Stress and Sleep: What’s the Link?

Tips to reduce stress and sleep better.

One of the most common reasons for lack of sleep is stress. This can be magnified in people who are already dealing with existing mental or physical conditions. Sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress, and increased stress can cause a lack of sleep. As you might guess then, it’s a cycle that’s hard to get away from if left unaddressed.

Learn how stress affects sleep and what you can do to help reduce stress and get a better night’s sleep.

The Effect of Stress on Sleep

Stress is one of the most common reasons people suffer from poor sleep. Stress can manifest in different ways and levels. Research has shown that stress can impair sleep quality, duration, contentment, and frequency.

A study conducted in 2005 at Stanford University found that even mild levels of sleep restriction affect the brain in ways similar to a total absence of sleep. Researchers also found that cognitive functions are reduced significantly when deprived of just two hours of sleep. In addition, lack of sleep has been shown to produce changes in metabolism and can lead to diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.

Stress and Hormones

Dial showing high cortisol levels.There are many ways stress manifests itself in your body. When you are stressed, your body releases and suppresses certain hormones. For example, your body releases cortisol, your primary stress hormone. Cortisol is best known for producing the “fight or flight” response. During periods of stress, the hormone serotonin is suppressed. Serotonin is often referred to as the “happy hormone” and is mainly responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness.

In addition to affecting cortisol and serotonin levels, stress will also trigger the release of adenosine in the brain. This is a hormone that works to keep us awake and alert. Therefore when it’s released, it will work to break down our sleep drive so that we are ready for action.

Getting enough sleep can be very difficult with all of these hormone changes. People who are stressed often have a hard time falling asleep, experience insomnia, or wake up frequently during the night. The end result is usually not enough sleep.

The bottom line is simple: When you feel stressed, you should make it a point to get more sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep, stress can quickly become much worse than usual and contribute to an even greater lack of sleep.

Unsurprisingly, the effects of lack of sleep are magnified in people who are already dealing with existing mental or physical conditions.

Side Effects of Lack of Sleep

Tired woman looking at her computer, side effects of lack of sleep.When you don’t get enough sleep, you can expect to accomplish less throughout your day. In addition, lack of sleep causes irritability and difficulty concentrating. People who are fatigued will also be more likely to perceive situations negatively and lack motivation.

Lack of sleep is also linked with an increased risk for depression and anxiety. Lack of sleep amplifies feelings of stress, making it harder for people to control their emotions when they’re upset or excited about something. If left unaddressed, poor sleep hygiene can result in additional health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and stroke.

Some side effects of lack of sleep include:

  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • fatigue
  • a negative outlook on life
  • decreased productivity
  • increased risk for depression and anxiety
  • increased risk of hypertension
  • increased risk of diabetes
  • increased risk of obesity
  • increased risk of cancer
  • increased risk of stroke

Identify and Evaluate Your Stressors

Surprising Sources of Stress

If you’re having trouble sleeping, work to reduce the stress in your life.

Man standing in front of a chalkboard listing different sources of stress.Even though it’s evident stress can cause a lack of sleep, it might be surprising to learn just how much stress is caused by everyday things. For example, noise can significantly impact sleep for some people.

A study conducted at The Mindlab International found that background noise was the number one reason people couldn’t get to sleep fast enough and often left them feeling tired during the day.

Other sources of stress may include:

  • work
  • relationships
  • money problems/financial burden
  • illness (mental or physical)
  • worries
  • tobacco/drug use
  • alcohol use
  • vacations (including getting back into a routine after a vacation)

Identify and Evaluate Your Stressors

Before you can reduce stress, it’s essential to identify your stressors.

To identify your stressors, start by making a list of the things that are causing you stress. Once you have a good list, it’s time to evaluate each item and decide how important it is and how much control you have over it.

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • How important is this issue to me?
  • Can I change the situation, or do I have any control over it?
  • What are the potential consequences of this issue if it’s not resolved?
  • Do I need to take action right now, or can I wait?
  • How will I feel if this issue is resolved?
  • How will I feel if this issue is not resolved?

Once you’ve answered all of these questions, you’ll be in a better position to identify your top stressors and find ways to reduce your stress. Learn more about reducing stress.

Lastly, realize that not every stressor is controllable. If you’re aware and accepting of the things out of your control, this can help minimize unnecessary anxiety and apprehension.

Reduce Stress for Better Sleep

In addition to reducing your stressors, here are some habits to consider to help reduce stress and increase overall happiness.

Exercise: A Proven Way to Reduce Stress

One way many people manage stress is through exercise. Researchers with Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute found that physical activity effectively lowers cortisol levels. Over time, this can reduce various health risks, weight gain, depression, and memory loss. In addition, some researchers believe that regular exercise may provide some protection against heart disease by reducing the body’s production of stress hormones.

Exercise is also linked with improved sleep, so it should be part of your routine if you’re having trouble sleeping. It’s recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. Aim for 30-60 minutes on most days if possible, but any amount of activity can offer benefits.

