What is the link between stress and sleep

What is the link between stress and sleep

Stress can cause a lot of physical and mental stress. They both are related to each other in some way or another. If you don’t sleep properly then you suffer from stress and if you are under stress then you may not be able to sleep well at night. An individual should enjoy a sleep of 7-8 hours at night and further depending upon the age and other factors.  

Stress often leads to insomnia and by the same token lack of proper sleep contributes to stress so addressing one of these issues can lead to the improvement of the other one. Some people also suffer from anxiety and depression due to lack of sleep. They can also suffer from back pain, fatigue, and chest or neck pain. If this problem is not managed then they may suffer from a lot of health problems.  

This is a very common problem and happens with 40% of the males and females. Sleep is an important resource that keeps you healthy, mentally sharp, and able to cope with stress more effectively. There are a lot of causes that can cause stress and eventually disturb your sleep. First, let us see what the causes of stress are. 

What are the causes of stress?

Stress can trigger a lot of things in our bodies. You can suffer from stress because of these causes.

  •     Worrying a lot
  •     Financial problems
  •     Relationship problems
  •     Work problems
  •     Facing big changes
  •     Being under lots of pressure
  •     Not getting where you wanted to be
  •     Working long hours
  •     Working under dangerous conditions
  •     Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
  •     Being insecure about a particular thing
  •     Loss of a job
  •     Chronic illness or injury
  •     Emotional problems
  •     Divorce
  •     Improper sleep
  •     Trauma from any incident

Causes of stress can vary from person to person and some issues can be small for one person and big for another. Stress can either come from inside or from outside. Some people suffer from stress due to a particular factor like:

Fear: When you hear about the threat of terrorist attacks, global warming, and toxic chemicals on the news then you get stressed about things over which you have no control over events. These are rare events and their vivid coverage in the media may make them seem as if they are more likely to occur than people fare them.

Unrealistic expectations: expecting a lot from yourself and from others, you may put yourself through a lot of stress. People are destined to feel stressed when things don’t go as planned.

Lifestyle changes: if there are some sudden changes in your lifestyle and some major ones can be stressful. Even some happy big events which include a big change can also be stressful. Some major setbacks can also cause stress.

Our body produces cortisol throughout the day but with levels spiking immediately after we wake up and it gradually decreases throughout the day. The cortisol levels are being regulated by the HPA which is the reason why you often feel hyper-alert during stressful situations.

Stress has taken many forms but the feelings are generally categorized into three categories:

Acute stress: these are short-term stress which come after moments of panic or dread. For example, you suddenly realize that you have missed something or some task that was to be done and you feel stressed that you are not able to complete it on time. Some people experience headaches, back pain, and gastrointestinal issues.

Episode acute stress:  this is day-to-day problem stress because of which people feel burdened and struggle in completing their day-to-day tasks. This could increase the risk of drinking and smoking binge. Other serious complications of episodic acute stress include clinical depression and heart disease as well as poor performance at work.

Chronic stress: this type of stress usually comes from a feeling of hopelessness. People who have experienced painful events like abuse or poverty are stuck with a mental image of that incident which stresses them out and they become weak mentally. Chronic stress can also cause deficiencies which are related to how the HPA axis processes stressful situations and communicates with the rest of the body.

How stress affects our sleep?

When you suffer from a stressful event which can be physical, psychological, real, or imagined then your body releases stress hormone which gets triggered and creates a lot of physical changes which can lead to the release of glucocorticoids like cortisol by the endocrine system. The release of cortisol and other stress hormones creates a burst of energy which allows our body to fight the situation.

Our body’s response to stress is as it spikes the cortisol levels which decreases the stress levels. This endocrine system response is controlled by negative feedback loops which is mediated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) in the central nervous system.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder as you know and it is derived from stress. If you are suffering from stress then you have difficulty in sleeping and maintaining your body at peace. People who suffer from insomnia generally experience excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and irritability. Sleeping at an appropriate time can be difficult for a person suffering from insomnia. They often stay up very late at night and feel very low during the daytime.

