How stress affects your sleep

How stress affects your sleep

Poor sleep can be a warning sign that you are stressed.  While stress is a normal part of life, too much stress in our life can impact on our sleep.  Poor sleep can also exacerbate the unhealthy side effects of stress.  Read on to find out how stress affects your sleep.

5 ways that stress affects your sleep

1. Over Production of Hormones

When we are stressed, our body over produces cortisol. This hormone is normally vital for our survival, it keeps us on our toes for a flight or fight response. It also shuts down unnecessary functions that are not required when we need to fight or flee a threat. The ‘unnecessary’ functions are things like digestion, reproduction and sleep.

And if your body doesn’t get enough sleep, the hypothalamus /pituitary /adrenal axis does not shut down and it keeps secreting chemicals, mainly this cortisol. Over production of cortisol can also have further long term health effects.

2. Physical Interruptions

If we are stressed, our breathing can be affected. Shallow breath or even snoring can limit the quality of sleep we have.  Stress can also impact on our gut health as the gut and brain are closely connected.  An unhealthy gut system can lead to heartburn or reflux which may also interrupt a healthy night’s sleep.  Not being able to shut off, you may also find yourself dreaming about work and wake up feeling exhausted or unrested.

3. Anxiety

There’s a reason for the saying that problems can ‘keep us awake at night’.  Anxiety is associated with anticipatory stress.  This is where you find yourself fretting about a future event, or the unknown. Our mind can easily play scenarios or worries over and over again.  Hence the popularity of Guatemalan ‘worry dolls‘, whereby you give your worries to the doll to hang on to until morning, so that you can sleep through the night.

4. Overthinking

Similar to anxiety, an overproduction of cortisol and adrenaline can contribute an over active brain.  We know it’s not wise to think things through right before we go to sleep, but our creativity starts to work in overdrive as we relax.  Writing things down can provide some relief but our brain will still want to work things through.  Keep a notepad and pen next to your bed to transfer your thoughts to.

5. Fear of Missing Out

The Australian Psychology Society recognise that the fear of missing out is becoming a common phenomenon. This is strongly associated with the constant connectivity of the internet and social media. In a recent study, they found that one in two teens and one in four adults experience stress from the fear of missing out.  Additionally, the hunt for endorsement and social likes that fuel our dopamine can influence us to stay connected to social media longer than we should.

How to reduce stress in the bedroom

  • Treat your bed as a sleeping sanctuary. Ban TV, laptops, I-pads, mobile phones and any other electronic devices from your sleeping area. Park them in another room.
  • Set an alarm to wind down. Set a nightly alarm on your phone to remind you to stop working, social surfing or watching television. Start your wind down routine to allow you ample time to relax for sleep. Don’t try to start this process the moment your head hits the pillow.
  • Avoid brightly lit digital clocks. These usually emit low level sound that you don’t need, and create some light in the room. If you need a time piece, a small travel clock that only lights up if you press a button is the best option.

Please note:  This article is not to be used as medical advice.  If you are considering a sleep treatment please consult your doctor or medical professional.  This post may contain affiliate links.

5 Ways that Stress Affects your Sleep

Author profile
Barbara Clifford
Barbara Clifford
Stress Management Coach

Barbara loves making sense of things and creating order out of chaos. As a time management and stress management strategist, Barbara helps people to easily minimise stress and maximise time. She lives in the desert of Alice Springs, Australia working with people around the country. To find out more visit


14 replies
  1. charmaine says:

    Gosh I needed this. After 12 years of co-sleeping I really struggle to get a good nights sleep. With the combination of babies and screens I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night…. Some easy suggestions and something for me to work on. Thank you.

  2. Eleisha says:

    This is great stuff often kids wake me at night then I over think and mull thins over and can’t sleep! Good tips to counter!!

  3. Ruth says:

    So helpful! I have been thinking I need to ban my phone from bedroom. The amount of time I spend sitting there scrolling right before I go to sleep and then have trouble getting to sleep…argh! Some thing I do find that helps though, is writing out my to-do list before I stop for the day. That way I’m not lying in bed constructing tomorrows list when I should be going to sleep! lol!

  4. Melanie says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this whole article. Having spent 4 years going through the family court system the fear and stree that came with that basically lead to 4 years with little sleep. Taking time to learn to wind down has been so important with moving forward with life. Thankyou for sharing this.

  5. Lisette says:

    As someone who always have difficulty sleeping at night, I found this post to be super helpful. I’ve noticed that I am always overthinking about the smallest things and might have to try writing my thoughts out.

    • TheDeepSleepCo says:

      Sorry to hear that. Sleep is so important for preventing and coping with mental illness. I hope you can get some sleep.


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