Study Shows How Stress may Affect Sleep Patterns   

Study Shows How Stress may Affect Sleep Patterns

Although the link between a stressful day and a restless night is well known, scientists are still researching the exact ways that stress affects sleep. A new study suggests that stress may disrupt the nervous system's natural rhythms during various sleep stages.

Stressed sleepers experience more arousal during sleep, Martica Hall, Ph.D. of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues write in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Sleepers who were less relaxed during sleep also woke up more often and had fewer episodes of deep sleep, according to the researchers.

Hall and colleagues measured the central nervous system changes by monitoring heart rate variations among
59 healthy volunteers. Certain heart rate variations act as indirect glimpses into the activity of the involuntary nervous system, which directs the function of organs like the heart and lungs.

"Changes in heart period variability associated with acute stress may represent one pathway to disturbed sleep," Hall says. The researchers examined the link between stress and sleep in 59 healthy undergraduates. To trigger stress in some of the volunteers, half of the students were told that they would deliver a 15-minute speech upon awakening. The topics were to be chosen for them in the morning.

Heart rate variability differed significantly between the stressed and non-stressed groups. The stressed group had changes in heart rate patterns during non-REM and REM sleep.

Insomniacs have heart rate variability patterns similar to those seen in the stressed students, which may suggest that similar pathways of nervous system disruption are at work in the disorder, according to Hall and colleagues.

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