Insomnia Due to Stress: What You Can Do About It

22 December, 2020
Insomnia due to stress is more common than you think. Without proper intervention, it can become a chronic problem. How can you deal with it? We'll tell you what you need to know.

Nervousness, trouble falling asleep, waking up frequently, tachycardia in the middle of the night… And when you finally manage to get an hour or two of sleep, you have nightmares! Insomnia due to stress is a frequent condition that can alter your quality of life.

Often, when we reach certain levels of stress, we feel like there’s no point counting sheep, practicing meditation, or taking infusions. These types of experiences create a kind of vicious circle. The triggers are usually worries and those external pressures that we can’t handle.

However, after too many days without restorative rest, your mood and energy decrease even more. As a result, it’s difficult to find the strength to deal with the most basic problems in life0.

Facts about insomnia

The Spanish Society of the Sleep (SES) indicates that almost a third of the population suffers from insomnia occasionally. However, between 10 and 12% suffer it chronically. These are very exhausting situations that end up impacting their health in multiple ways. That’s why it’s necessary to pay attention to it.

Also, it’s important to take into account that it’s a disorder that can have a variety of origins. Among these, psychological states such as anxiety and stress tend to be the most frequent.

What can you do to manage it?

In the following paragraphs, we’ll tell you what you need to know.

A man suffering from insomnia.
Some of the most common causes of insomnia are our worries and stress.

Insomnia due to stress: Symptoms, causes, and strategies to manage it

When you have sleep difficulties, most of the daily tricks we tend to resort are useless. Telling yourself, “I have to fall asleep, I have to fall asleep” won’t work because the brain doesn’t obey these formulas.

Even more so when it’s trapped in that mental hyperactivation mode where thoughts won’t stop coming, in which the labyrinth of worries never rests. Studies such as those carried out at Laval University, Sainte-Foy, Canada, indicate that every stressor alters our rest at night.

However, this occurs with greater or lesser intensity based on our ability to cope. This is an important point to keep in mind: When treating insomnia in these cases, it’s essential to include psychological therapy along with the pharmacological approach. Let’s take a look at more data.

You may also be interested in: Discover How Stress Affects the Heart

What are the symptoms associated with insomnia due to stress?

There are different types of stress. On the one hand, we have acute stress, related to those daily tasks or challenges that steal our peace and lead us to that state of activation, worry, and relative anguish.

Now, in some cases, we suffer acute episodic stress and it turns into a more problematic situation because we’re unable to keep daily pressures under control. Therefore, we begin to be unproductive at work and have more health problems.

The most worrisome type of stress is, without a doubt, the chronic type. It’s a condition associated with past traumas or very distressing situations that keep us trapped for years. For example, suffering from burnout syndrome.

The symptoms associated with stress insomnia occur in cases of acute episodic stress and chronic stress. The manifestations are as follows:

  • Problems falling asleep (it can take us hours).
  • Waking up frequently and poor quality rest. It’s common to wake up more exhausted than when we went to bed.
  • Tachycardia in the middle of the night.
  • The mind doesn’t rest–negative, irrational, and catastrophic thoughts come constantly.
  • If you manage to sleep two hours in a row, it’s common to experience nightmares.
  • Tension headaches can also appear during the night.
  • Muscle pain makes it impossible to find a comfortable sleeping position.

What’s the cause?

Why do states of stress affect nightly rest? Many of us have asked ourselves this question more than once. The more necessary rest is, the harder it is to get it.

The reason lies in what we know as the Monroe hypothesis, which explains why people who suffer from anxiety and stress have a lot of difficulties sleeping.

  • People dealing with these psychological states accumulate a high physiological activation due to high levels of cortisol and adrenaline. This hyperactivation doesn’t shut down at night. In fact, it can become more intense.
  • The reason? When you reach the silence of your bed, your mind starts to think much more, turning things over and over in your head. That mental energy over activates the tension in your body and brain even more.

You may also be interested in: The Relationship Between Tachycardia and Anxiety

A man feeling stressed because of the demands of work.
Overactivation during the day, both physical and mental, ends up contributing to poor sleep quality at night.

What strategies should we apply to reduce insomnia due to stress?

The first and most decisive step is to know the real cause of insomnia. You should see a doctor to understand what’s behind your sleep disorder. Once the professional is rules out any organic causes, you’ll focus on the psychological level to make necessary changes. Here are some keys.

Adhere to strict sleep schedules to prevent insomnia due to stress

You must pay attention to your sleep hygiene and try to get up and go to bed at the same time every day.

Reduce exposure to electronic devices to prevent insomnia due to stress

Two hours before bedtime, you should avoid exposure to cell phone or computer screens. The blue light of these devices acts as a stimulant.

Don’t allow yourself to go to bed with worries, rather, write them down in a notebook

Your pillow can’t be a warehouse of all your concerns. Don’t allow yourself to go to bed with a mind full of thoughts, anxiety, and obsessive ideas. It’s better to write them down in a notebook. You can even try to write down possible solutions.

Prioritize and make small changes to feel good

To manage stress insomnia, it’s essential to make certain changes. To do so, the healthiest thing is to clarify what your priorities are and identify those secondary aspects we can eliminate to increase well-being. Let’s remember that self-care isn’t only about taking care of your physical appearance or diet. It’s also about dedicating quality time to yourself.

Exercise, light dinners, and breathing exercises

Going for a walk or a run in the middle of the afternoon will allow you to release the stress that you accumulate during the day.

So, after that small session of physical exercise, you can have a light dinner, and then go on to reduce both physical and mental activity. Deep breathing exercises or reading a book will allow you to improve the quality of your rest.

Seeking professional attention is important

When the above strategies have no effect, or the symptoms tend to worsen, it’s best to seek professional help. Insomnia that is not dealt with in time tends to impact health and quality of life.

Similarly, uncontrolled stress ends up altering almost every aspect of our lives. Therefore, if you can’t manage it, the best thing to do is to seek expert psychological attention.

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  • Gross, CR, Kreitzer, MJ, Reilly-Spong, M., Wall, M., Winbush, NY, Patterson, R.,… Cramer-Bornemann, M. (2011). Reducción del estrés basada en la atención plena versus farmacoterapia para el insomnio primario crónico: un ensayo clínico aleatorizado y controlado. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing , 7 (2), 76–87. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2010.12.003
  • Morin, C. M., Rodrigue, S., & Ivers, H. (2003). Role of stress, arousal, and coping skills in primary insomnia. Psychosomatic Medicine65(2), 259–267. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.PSY.0000030391.09558.A3
  • Zayfert, C., & De Viva, J. C. (2004). Residual Insomnia Following Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for PTSD. Journal of Traumatic Stress17(1), 69–73. https://doi.org/10.1023/B:JOTS.0000014679.31799.e7