Not sleeping properly can cause a lot of health problems. Some of them are:

Memory issues

When you sleep you rest your mind and charge it to perform tasks the other day. During sleep your brain forms connections that help you process tasks and manages your memory to remember information. Lack of sleep can harm your health.


When you don’t take a proper nap your mood triggers a lot during the daytime. You become angry and get irritated easily on small matters. This can also lead to anxiety and depression.

Weight gain

When you are sleep deprived the chemicals which signal your brain that you are full are off-balance. This may result in overheating and can result in gaining weight.

Trouble concentrating

With lack of sleep, you will always feel tired which will make it difficult for you to focus on anything or to concentrate on your daily tasks. Your problem-solving skills were not accurate.

Weak immunity

With a little sleep, your immune system does not help in defending against viruses. You are immune to catch small viruses too such as cold and cough. You are more likely to get sick when you are exposed to these germs.

Poor balance

Lack of sleep can also affect your body balance and coordination which will make you more prone to falls and other physical accidents.

Can lead to health problems

Lack of sleep and chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for:

  •     Heart disease
  •     Heart attack
  •     Heart failure
  •     Irregular heartbeat
  •     High blood pressure
  •     Stroke
  •     Diabetes

Remedies to prevent this problem


This is very relaxing which aims to make people more aware of the present moment. Meditation helps to provide peace in our mind and helps to calm our body. It relaxes our muscles which also helps to improve sleep and reduce stress.


When we work out our body releases cortisol which improves our mental health and promotes happiness. Physical exercise’s effects on psychological well-being could be very suitable for treating anxiety and stress. Working out, running, or walking are all good for reducing stress levels and improving sleep quality.

Improve diet

Adapt to a more healthy diet that includes all types of macronutrients. If you are in a habit of binge eating n snacks then it may affect your sleep. Drinking energy drinks or drinks containing caffeine can also affect your sleep. Avoid doing all this and if you like to drink something before going to bed then drink milk.

Balance responsibilities

Divide your time and tasks. Don’t bulk up your tasks or keep it for the last minute.


Some supplements may also help to relax your muscles and reduce your stress.

Lemon balm: it is a mint that has been proven for its anti anxiety effects.

Omega-3 fatty acids: a study has been shown that students who take this supplement have experienced a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms.

Ashwagandha: this is a natural herb that is being used to treat stress and anxiety.

Green tea: it contains polyphenol antioxidants which provide various health benefits. It lowers stress and anxiety by increasing serotonin levels. 

Kava kava:  It is a psychoactive member of the pepper family. It is used as a sedative in the south pacific and other countries to relieve stress.

Write it down

If you are suffering from a particular problem which is disturbing your sleep then write it down in a journal. It will be a great way to vent out the problem and it will also help you to take off some burden.

Foods to prevent stress 

Herbal tea

It will help promote warmth and calmness. This tea can help reduce stress. Drinking a warm cup of tea is the one way to calm yourself. Warm beverages increase the feeling of interpersonal warmth and friendliness.

Dark chocolates 

They are nice antioxidants that help to reduce stress. It has a chemical impact and also an emotional impact. Dark chocolate which is rich in antioxidants may also help reduce stress by lowering levels of stress hormones in the body. 

Whole grains

It is a mood-boosting way that increases the levels of serotonin which is the hormone that boosts moods and reduces stress. Once the serotonin levels are increased people who are under stress can have better concentration and focus.

Some other foods are:

  •     Avocados (as it has omega fatty acids)
  •     Fish oil
  •     Warm milk
  •     Nuts of all kinds
  •     Citrus fruits
  •     Probiotics
  •     Foods high in fiber

Take Away

Stress and sleep are related to each other and solving one problem will resolve another. But not all sleep problems are directly or entirely because of stress. A lot of factors like aging and other life problems can relate to altering our sleep patterns. If you can manage your sleep then your stress levels can also be managed and as same for stress that not only sleep affects our stress but many other factors.