What you need to know about Stress-Related Insomnia

What you need to know about Stress-Related Insomnia

Author: Matthew Gallo
Inspire Wellness@Home
November 11, 2022

Sleep & Stress

For something that we spend one third of our lives doing, there is still much to be known about sleep and why it happens. Even so, anyone can tell you that sleep is beneficial, and not getting enough of it can lead to some undesired effects. Despite this knowledge, many people fail to get the recommended eight hours of sleep per night. A few hours of lost sleep may not seem like much to toss and turn about, but for those looking to reduce their stress levels, it’s best to stay tucked in for a little longer. Sleep and stress have a closely reciprocal relationship, and just like two people fighting for a blanket, if one gets cold than the other will likely be affected.


Why Does Sleep Occur?

While many questions remain unanswered, scientists have long theorized as to why sleep occurs. One early theory, the Inactivity Theory, claims sleep has evolved out of a survival function to help animals remain still at night when they are particularly vulnerable. Related to this is the Energy Conservation Theory, which suggests the primary reason we sleep is to conserve our body’s energy.

A more traditional idea that has gained support from recent science is that sleep gives our bodies time to repair. During sleep, our bodies perform major restorative functions such as muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and the release of growth hormone (Harvard Medical School, 2022). The most recent research has focused on brain plasticity, which is not yet fully understood. The Brain Plasticity Theory aims to explain the changes to the structure and organization of the brain which occur during sleep. These changes can be linked to performance in a variety of cognitive tasks including learning ability (Harvard Medical School, 2022).

How is Sleep Regulated?

The drive that powers sleep is certainly a powerful one. In science, this internal system is referred to as a homeostatic system. Just like blood vessels constrict in response to cold, causing us to shiver, structures in the brain promote sleep when we remain awake for extended periods. Some scientists believe one molecule in particular, adenosine, may be contributing to the drive. Adenosine, a by-product of energy consumption by cells, builds up in the brain during prolonged wakefulness and dissipates during sleep (Harvard Medical School, 2022). Caffeine also works its magic by blocking adenosine activity.

While the homeostatic sleep drive plays a part in getting our eyes closed, there are several structures in the brain that are involved in sleep and help regulate the circadian rhythm. The hypothalamus acts as the control center, it detects light and communicates with the brain stem to induce transitions between sleep and wake (USDHHS, n.d.). The hypothalamus also sends signals to the pineal gland, which produces melatonin. Melatonin is produced in response to darkness, and helps our circadian rhythm match the cycle of day and night.

Stress and Sleep’s Reciprocal Relationship

According to the American Psychological Association (2013), American adults are not getting enough sleep, and stress may be playing a part in it. In a survey, 42 percent of adults reported their quality of sleep as fair or poor, with 43 percent also blaming stress for sleepless nights in the past month. It may also come as no surprise that many also felt an increase in stress when their quality and length of sleep was suffering. 21 percent of adults report being more stressed after a sleepless night, and those with higher stress levels fared even worse with 45 percent feeling more stressed.

It's easy to see how slippery of a slope the battle between sleep and stress can be. In the APA survey, thirty seven percent of adults also report being tired or fatigued because of stress. These effects can be compounded by the consequences of lack of sleep; 53 percent report feeling sluggish, 38 percent are irritable, and 29 percent have trouble concentrating. Not a recipe for success. Those that slept for at least eight hours were found to be less stressed than their tired counterparts.

For those with stress induced sleepless nights, getting eight hours may seem like an impossible feat. Creating a proper sleep hygiene can help mitigate some of the factors that keep our mind stressed out at night. Habits such as having a strict sleep schedule, having no electronics or blue lights in the bedroom, reducing caffeine and nicotine intake before bedtime, and regular exercise are all important steps to a healthy sleep hygiene. Want to learn more about the hormones that are influencing your sleep? Inspire Wellness at Home’s Sleep and Stress panel provides an assessment of the hormones which indicate a response to stress and those needed for good sleep. Results from the panel can help determine if abnormal fluctuations in levels of hormones such as melatonin and cortisol may be affecting your ability to get quality sleep.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only.

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