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Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1998 May;76(5):553-61.

Sleep and stress in man: an approach through exercise and exposure to extreme environments.

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Unité de physiologie de la vigilance, Centre de recherches du service de santé des armées Emile Pardé, La Tronche, France.


In this paper, the effects of exercise on human sleep (in temperate, cold, and hot climates) are compared with those of exposure to extreme environments (tropical, polar climates). Exercise has two effect: (i) when the exercise load is too heavy or if the subject is not trained to the exercise conditions, the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (HPA) is strongly activated (somatic stress reaction), and a diachronic (delayed) decrease in total sleep time and slow-wave sleep (SWS) occurs with a synchronic (concomitant) sleep disruption (such as a decrease in REM sleep); (ii) a diachronic enhancement of SWS and (or) REM sleep occurs during moderate training and in athletes, with a moderate HPA activation (neurogenic stress reaction). Heat acclimatization (neurogenic stress response) results in a diachronic increase in SWS, contrary to acute heat exposure (somatic stress) which leads to a diachronic decrease in SWS. Nocturnal cold exposure (somatic and (or) neurogenic stress) provokes a synchronic decrease in REM sleep with an activation of stress hormones, which are reduced by previous acclimation (neurogenic pathway); SWS remains undisturbed in the cold, as it occurs at the beginning of the night before body cooling. In conclusion, when the brain can deal with the stressor (neurogenic stress), diachronic increases in SWS and (or) REM sleep occur. When these "central" mechanisms are overloaded, the classical "somatic" stress reaction occurs with diachronic and synchronic disruptions of the sleep structure.

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