During times of stress, it is supposed to be an ADAPTIVE response to sleep less deeply and a little less overall. When we are stressed, our body releases “fight or flight” type hormones to keep us more alert and ready to act at a moment’s notice. Not surprisingly, such hormones can also prevent us from sleeping as deeply, lest we succumb to the threat we are stressed about during sleep. The state of increased alertness from stress is called “hyperarousal”. In our ancestors, hyperarousal would have been a very helpful way to overcome short-term stressors such as a prowling lion, thunderstorm, or planning for an upcoming voyage.
During times of stress, we actually have increased alertness in both the night AND day, so, despite sleeping a bit less, we can still maintain our performance during the day. When the stressor finally resolves, we are able to return to sleeping more deeply. In our modern times, hyperarousal can be beneficial in helping to prepare us for a work/school presentation or trip the following day. We may sleep more lightly, allowing the brain to spend parts of the night planning for the upcoming event. A person might experience dreams related to planning or even dream fragments intermingled with thoughts resulting in a feeling that we barely slept the preceding night.
Unfortunately, hyperarousal becomes maladaptive if it continues for too long, which is often the case with worries about our finances, feelings of inadequacy, anxiety about work, health or your life’s purpose. Many people now experience hyperarousal on a ongoing basis, negatively impacting their daytime function. But rest assured, if you are suffering the effects of hyperarousal, there are ways to fight back. If you frequently feel anxious during the day or night, a Knit healthy sleep development program can provide extensive recommendations about ways to reduce nighttime anxiety and worry, as well as techniques to calm a running brain in the middle of the night.