In order to explain the reason why most of us fall asleep after facing stressful situations, we decided to share the story of a man who started wondering what’s wrong with him once he noticed that napping became his routine after getting stressed.
One day, he argued with his wife whether their condo was clean enough for guests or not. It was a typical fight, and although it seemed as nothing important, the man left the living room and fell asleep immediately after lying down on the bed in their bedroom.
Although he didn’t plan to take a nap, 20 minutes later his wife was shaking him awake in order to welcome the guests. His explanation was that once he realized there’s nothing else he could do, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath that turned into a short nap.
However, this wasn’t the only situation where he noticed his ‘problem’. Many other situations showed his tendency to fall asleep after surviving stressful situations. It was then when he started realizing that other people have the same problem too. For example, his friend had the same sleeping routine related to stress. Apparently, his son fell down the stairs (he was fine) and instead of stressing over his health, he went to the bedroom and took a nap.
This lead to the conclusion that instead of fighting the stress we’re facing, our body decides to shut down and rest. Why? Because with years, we come to realize that it’s better not to react to things we can’t change and stress over helpless situations. Many people who survive this, often ask themselves: ‘Where’s the fight in me?’
A psychology concept called ‘learned helplessness’ can finally answer their question. Allegedly, people who suffered helplessness during their early stage of development can continue feeling helpless in future, no matter the context of situations. There are many studies that can prove this,
For example, in one of them, dogs were placed in two groups. In the first groups, the dogs were given electric shocks, and a possibility to stop the shocks by figuring out their own way. The other group of dogs also received electric shock but without the possibility to stop them. Unfortunately, the second group of dogs had long-termed effects of the shocks, and when exposed to stressful situations, they gave up fighting. The first group, on the other hand, did everything to deal with the stressful situations.
However, this type of learned helplessness is not limited only to animals. We, humans, face the same situations on a daily basis but in different ways. For example, a 25-year-old woman stated that she was a little girl, her parents divorced and she was going through a rough period, and that’s when she started escaping reality by falling asleep more often. Today, she faces stressful situations the same way – by sleeping. Another case that proves this theory is Daniel’s story, 51, who started facing this ‘problem’ when her parents went through a divorce. ‘They were fighting constantly and when I heard them yelling, I went to my room, shut the door and shut myself by falling asleep. There was nothing I could do to stop it’, said Daniel.
According to a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, John Sharp, what we feel today always comes from our past, and there’s a point when we accept our helplessness as our reality. However, although burying our head in the pillow seems as burying it in the sand, it’s nothing like that because by shutting down we’re helping ourselves. We’re still aware of the problems once we close our eyes, but decide to relive our emotional state in order to process better. According to a professor at Harvard Medical School, Edward Pace-Shott, once we experience something, our memory of that experience stores into a fragile place in our mind.
However, not every experience needs to be remembered, but only the intense ones, no matter if they’re positive or negative. This leads to the conclusion that we can fall asleep in order to be able to process our emotional memories. Many professors and scientists agree that our traumatic or intense experiences may be the main reason why people fall asleep after getting stressed.
Other reason may be that our memory storage needs to be spared and protected from more stress. Have you ever wondered why children nap so much? According to researchers assumptions, their storage memory is small and they need to constantly unload their experiences.
When people sleep they are conceiving a chemical response to their problems or create a way to deal with stressful situations. And once they wake up, they feel relaxed and more peaceful.
According to other researchers, orexin may be crucial in our behavior during stressful situations. Orexin is a neurochemical that plays a dual role in our body. When we wake up, it boosts up to do stuff, and before we go to sleep – it drops. That’s the first function of orexin.
The second is related to its involvement in our stress response system. When we’re feeling okay and suddenly stress kicks in, orexin kicks in as well and triggers our stress responses. We either fight or take a break. Despite all the assumptions, theories and studies, it’s important to remember that sleep doesn’t do harm to people and it’s not a problem.
On the contrary, sleeping helps us to understand the situation we’re involved in and clear our state in order to help us handle and resolve our problems.
Reference: The Atlantic