October 21, 2020

Stress and Sleep: How Stress Affects Your Sleep Pattern

by Funmi

A lack of sleep can impact your life in a huge way, causing difficulty in concentration, negative moods, low energy, and inability to function too.

You will definitely not be able to operate machinery or even drive. Occasional sleepless nights may not cause much harm, but consistent sleep deprivation can result in dangerous chronic conditions.

The CDC reports that getting insufficient sleep can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, arthritis, kidney disease, and depression.

While there are a number of conditions that can cause sleep deprivation, but stress and sleep are known to have the highest link. Learning how stress affects sleep and how to combat it can ensure that you are able to function better throughout the day.

Is Stress and Lack of Sleep Really That Big of a Deal?

Lack of sleep an escalating problem in many regions. The Stress Epidemic survey of 1,600 employees found that 42% of employees in the UK regularly lose out on sleep due to stress from the workplace.

41% of employees feel moderate stress levels at work, 21% had a high level of stress, and 3% of employees stated that their stress was at an unsustainably high rate. 

Only 6% suggested that they had no stress, while 30% agreed that they experienced only a low level of stress.  

If you are a manager of any business, you will have even more stress derived from managing the business.

If your employees and team are also feeling stressed out, it can pass over to you. Their lack of productivity due to bad sleep can begin to impact the company as well.

stress and sleep

Is Insomnia Caused By Stress?

Stress has been linked to sleep issues for a long time. A lot of people face this connection at some point in their lives when difficulties in life make it harder to get sleep and maintain it for enough hours.

Researchers have found links between stress and sleep across age groups, cultures, and types of stressors.

One study in Sweden noted that stressful environment at work can increase the risk of insomniac episodes. In Japan, employees that regularly have a high level of stress while working really hard for limited end rewards were highly likely to develop insomnia.

One research in South Korea also found a high correlation between insomnia and job stress, even when controls were put into place for limited rewards and work demands.

Another study in the US found that stress derived from family life can contribute to stress, which increases when academic pressure also causes stress.

Hence, there is definitely no shortage of evidence when it comes to the link between stress and sleep.

How Stress Affects Sleep Patterns

Recent insights into understanding how stress affects your sleep have also helped us understand how the link works.

Stress results in a range of reactions in the body. It impacts the nervous system, brain, immune system, and endocrine hormone systems.

Experts have found that stress results in a state of hyper-arousal in the body that drives the body to operate as if it is on high alert. This hyper-arousal state becomes the biggest cause of insomnia.

People who have insomnia may be going through this state throughout their day, but it can manifest as a complete inability to sleep in the night.

If you are awakened in the night, it can be even harder to go back to sleep.

There are different scientific models that explain the hyper-arousal state through neurophysical elements such as reactions by the endocrine or nervous system.

Others explain it through cognitive factors such as constant worrying. However, all the models do realize that any type of stressor can result in hyper-arousal, which causes a lack of sleep.

The worst part can be that once stress starts to affect sleep, it can begin the start of a downward spiral.

The lack of sleep can make the individual emotionally reactive and irritable. The constant lack of sleep can turn into a stressor itself since the time spent staying awake in bed can cause further anxiety and rumination.

Hence, the sleep deprivation may be causing an acute condition of hyper-arousal, resulting in a seemingly never-ending cycle.

stress and sleep

You can also feel the effect of Stress on:

The Endocrine System

The hypothalamus connects the endocrine system with the brain. When the body is under stress, it signals the body to produce a hormone that signals to the adrenal glands to increase cortisol production.

Cortisol increases the energy in the body by mobilizing fatty acids and glucose in the liver.

Chronic stress can result in impaired communication between the endocrine system and the immune system.

It can lead to mental health issues like metabolism disorders like diabetes, chronic fatigue, immune disorders, and depression.

The Immune System

Chronic stress can lead to suppression of the immune system. This can increase the risk of catching the flu and colds. Stress increases the release of cytokines that are known to be pro-inflammatory.

While they can help us fight infection or disease in the short-term, they can also result in chronic inflammation if you are stressed too often.

It can increase the chances of getting inflammatory diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Steps To Improve Stress and Sleep Patterns

One mistake that people make is accepting that sleeping problems are normal and cannot be changed.

However, there are many meaningful steps that you can take to improve and even cure sleep problems. Sleep deprivation should not be taken as a simple fact of life.

Here are some ways that you can address your sleep issues and work towards a better life:

1. Consulting a Psychiatrist and/or a Doctor

When sleep problems begin to affect everything in your life, it is vital to go to a professional who can go through all the underlying causes.

This diagnostic process can help you determine if there are any other underlying health concerns that you may need to address. The prescribed therapy can help you get over your issues.

Even a psychiatrist and counselor can help work through your stress levels, promote well being, and build resilience.

2. Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are a useful tool to manage hyper-arousal and stress that can hurt your sleep pattern.

Stress affects your sleep in a number of ways, so you may need relaxation techniques to help your mind and body calm down enough to sleep.

Different methods work differently for individuals, so you may want to try different approaches to figure out which one works best for you.

You can try deep breathing, meditation, and muscle relaxation exercises to help you sleep.

3. Exercising Regularly

stress and sleep

Getting regular exercise can be a great outlet for stress, and being physically tired also helps to fall asleep.

You don’t need to run a marathon; consistent, moderate exercise routines can improve sleep patterns and mood.

4. Building Resilience to Stress

Building resilience to stress doesn’t occur overnight, but it can help to improve your response to stress with practice.

Making some changes like facing fears, reframing thoughts, meditating, self-compassion, and practicing forgiveness can help you in the long run.

5. Increase Sleep Hygiene

stress and sleep

Our habits of sleep can also influence our ability to get good sleep. Focusing on sleep hygiene can also help you to get into a positive routine when it comes to sleeping.

By optimizing your sleeping environment, you can rest and relax more easily. There are many steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid consuming caffeine or other similar stimulates in the evening, which can make it harder for you to get sleep. Some experts recommend stopping coffee intake at noon.
  • A consistent sleep schedule can result in your circadian rhythm and body to get into the sleeping mode quicker.
  • Following the exact same routine for bedtime can help you unwind physically and mentally enough to sleep.
  • Make sure your bed is supportive and comfortable. Excess sound or light that could be disruptive needs to be dealt with.
  • Minimize the use of devices such as cell phones since they can make it harder to reduce mental stimulation enough to relax enough to sleep. The blue light emitting from the screen can suppress melatonin that helps you sleep.
  • The common occurrence of tossing and turning around can also make it hard to sleep. If you cannot sleep within the first 20 minutes of going to bed, doing an activity like reading in dim light can help make you sleepy.

6. Tone Down Nightcaps

Winding down with a glass of wine before you head to bed once in a while is fine. When it turns into a habit, the alcohol can actually begin to negatively impact your sleep pattern.

You will not wake up feeling rested even if you are able to sleep through the night with alcohol in your system. This can impact your energy and productivity levels.


Stress and sleep definitely do not go hand in hand. Stress affects your sleep in numerous ways, and understanding the link between the two can help you get a better night’s rest.

By focusing on your sleeping habits and patterns, you will be making a more positive change in your life.

Allowing yourself to make steady changes in your life to deal with stress in a better way can make it easier for you to fall asleep.

About the author


Funmi is Functional Health Coach. She is passionate about helping female entrepreneurs transform from Stress and burnout so they can begin to thrive in their body and by extension their businesses.

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