The damaging effects of Stress and Sleep Deprivation and how to manage these

March 12, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I attended a neuroscience workshop led by Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Oxford University, Geoff Bird. One of the areas of focus was on Stress and Sleep Deprivation. I am sharing below my key learnings from that.

What is stress, it’s damaging effects and how to manage it

We all know that stress is bad, however I had not realised that it is scientifically proven to cause so much damage to our bodies. Here are some of the effects of stress:

o  It kills neurones in our brain: when we are stressed, it takes longer for the     neurones in our brain to get tired. If this continues for a long time, our     neurones can be permanently damaged

o  It affects the blood-brain barrier which protects our brain

o  It directly affects our immune system

o  It precedes psychiatric illness in genetically susceptible individuals

o  It is linked to strokes and heart attacks

o  The Hippocampus in our brain is very vulnerable to stress; the     Hippocampus plays a major role in learning and memory and our     emotional reactivity and control

o  The damaging effects of stress on our brain could be irreversible from a     certain age (~45) onwards

Workload is not the main determinant of stress – it is the perception of our workload and the perceived ability to meet the demands that determines stress.


One of the easiest ways to relieve stress is to boost one’s self-esteem as it increases the perception of resources; strengths-based coaching could be very helpful for this

Another way to relieve stress is to decrease the perception of demand by breaking up our workload into smaller, distinct pieces/tasks that seem more manageable; sense-checking needs to be done

Mindfulness can be useful for managing stress,but if someone has very high stress levels, it could cause depression

Signs of stress at workplace

Work performance

o   Poor concentration

o   Inconsistent performance and uncharacteristic errors

o   Indecisiveness

o   Inability to deal with things calmly/irritability

o   Signs of tiredness or anxiety

o   Making complaints

o   Lapses in memory

o   Resistance to change

o   Lack of holiday planning and taking

o   Longer or excessive hours


o   Arriving late / leaving early

o   Extended lunches

o   Absenteeism or increased sickness absence 

o   Passivity or lack of commitment

Aggression / Substance use

o   Bullying/ harassment

o   Malicious gossip / criticism of others

o   Vandalism/ shouting

o   Substance use / abuse (increased drinking, smoking, coffee, drugs)

o   Comfort eating

The stress/sleep deprivation vicious circle

Sleep deprivation

o   Increases emotional reactivity leading to stress and it has big effects on      our emotions

o   Increases our stress hormones and damages tissue that affects our organs      (e.g., heart,skin, etc.)

o   Doubles the risk of death from all causes

o   Impacts learning and memory consolidation

It is a myth that as we get older we need more sleep

We are sleep deprived if we sleep for 7 hours or less on one night

We are chronically sleep deprived (causing permanent damage to our brains) if we have

o   2 nights of sleeping 7 hours or less

o   1 night of sleeping 5 hours or less 

Sleep hygiene –how to improve our sleeping patterns

Try to have consistent bedtimes

Keep bed only for sleeping (no TV, screens,reading, etc.)

Avoid stimulants (e.g., caffeine, nicotine,drugs, etc.) 5-6 hours before sleeping

Avoid alcohol – it has a negative impact on our quality of sleep and increases anxiety effects the next day

Avoid doing anything that causes psychological arousal or needs a big mental effort at least two hours before sleeping

Have regular exercise but not in the evening

Keep bedroom cool (ideal temperature is 17C or lower)

Keep a notebook by bedside TO note down anything that pops into YOUR mind as YOU are trying to sleep; this helps to offload and focus on sleeping!

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If you are interested in finding out more about how I could help you or your organisation please get in touch to arrange a complimentary discovery session.

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