How does stress affect the female body and why a quality sleep is so important for women’s health?
The aim of the study:
Show the role of a healthy lifestyle in maintaining and strengthening women’s health: the impact of stress; the need and importance of an adequate sleep; the significance of the sleep hormone – melatonin for the female body, its effect on the functioning of all organs and systems of the body; the importance of women’s positive and responsible attitude towards their health.
This article explores the impact of a healthy lifestyle on the women’s health: the quality and quantity of sleep, psychological and physical stress, social and other factors which have a direct impact on the female body. It studies the significance of sleep and the sleep hormone – melatonin, as well as the role of chronotypes and circadian rhythms in more detail. Healthy sleep makes it possible for a woman to be active, productive, successful, look good, and most importantly be healthy. Deprivation – lack of sleep or a prolonged lack of sleep, creates a whole bunch of health problems for women: weakens the immune system, decreases the physical and mental capabilities of the body, deteriorates vision, impairs cognitive functions, leads to a loss of attractiveness, contributes to the emergence of bad habits, for instance, overeating, leading to obesity and much more. Unhealthy sleep is often caused by stress. Stress factors can lead to heart attacks, strokes, neurosis, depression, increased fatigue; deterioration of the endocrine, hormonal, reproductive systems of a female body and other negative consequences.
Philosophers such as Avicenna, Hippocrates, Helvetius, Socrates, later J. Locke, A. Smith and others have been studying the notion of a healthy lifestyle since ancient times. In their opinion, a healthy lifestyle played a decisive role in the person’s wellbeing and, therefore, health was the main value of life. ‘Health is not everything, but everything without health is nothing’, Socrates believed. The outstanding Ukrainian surgeon Nikolai Amosov said: “A doctor treats diseases, but health must be acquired by oneself.” In that respect, modern conditions of life may influence women’s health, but women themselves should acquire their health.
In the past centuries, the sleep researches have been conducted by scientists from all over the world. The teaching of the an American neurophysiologist Nathaniel Kleitman, ‘the Father of Sleep Research’ and the founder of the scientific study of sleep in the early 20th century, has grown into a science of sleep – somnology, which has played a fundamental role in the development of neuroscience and modern medicine in the 21st century. Sleep is a prerequisite for the survival of any biological species and one of the most important components of the human life. Sleep is a natural physiological process during which the female body recovers thus, sleep is vital for the female body. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of sleep. Sleep is more important than food. One can live on average 20-25 days without food, but without sleep, health problems start to become already visible on the first day and serious consequences for the body appear on the seventh day of continuous wakefulness, according to scientists from the University of California. Sleep regulates the process of metabolism, helps restore physical and mental activity, preserves and develops human cognitive abilities (memory, speech, intelligence); supports the functioning of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular, the endocrine systems; affects the psycho-emotional state and the speed of reactions in the body; increases the stress resistance, has a rejuvenating effect, and much more. A person spends one third of life in a dream, therefore a full-fledged sleep determines a person’s vital activity, the quality of life. The world-renowned Professor of Experimental Brain Research, a Director of the Institute of Neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland – Shane O’Mara believes that during the day toxic substances accumulate in the brain, which are neutralized during sleep. He notes when sleep is insufficient, the person’s state resembles ‘a mild concussion’. Longer sleep disrupts brain activity. In that respect, sleep and health are interconnected.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) studies, every second adult suffers from insomnia. Only 55% of the world’s population are satisfied with their sleep, 25% have problems, and 20% have serious sleep-related health problems. According to the studies of the scientists from different countries, women suffer from insomnia twice as often as men: they cannot fall asleep for longer, often wake up at night, and feel tired in the morning. Women aged 40-80 and older are more susceptible to insomnia. One of the potential causes of female insomnia are poor sleep hygiene and sleep patterns, such as going to bed at different times, sleeping less than 7 hours, low or high temperature in the bedroom; uncomfortable sleeping place; bright light and use of gadgets, hearty meals, drinking caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, smoking, physical and mental activity shortly before bedtime and more. Frequently, female insomnia can be caused by acute stress associated with a negative event, such as a conflict, a loss of a loved one, war, physical or mental trauma, etc. Respectively, women cannot relax for a long time, ruminating thoughts do not allow them to fall asleep, and as a result they are tired, sleepy, irritable. Thus, stress leads to poor sleep and poor sleep leads to stress. Stress is an integral part of life – the body’s reaction to the impact of various adverse factors – stressors (physical and mental trauma, conflicts, illnesses, war, etc.). Stress can be beneficial – eustress – causes positive emotions and negative – distress, posing a threat to health. Stress can be mild or severe; acute and chronic. Insomnia for more than three months is a direct result of chronic stress. Stress significantly affects the female body, therefore, with age, stress resistance decreases, self-regulation processes are disrupted, leading to changes in the body and appearance of a woman. Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have found that sleep has a major impact on the women’s appearance. Lack of sleep or poor sleep make women less healthy and attractive due to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As a result – bags and dark circles under the eyes; puffy face, dull complexion, rash, brittle nails and hair; the firmness and elasticity of the skin decreases, excess weight; the aging process progresses, a woman looks older than her years. As reported by the WHO, around 32% of women’s population suffer from neurological diseases such as tension-type headache (THT) or chronic tension-type headache (CTTH), provoked by stress and sleep disturbance. A research led by the scientists of Pennsylvania State University has shown that quite often women experience headaches associated with a lack of production of the hormone vasopressin, which is responsible for retaining the fluid in the body, which causes dehydration if a woman sleeps less than 6 hours a day. Sleep deprivation can also cause restless legs syndrome (RLS), a neurological disorder characterized by discomfort in the legs. Restless legs syndrome in pregnant women is associated with iron deficiency and impaired dopamine metabolism and usually stops after childbirth. Sleeping less than 7 hours a day for women leads to serious health problems like hypertension, risk of heart attack or stroke, according to research by scientists at Tulane University in New Orleans; type 2 diabetes, obesity, breast cancer; weakened immune system; developing depression; anxiety, irritability or, conversely, apathy, impotence; inability to enjoy life; weakened sense of humor, impaired memory, concentration, reaction; decreased libido and even death.
