Did you know that adults with higher levels of stress sleep an HOUR less than those who have lower stress?


What is stress?

What does it feel like in your body?


For me, stress triggers tension in my jaw or stiffness in my shoulders. Sometimes it can feel like rapid shallow breathing, and other times it causes me to hold my breath unconsciously. On extra stressful days, I have difficulty falling asleep and sometimes staying asleep.


What are the NEGATIVE effects between stress and sleep?


Too much stress can trigger the defense system in our brains, and what we feel in our bodies from this cascade of chemical reactions can vary from person to person. Stress activates our sympathetic drive, also known as the fight, flight, or freeze system, to release cortisol. This extra cortisol floating around our bodies can influence our heart to race, our stomach to churn or ache and weaken our immune system, so we catch colds more frequently. Stress even affects our brains and can cause us to have memory lapses. Stress keeps us from sleeping because cortisol makes us feel alert. In the early morning, we have a normal rise in our cortisol level as this is the signal that helps us wake up; however, excessive cortisol in our system at the wrong time during sleep can lead us to wake up more often and have a fragmented sleep.


Short-term stress can lead to a couple of bad nights of sleep, leading us to have anxiety about sleep and perhaps lowering our confidence in being ABLE to sleep. This coupled with further emotional distress from not sleeping, can lead to a vicious cycle of stress à poor emotional regulation à disrupted or lack of sleep. When we fall into this cycle of an overactive sympathetic drive, it can be challenging to shift our minds into a state of relaxation that is necessary for us to fall asleep and stay asleep until the morning.


What is the BENEFIT stress has on sleep?

After reading the section above, you may be thinking that there are NO benefits between stress and sleep. I’d like to introduce you to (or reintroduce you if you’ve already discovered this) the concept of post-traumatic GROWTH. Research shows that many people who experience a life-altering traumatic event can have positive outcomes such as:


-Appreciation of life

-Relationships with others

-New possibilities in life

-Personal strength

-Spiritual change


For some people going through a stressful life event may be the trigger to drastically change their situation, whether leaving a stressful workspace or moving cities to be closer to family. Or perhaps the change may happen on a smaller scale after you (or your family and friends) start to notice your irritability after not sleeping well, which sparks your shift towards healthy behaviors to manage stress because you don’t really want to be a grouch. You may find yourself beginning to cultivate stress-relieving habits such as regular exercise, journaling, or picking up a long-desired hobby like learning how to knit. 


Stress in the short or long term can lead to negative consequences on our sleep and well-being; however, look for the silver lining (there always is at least one) and ask yourself, what is stress teaching me at this moment? How can I learn and grow from it?


I would love to hear your stories about how stress has impacted your sleep. 



Stress and Sleep. American Psychological Association. Press release. 2013. Accessed December 9, 2021.


Han, KS., Kim, L., Shim, I. Stress and Sleep Disorder, Experimental Neurobiology. 2012 Dec; 21(4): 141-150.


Collier, L. Growth after trauma. Why some people are more resilient than others –and can it be taught? Monitor on Psychology. 2016, Nov; 27 (10).

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