Stress And Sleep: Effects On The Body And Tips For Better Sleep

stress and sleep

In this article, we’ll discuss the relationship between sleep and stress; specifically, the effects of stress on the body and tips for reducing stress for better sleep.


Stress has naturally developed into being the body’s response to external pressure, whether mental or physical. It is vital in the form of short spurts and occurrences, to boost the body’s immunity system and motivate the brain to work harder. But in the case of lasting stress, there are numerous adverse effects.

When stress is stretched over a period, it is known as chronic stress. Chronic stress puts the human body into a semi-permanent ‘flight or fight’ mode, which can end up taking a drastic toll on regular sleep.

Body Under Stress

Many systems within the body change due to chronic stress and all of them have adverse outcomes. All of these changes have some part in causing sleeplessness.

1. Endocrine System

The body’s hormonal stress response is immediately triggered when the body experiences a ‘danger’ or pressure. Physical changes take place that leads to the release of glucocorticoids, such as cortisol.

The endocrine system releases this hormone into the bloodstream and gives the person short-termed energy bursts. It causes the liver to produce glucose at higher levels, inhibiting the body’s ability to reabsorb sugar. This could potentially lead to diabetes.

2. Circulatory System

The heart pumps faster so that the body is ready to take any action necessary when faced with pressure. It needs to carry out its duty of providing oxygenated blood to every part of the body. The blood vessels are in a constant strain due to the quick movement of blood.

During sleep, the pressure should be low enough to relax the working of the body. High blood pressure stress does not allow the brain to transition from wakefulness to sleep comfortably, causing shorter sleep durations, or disorders like insomnia.

3. Respiratory System

Large amounts of cortisol released by the endocrine system can cause the lungs to switch to a ‘survival’ mode. Breathing gets short and shallow and can develop into panting or breathlessness. This, coupled with an escalated heartbeat rate, does not allow the body’s cells to get oxygenated.

Dizziness, loss of cognitive control, or unconsciousness may occur due to severe respiratory reactions. These lead to a night of disturbed sleep, or may not allow the body to calm down so that it could proceed to snooze.

4. Digestive System

The nutrients are absorbed in a controlled manner, and the digestive system produces more acid. Additionally, one of the most known coping mechanisms of stress is hunger; or its complete absence, triggered by the hormonal fluctuations. A stressed person may either pile up on unhealthy food or stop eating altogether.

Digestive issues like heartburn, acid refluxes, oesophageal spasms, and ulcers can result from this imbalance in consumption and digestion. Constipation or diarrhea can keep the person awake all night. The skewed feelings of hunger may also disturb the sleep schedule.

5. Muscles

When the body is put under stress, the muscles tense up as a reflex action almost immediately. The defense of the body keeps the muscles under tension to brace against injury and pain.

Some of the most common examples are the jaw clenching, the calves and shoulders tensing up, and the joints becoming rigid. The tension may lead to severe chronic issues, pain, muscle cramps, migraines, and headaches under hyper stress.

Also Read: Common Migraine Triggers

Muscles relax and go into an almost-paralyzed state when the body goes to sleep. Built-up tension would hinder this, thus forming more difficulties for achieving good sleep.

The Link Between Stress And Sleep

Stress alters the body so that it always remains ready to take action against danger, and sleep would be forgotten. Sometimes falling asleep might be possible, but staying asleep would be difficult.

Apart from the bodily alterations, stress itself might be enough to keep a person awake. Continually worrying about various things, overworking, having a hectic life, and making unhealthy lifestyle choices would not provide enough sleep hours. A normally functioning adult should get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily, but this is hard to accomplish for stressed individuals.

Stress Management For Improved Sleep

Managing stress is the key to a good night’s sleep. It comprises many self-help tips and healthy habits that should be followed to lower stress levels.

1. Exercise

Physical activities are considered to be one of the best natural ways to maintain mental and physical health. Working the body out would let the brain release feel-good chemicals and hormones. These could counter the cortisol levels in the body.

Exercising for 30 minutes daily or at least thrice a week should be enough. The activities need not be in the form of pure workouts or aerobic exercises. Jogging around the block, choosing stairs over the elevator, swimming, doing household chores, yoga, dancing, etc. are healthy methods of giving movement to the body.

This would also tire the body out, hence relaxing the muscles. The results of exercise are short-termed, so it is crucial to adapt it to the daily lifestyle. It would ensure mental and physical fitness in the long run.

2. Light Exposure

The brain produces sleep hormones as per the natural light it has received during the day. It is naturally inclined to secrete them during the night after the body has been exposed to enough sunlight.

However, a stressed life may force many to stay indoors due to work or other mental issues. This causes an imbalance in those hormones’ secretion, leading the body to remain active even when it should be falling asleep. It is crucial to stay in a well-lit environment.

Adequate daylight has proven to decrease depression and stress. Pulling the blinds up, shifting work to a place that receives enough sun during the day, and choosing to go outdoors during the daytime can prove useful.

3. Other Measures

Following these lifestyle changes would help in reducing stress and allowing a good night’s rest:

  • Adopting A Healthier Diet: This would ease the burden on the digestive issues caused by unnecessary stress.
  • Avoiding Caffeine: Caffeine gives the body an unwanted boost of energy, making it hard to go to sleep. Caffeine addiction can develop quickly, so it is best to let go of all caffeinated products.
  • Planning The Day: A hectic workday can be planned so that the person would not worry about it as the day progresses. It should be done in a way that guarantees the recommended hours of sleep.
  • Meditation: Practicing meditation for 10-15 minutes before bed could clear the brain of unwanted stressful thoughts.


Sleep and stress are closely linked. A continuation of their complications can impact long-term mental and physical health. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart diseases, and disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia are some of the threats posed by insufficient sleep.

Stress management may fail to work for people with underlying complications. Consulting a doctor and seeking therapy is the best option to overcome stress and follow self-help methods.


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