The human body is a well established mechanism that works according to certain laws and rules. A person has an internal biological clock – circadian rhythms, introduced in the mid- 60s of the twentieth century by the American scientist F. Halberg, associated with the change of day and night and are close to 24 hours. Circadian rhythms work differently for everyone and affect the psycho-emotional state of a person. All people are divided into chronotypes – these are individual characteristics of the activity of the human body at different times of the day (daily rhythms), therefore it is so important to know your chronotype in order to be healthy. The Swedish psychologist O. Okvist in 1970 compiled a questionnaire to determine the chronotype, the results of which revealed three chronotypes: morning – “larks” (15%) – wake up early in the morning, active in the morning, evening – owls (20%) – wake up late, closer to noon, are active in the evening-nighttime and intermediate type – arrhythmic – “pigeons” (65%) – get up a little later than “larks”, are active during the day, go to bed at 23.00-24.00 hours. Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, member of the American Council and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, believes that “humans are mammals, not birds and so behave like other mammals.” His research is based on the natural biorhythms of each person. In his book ‘Always on Time’ (2016), he described the new human chronotypes: a. Bears (55%) have a normal sleep pattern. b. Lions (15%) – easy to wake up early in the morning without an alarm clock. c. Wolves 15-20% – hate mornings and the alarm clock. d. Dolphins (10%) – irregular sleep patterns, insomniacs, can work all night. For each chronotype, Breus developed a daily routine which showed positive results for sleep improvement, general well-being, mood, memory, concentration, weight normalization and emphasized that living according to one’s own biorhythms, can make one healthier, help manage time better and be happier.
In recent years, the scientists have discovered that social factors also have a great impact on the chronotype. A life in cities, especially in megacities, has changed the lifestyles of a large number of people who live and work on a night or shift work schedule (day – night), such as doctors and nurses, call center operators, rescue service dispatchers, police officers, railroad workers; airport employees, pilots and stewards; transport drivers and employees of gas stations, waiters and others, many of whom are women. Working at night is a serious psychological and physical load, especially for women, which affects the entire female body. It leads to metabolic disorders and as a result – obesity, atherosclerosis, diabetes mellitus; wrong diet resulting in diseases of the gastrointestinal tract; not to mention menstrual disorders, endometriosis, infertility, dysfunction of the hormonal, immune, nervous systems; in pregnant women – an increased risk of miscarriages, complicated and premature births. The results of the research at the University of Michigan showed that night or shift work (day – night) – leads to constant disruptions in circadian rhythms; increases the risk of ischemic stroke by 4% every five years; colorectal cancer and breast cancer by 50% among women. The WHO has classified night and shift work as one of the potential carcinogen factors. Moreover, heart attacks, strokes, hypertensive crises often occur at night. The recommendations of sleep researchers for those, who work at night or in shifts: to create conditions as close as possible to the night sleep regimen: turn off all kinds of gadgets (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.); ensure silence, complete darkness (blackout curtains or blinds; sleep masks), sleep hygiene (go to bed and wake up at the same time, regardless of the time of work), comfortable temperature, ventilated room, comfortable sleeping place (bed, mattress, pillow), it’s also not recommended to drink alcohol or energy drinks, coffee, strong tea; watch films or programs that cause fear, irritation, tears before bedtime.
In 1953 at Yale University, an American professor of dermatology Aaron Lerner discovered the hormone melatonin and in 1958 he established its structure. Melatonin is a sleep hormone, the only hormone which is produced directly at night on 80% by the pineal gland and on 20% in special cells located in the retina, prostate, ovaries, bronchi, lungs, digestive tract, kidneys, pancreas and others. The level of the hormone in the blood depends on the quality of sleep, sex, age, season, biorhythms and other indicators. The human body needs melatonin all the time. It can be detected in the blood only at night, when it reaches its highest concentration. The peak of its content in the blood is at 2 am. The hormone has a huge number of properties which help improve women’s health, prolong the lifespan, maintain and preserve female beauty, and youth. Melatonin has an antistress effect, it regulates sleep, metabolic processes, the work of the endocrine, cardiovascular, reproductive systems; contributes to the body’s adaptation to changing time zones and climatic and geographical zones, optimizes the cognitive functions of the brain, slows down the aging process, normalizes blood pressure and much more. Thus, being famous for its miraculous effect on women’s health, melatonin is called a ‘magic hormone’.
Lifestyle is a dynamic system which is influenced not only by the life situations, but also by the tasks and goals women set for themselves. A healthy lifestyle is the basis of a quality happy life for women. Modern fast-paced life often upsets the balance of a healthy lifestyle, therefore, it is paramount for women to maintain and strengthen their health by assuring a good healthy sleep, reducing stress and adopting an attentive caring attitude towards their own body. Sleep is one of the most effective and cost-effective rejuvenation methods. It is at night that the cells of the body are actively regenerating. Observing circadian rhythms and sleep hygiene helps women restore their psycho-emotional and physical health, enjoy life, remain young and be attractive for many years. A healthy lifestyle gives freedom in all areas of life and a healthy woman is not limited by anything.
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