When stress disrupts sleep

Q:  “I was sleeping pretty well for a couple of weeks, but now I’ve started awakening about 4 in the morning and can’t fall back asleep.  This has coincided with some increased stress in my life.  Any suggestions?”

It sounds like you’re awakening between cycles of sleep.

It’s common and normal to awaken between cycles of sleep.  We cycle through 5 or 6 of these complete stages each night, and sleep is lightest between them.  Even the best sleepers awaken briefly between these stages, but then fall back asleep quickly and often don’t even remember awakening by morning.

There’s also a good chance that your awakenings now — compared to your previous better sleeping — has to do with the increased levels of stress you’re experiencing.

Stress and anxiety experienced during the day can and will affect sleep that night, just like drinking too much caffeine will. There’s a definite cause-effect link.

When you see an uptick in your stress and anxiety levels — and let’s face it, we all experience these from time to time, that’s just part of being human — then you might take extra deliberate steps to help yourself sleep that night.

Those extra steps might include:

1.  More exercise.  This is a very effective way to physically de-stress.  The beneficial effects of exercise can last for hours and help counter the blues of anxiety. But beware of exercising too close to bed time.  Ideally, this should be done several hours prior.

2.  More conscious mental de-stressing during the day. There are a number of good stress management techniques you can learn and deploy throughout your day to accomplish this. CBT-based sleep training is one way to learn effective methods for stress management designed specifically to counter insomnia.

3.  A relaxing wind-down time for least an hour before bed. This could be a relaxing bath or soak in a hot tub.  Getting your clothes ready for morning.  Reading an enjoyable book (not too scary or exciting!).  A relaxing hobby you work with your hands.  And so on.  Basically you just want to avoid anything stressful, and try to avoid anxious thoughts as much as you can during your cool-down time before bed time.

4.  If and when you do awaken between sleep cycles, use relaxation methods to help yourself fall back asleep.  These include progressive muscle relaxation and deep diaphragmatic breathing techniques.  You can learn these specific methods from a good CBT-based sleep training program.

Managing stress and anxiety are life-long pursuits.  They are just an unavoidable part of life.  Don’t expect them to ever go away completely.  That’s why it’s important to learn how to effectively manage them, and by doing so, help yourself sleep.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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7 Comments on “When stress disrupts sleep”


  1. […] are proven ways to manage stress and anxiety without drugs.  We suggest the best approach is to get to the root sources, which are often largely automatic […]


  2. […] good that you understand why you are having trouble sleeping.  You have made the connection between insomnia and the increased levels of stress in your life resulting from difficult family relationships.  Insomnia is not some inherent defect, […]


  3. […] also includes methods for stress management and control of anxiety.  When used simultaneously, these methods are very effective at restoring […]


  4. […] sleep.  Setting and keeping a consistent sleep schedule, minimizing negative sleep thoughts, controlling stress, and managing anxiety are all part of a comprehensive strategy to counter insomnia and improve […]


  5. […] sleep.  Setting and keeping a consistent sleep schedule, minimizing negative sleep thoughts, controlling stress, and managing anxiety are all part of a comprehensive strategy to counter insomnia and improve […]


  6. […] trying a sleep aid, consider using some drug-free stress management methods to help you cope in the short term.  Getting some good sweaty exercise every day will likely go a […]


  7. […] for starters, including daily exercise and a sensible sleep-wake schedule.  Consider trying some stress management methods as well.  If you find yourself awakened in the night and worried, try some in-bed […]


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