Festive season ups stress hormones, disrupting sleep

Christmas is traditionally seen as a time for relaxation and recharging your batteries. Research suggests that may not be quite accurate.

This may be the season of goodwill but the stress of the festive period can also play havoc with our sleep patterns.

Increased levels of stress at this time of year, due to work and home commitments, cause the body to release more cortisol and adrenaline, both of which are stress hormones.

Cortisol, an adrenal hormone, has a stimulating effect on the body, which makes it harder for us to fall asleep or to stay asleep during the night.

But raised levels of either hormone can cause a depletion of calcium, a mineral associated with enabling us to relax and get a good night’s sleep.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism has now reported that people who suffer from insomnia had higher levels of cortisol coursing through their bodies than those who have no trouble sleeping.

The researchers at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine monitored the sleep of 11 patients with insomnia and 13 who had no sleep disorders and collected blood samples every 30 minutes for 24 hours.

Those with insomnia had much higher levels of adrenal hormone than those who slept well and insomniacs with the most severe disturbed sleep produced the highest amount of cortisol during the night.

Meanwhile, research published in the American Journal of Physiology showed that high cortisol levels are associated with reduced calcium. Calcium levels decline when the body has more cortisol, but returns to normal levels when the stress hormone is removed.

As such, it is thought that taking absorbable forms of the mineral could help to restore calcium levels and help to alleviate insomnia.

People under stress were also advised to eat brightly coloured vegetables and fruits, take food supplements, such as fish oil capsules and the B vitamins, and to do exercise daily.

About Jayne Howarth

Jayne Howarth is a freelance journalist with over 20 years' experience in the industry. She worked for 15 years at The Birmingham Post and has also written for a wide variety of websites focusing on health.

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