You know how there’s never a good time to get sick? Well, it turns out there’s actually a preferred time to be stressed, and it’s probably not as ideal as you’d think. I mean, if I had to be stressed, I guess I'd prefer it to hit me when the work day is done and I’m in the comfort of my own home. That way, I could at least calmly process whatever made me feel so strung out in the first place, you know? But if you can relate, joke's on us, because new research says feeling stressed at night is low-key the worst time of day you can be anxious, so I guess you and I need to learn how to chill TF out in the evenings.
If this new revelation makes zero sense to you off the bat, I was equally as confused when I first heard the news. I mean, is there really anything worse than the nightmare that is being buried under multiple assignments under a hard deadline when you’re trapped in a cubicle for eight hours with your boss? Up until now, you honestly couldn’t tell me otherwise. But alas, science has swooped in, spoken its piece, and I have, apparently, been told.
As per a press release from Hokkaido University, a team of researchers from the Japanese institution gathered 27 healthy, young-adult volunteers to help them determine if hormones react differently to stress at different times throughout the day. In order to test this theory, the volunteers were asked to submit a saliva sample before the experiment to establish a baseline. Translation: The researchers wanted to see where each participant’s hormones were at for a point of reference.
After submitting their saliva samples, according to Hokkaido University's press release, the study participants were split into two groups: The first group took a 15-minute stress test two hours after they woke up, while the other endured the same test in the evening, roughly 10 hours after they woke up. Saliva samples were also taken before, during, and after each test. Within each 15-minute test, the volunteers were asked to first prepare and give a recorded presentation in front of three trained interviewers, and then perform a mental mathematical equation. Honestly, I’m sweating just thinking about this entire process, so I can only imagine what it must have been like to actually go through it.
The study's results, published in the scientific journal Neuropsychopharmacology Reports on Nov. 27, 2018, showed that the hormones of volunteers who took their stress tests in the morning responded in the way they're meant to (i.e. they increased). Participants who took the same stress test in the evening, however, experienced some complications, according to the study's results. See, when the human body experiences stress, the study explained, something called the HPA axis — which connects your nervous system to the glands that produce your hormones — releases cortisol, aka the stress hormone, to help you cope. But because cortisol levels are actually lower at night than they are in the morning, the study found, the later it is in the day, the more intensely your body feels stress.
Like I said, it’s definitely not ideal, especially if you, like me, are the kind of person who tries to put the stress of the day aside as soon as you close the front door behind you in the evening. Of course, it’s not exactly easy to relax when you’re stressed at any time of day, but as this new study suggests, it’s especially important to keep your stress levels in check in the evenings, not only because your body is apparently not as well-equipped to cope with it, but also because it could potentially disrupt your sleep cycle.
How can you go about doing that? So glad you asked. "One of the best methods to combat stress is our breath," life coach Katie Sandler tells Elite Daily. Breathing, she explains, can have just as much power over your brain as stress hormones. The difference is, cortisol levels are lower in the evening, but breath can have a significant effect on the body no matter what time of day it is.
"So when we consciously breathe," Sandler says, referring to taking mindful, diaphragmatic breaths, "we are able to fight off stress."
Another fool-proof tip experts swear by to reduce nighttime stress and help lull you to sleep is — are you ready? — bedtime stories. That's right, my friends, it turns out that bedtime stories aren't just for kids. "Studies show that bedtime stories help relieve anxiety by captivating the listener," Samantha Morrison, a health and wellness expert for Glacier Wellness, tells Elite Daily over email. And when you think about it, the concept actually makes total sense, right?
"Physiologically, your brain functions in waves, each corresponding to different levels of consciousness which are influenced by thoughts and actions," Morrison explains. "Brain scans show that storytelling actually slows the brain down from its beta state all the way down to its theta and delta states, which are most common during sleep." In other words, the more you divert your thoughts and focus on the story rather than your anxieties, the more relaxed you'll feel.
Bottom line: Stress especially sucks at night, but it's not the end of the world. The next time your anxieties encroach in the evening, breathe in deep, exhale deeper, and crawl under the covers with a good book. It actually sounds like quite the relaxing setup to me.