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Can sleep make me happy?

        Science | Emotions

Sleep and Stress
Watching the sleepless hours slip away only heightens our stress.
Watching the sleepless hours slip away only heightens our stress.
© iStockphoto.com/jhorrocks

In 2004, the makers of the prescription sleep aid Ambien partnered with Sperling's BestPlaces to create the "Sleep in the City" report. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the report ranked the best and worst metropolitan areas in the United States for getting a good night's rest. Apparently, if you want some seriously good shut-eye, you should head for Minneapolis, and if you enjoy tossing and turning, you should head for Detroit [source: Williams].

Stress is one of the leading causes of insomnia, so it makes some sense that the people of Detroit, home of the troubled automobile industry and a high level of foreclosures, would have some problems getting to sleep. Since the study's publication in 2004, however, all Americans were exposed to the effects of a tanking economy; in March 2009, one-third of those polled by the National Sleep Foundation reported losing sleep due to stress related to the economy [source: Kay].

The relationship between stress and sleep is a vicious circle. Too must stress, be it regarding financial concerns, health problems or relationships, makes it harder to sleep. A lack of sleep, however, only increases the amount of stress that you feel because your sleep-deprived body churns out more stress hormones. Insomnia due to stress has been linked with increased risk for anxiety disorders and depression [source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine]. And long-term stress can be a risk factor for many conditions, including heart disease.

Losing sleep to stress can have serious consequences for your daily life. The sleep-deprived have a harder time concentrating on work or school and subsequently suffer from poor occupational or educational performance. Tired people are more at risk for on-the-job injuries -- and while an exhausted deli worker may only have him or herself to blame when a finger is lost to the slicer, others may put more than just themselves at risk when they go to work tired. In 1997, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine detailed the frequency with which long-haul truck drivers fell asleep at the wheel [source: Gawande].

Whether you're a truck driver or a cubicle jockey, you probably have enough to stress over without adding unemployment to the list. If thoughts of stress keep you awake, you might try writing all your worries in a journal in the evening to get them out of your system. Then, commit to not thinking about them when you should be counting sheep.

Even if you're moderately functional on just a few hours of sleep, you may not be the most enjoyable person in the world to be around. How does sleep manage to affect our emotional state so acutely?


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