Stress Management Techniques

Apart from exercising, there are many other ways you can reduce stress in your daily life and prevent or minimize its effects on your sleep.


Woman sitting on the grass outside meditating with her eyes closed.One way to reduce stress levels during the day is through meditation. Meditation has been directly linked to reduced cortisol levels and reduced heart rate and muscle tension. 

There are various meditation techniques, but the one you choose doesn’t matter as much as finding one that works for your lifestyle and sticking with it.

Meditation can be especially useful if you get anxious right before bedtime. Meditation is a great way to distract yourself from racing thoughts and other distractions that may cause reduced sleep quality or insomnia symptoms. A few short minutes spent meditating each day can make a big difference in reducing your stress levels throughout the day.


Apart from meditation, yoga is another great way to help reduce stress levels and provide many health benefits. Health benefits include increased flexibility, better balance, improved muscle tone, better digestive function, and reduced blood pressure. Yoga has also been linked to improved sleep quality and reduced insomnia symptoms.

You can follow similar routines as those for meditation or simply pick your favorite pose and try it. Yoga is more about doing what works for you, not following someone else’s routine exactly. The most important thing is to find some kind of yoga routine that fits into your lifestyle, so you’ll do it on a regular basis.

Get Organized

Woman writing on a wall calendar getting organized to reduce stress.Many people are stressed out by disorganization. When your day-to-day life is full of clutter, it’s more difficult to focus on what needs to be done, leading to higher stress levels. This may not seem like an obvious connection, but if you’re more organized and have everything set up the way you prefer, you’ll have a more relaxed mindset that will help reduce stress.

Figure out why things feel stressful or overwhelming in your home or work environment. For example, if working on paperwork stresses you out because there’s no specific place set aside for it, make finding a solution to these problems part of your organizing process.

Sleep Routine

Establishing a regular sleeping schedule is another way to reduce stress levels. The more consistent you are with your bedtime and wake time, the better you will sleep each night, even if there are other stressors present in your life.

Sleep is important for reducing stress levels, but many people don’t get the sleep they need because of various factors, including stress. If you’re having trouble sleeping or waking up too early each morning, take a look at this article for some tips on how to improve your sleep quality.

Go Outdoors

Spending time in natural sunlight is a great way to reduce stress levels. Time outdoors in natural sunlight can help to improve mood, reduce stress, increase overall well-being, and decrease the risk of developing depression or other mental illness symptoms.

Spending time outdoors with friends and family is another excellent way to reduce your stress levels. It offers many benefits, including social support and increased physical activity, which also helps reduce stress. This activity can be done by simply spending time together in nature or pursuing an outdoor hobby or activity.

Spend Time With Pets

Closeup of man outside kneeling next to his dog, playing.Spending time with pets can be beneficial for stress relief because they provide companionship and help increase exercise. Studies have shown that dog owners take more walks and get more exercise than those without pets, but evidence suggests this stress-reducing benefit could also apply to other pets.

Being around animals can help lower blood pressure, decrease stress hormones in the body, and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with relaxation.

If you don’t have a pet but want to gain these benefits, consider dog walking or cat sitting in your neighborhood.

Find a New Hobby

Spending time on activities that increase overall well-being can reduce stress levels and improve your overall health. If you’re looking to pick up a new hobby, choose something you are interested in. If you try something out and realize it’s not for you, don’t be afraid to stop and give something else a try.


Self-care is very important for stress management, yet many people neglect it. Whether planning a weekly ‘me day’ or simply taking time to do something you enjoy, self-care is important for stress reduction and overall well-being.

Organize your life so that you can take regular time for self-care. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities and lack of sleep, fitting self-care into your schedule may be challenging. However, even if you only have time to take a quick shower or go for a short walk, those little breaks can help reduce your anxiety and improve your mood.

The Benefits of Laughter

Spending time with friends and watching funny movies are great ways to reduce stress levels. Laughter provides numerous physical and emotional health benefits, including pain relief, muscle relaxation, more energy, etc. These effects have been shown to improve both mood and sleep quality, so it’s important to spend time laughing during the day to decrease your stress levels at night and get more restful sleep.

Better Sleep, Less Stress

Letter tiles spelling More Sleep and less stress.Stress negatively affects sleep. High stress levels are associated with both poor sleep and lack of sleep. On the other hand, lack of sleep can increase stress further. Thus this becomes a negative cycle that can be hard to break.

Ensuring you get enough sleep is important for managing your diabetes and blood sugar levels. Lack of sleep raises blood sugar levels and can cause prediabetes or diabetes. In addition, if you already have diabetes, lack of sleep can make managing it much more difficult.

It is important first to identify and evaluate your stressors. Once you’ve done this, it is easier to work on reducing stress where you can.

Another valuable tool to reduce stress is developing healthy habits such as exercise, mediation, self-care, hobbies, and spending time with friends and family.

As you work to lower stress levels, you’ll likely find your sleep improves, and you’re able to get enough sleep consistently.

So what’s the next step to learning how to get more sleep? Check out our article 16 Proven Tips to Sleep Better at Night to learn how to get your best night’s sleep.