling of exhaustion and tiredness because of it. This can in turn make us feel very down in our mood, and some of us may actually enter a depression because of it. Constant stress can leave us feeling like there is a constant sense of dread, and worry about what lies ahead for us. This can have a knock on effect of making us not enjoy activities that we previously may have enjoyed."
Heightened levels of stress - developed in response to the current pandemic, can therefore bring about these symptoms in us; affecting our ability to function physically and mentally, interrupting or being detrimental to the quality of our sleep. So whilst we're on this topic - why is sleep so important for our health?
Sleep is incredibly important for our emotional and physical wellbeing. Dr Nina Bal, cosmetic dentist and aesthetic doctor agrees that sleep is of imperative importance when it comes to maintaining a healthy body and mind; adding that lack of sleep:
- Increases blood pressure and is therefore connected to heart disease
- Increases inflammation
- Affects the release of insulin; connected to weight gain and potential diabetes
- Reduces the production of growth hormones; resulting in increased levels of stress and affecting mood (sometimes resulting in depression), sex drive, your immune system and might even reduce your life expectancy
- Causes 'brain fog'
- Can also affect fertility
- On top of that, a lack of sleep massively impacts the skin.
Why is sleep so important to skin? Can a lack of it cause skin to age quicker and make us look older?
In a word, yes. A lack of sleep doesn't just show itself in our skin in dark circles under our eyes; it goes so much deeper than that. Dr Yusra Al-Mukhtar, dental surgeon, aesthetic clinician & anti-ageing expert explains:
"A lack of sleep has been linked with negatively affecting the barrier function of our skin. This barrier function is the most important function of the skin - keeping this strong keeps the bad stuff out, and the good stuff in. Lack of sleep results in a compromised barrier function; resulting in moisture loss, dehydrated and dull looking skin, and a complexion more prone to breakouts, inflammation and rashes.
During sleep your pituitary gland secretes growth factor hormones, which are necessary for collagen formation. Without appropriate sleep, this hormone diminishes and we enter the ageing process faster. During sleep, melatonin is released; which helps our skin to fight against the oxidative damage of free radicals. Skipping a good nights sleep means we get less of this essential antioxidant protecting our collagen."
Dr Yusra Al-Mukhtar continues, stating:
"A chronic lack of sleep results in chronic stress... which in turn harms the integrity of the collagen in your skin. Collagen gives your skin elastic support and when this breaks down, skin appears thinner and shows the signs of ageing... with fine lines and wrinkles appearing. While you are asleep your skin rehydrates and recovers extra moisture. This makes sleep a natural moisturiser that helps smooth out wrinkles on the skin. Low amounts of sleep results in a drop in your skin's PH level; causing your skin to not produce the moisture it so desperately needs, leading to dried out skin."
In light of the current climate, and in now better understanding how a lack of sleep and stress can affect us mentally and physically, how can we best approach it? What can we do to deal with stress?
Dr Hassan advises:
"There are some simple things we can start doing to deal with stressful situations:
1.Learn to challenge thoughts that may be unhelpful
. If our stress thoughts only send us into cycles of more stress, it may be time to learn to challenge these thoughts.
2.Break big tasks down into a series of smaller tasks
. Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task or journey ahead of us. When this is broken down into smaller pieces it can often start to feel more manageable.
3.Plan your projects and days ahead of time
. Having a plan in place with a clear to-do list to tick off can help with the sense of being in control of a situation.
. We can implement the practice of writing 3 positive things about our day or ourselves on a daily basis into a notebook. If this is done every day for a consistent period, we start to notice the positives more easily and focus less on the perceived negatives.
5.Talk to a friend
, or get professional help. Speaking to friends or loved ones can be a really helpful outlet to relieving stress. If needed, speaking to a professional can be really helpful to learn the skills needed to manage stress.
. Being active can help increase our endorphin levels and also burn off some of our stressful energy."This article was compiled by the team at Cosmetic PR.