How does stress affect sleep?

Have you ever noticed that when something particularly worrisome is going on in your life, you have a difficult time getting a healthy amount of shuteye?

You’re not just dreaming—this is a real phenomenon. According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America survey, sleep and stress have a co-dependent relationship.

That means, not getting enough sleep can cause stress, and stress can cause you to not get enough sleep.

We all know that there are thousands of good reasons to prioritize time and quality of sleep. From better focus to improved physical and mental health, you simply cannot afford to skimp in the sleep department.

You sleep less

Obviously, the greatest consequence of stress in the sleep department is that it robs you of the ability to sleep for longer periods of time. You may lie awake at night tossing and turning or have trouble staying asleep.

You wake up more

Even if you’re lying in bed for a solid eight hours of sleep each night, there’s a good chance that your sleep isn’t entirely productive. Anxiety and worry limit your ability to sleep deeply without interruption, so you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night if you’re feeling stressed out.

You feel irritable

According to the APA’s survey, adults who get less than eight hours of sleep per night feel much more irritable or angry than those who get at least eight hours of sleep per night. At the same time, the sleepless tend to feel more overwhelmed, disengaged, unmotivated and impatient.

You feel more stressed

But how, exactly, does the body react to stress in a way that limits sleep? The National Sleep Foundation says that if you don’t get enough sleep, your body will naturally boost its stress hormones. Therefore, after a night of tossing and turning, you’ll feel extra-anxious.

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You can’t relax

The primary reason why people who are overly stressed can’t get enough shuteye is because they can’t turn their minds off. Certain things in life that are particularly stressful cause your mind to race, and it may take hours before it’s quieted enough to sleep.

Preventing stressful, sleep-free nights

Obviously, there’s a very clear correlation between overall health and well-being and good-quality rest. But what if you’re like the millions of people in the U.S. who can’t seem to stave off the stress long enough to catch some solid zzz?

We’ve compiled some advice from the National Sleep Foundation to see what can be done about this health-robbing phenomenon. With these helpful tips, you’ll be able to put the kibosh on “losing sleep” over things that stress you out.

Wind down

We know that when we’re stressed, the mind moves a thousand miles a minute, and when it’s racing that fast, it’s impossible to get to sleep. Building in a “wind-down” period will help quiet the mind so that you can sink into a relaxed state. Spend 30 minutes before bedtime meditating, reading a book or taking a bath.

See the doc

Sometimes, chronic insomnia is related to an underlying health issue, such as anxiety or certain medications. Scheduling a visit with the doctor does two things.

First, it helps you rule out whether or not your sleeplessness and stress are due to another issue. Secondly, your healthcare provider may be able to recommend a treatment plan to help get both issues under control.


When we’re stressed out, our bodies and minds feel like they can’t rest. We often feel like we’ve been up for days after a particularly stressful situation.

One great way to get your mind and body tired enough for productive rest is to integrate exercise into your daily life. Studies show that those who exercise regularly fall asleep more quickly, sleep for longer and have better sleep quality.

Go no-phone zone

At this point, everybody knows that taking the phone into the bedroom is a cardinal sin in the sleep health world, but few of us actually follow that advice.

When it comes to stress, the phone is a particularly powerful trigger, especially if your stress stems from work. Turning your phone off before bed could help decrease stressful feelings before you fall asleep.

At the same time, wearing a sleep-monitoring wearable is a good way to gather valuable data on how you sleep, like how long you sleep on average per night and how deep you sleep.

Indulge and avoid

Your diet is important to sleep, and some things—especially alcohol and caffeine—are notoriously bad for stress and sleep.

Avoid nicotine, caffeine, alcohol or any other stimulants for at least four hours before bedtime. At the same time, a little bit of indulgence—a hot cup of tea, a relaxing candle or some quiet time—can be majorly beneficial.

The bottom line

We’re all looking for the secret to life, but the truth is that there’s no right way to do things—the secret is complicated. But we do know that the happiest and most productive people are those who are less stressed and get more sleep.

The clear correlation between rest and stress only solidifies its importance—the more you sleep, the less stressed you’ll be, and the less stressed you are, the more you’ll sleep. Taking some time to unwind and talking to a professional about your situation can help you break the stress-sleep cycle for good.‘

1 thought on “How does stress affect sleep?”

  1. I am suffering with stress related insomnia and cannot overcome the vicious circle of stress related sleep deprivation and stress triggered by lack of sleep. I developed bruxism (which I am nmanaging thanks to a specific gum shield )but other symptoms like anxiety and irritability are persistent. If only the tips you mention were that easier to implement. Thank you for sharing.

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