Is Stress Causing Your Insomnia?

We all experience the occasional evening where we can't seem to fall asleep or we toss and turn all night. It's frustrating, but generally not detrimental. However, chronic insomnia can be harmful to our health, and stress is often the behind-the-scenes culprit.

Insomnia is a significant problem and more prevalent than you might realize. More than 40 million Americans have chronic insomnia, which lasts more than a month, and another 20 million have intermittent periods of insomnia. Women are much more likely to have insomnia than men--so are older adults and overweight or obese people.

Up to 75 percent of chronic insomnia occurs in patients who have a psychiatric or chronic pain disorder. Mental health problems and insomnia are linked in both directions. Stress, depression, and anxiety can cause insomnia, and insomnia can exacerbate stress and depression. In fact, about half the people who experience insomnia blame it on stress and worry.

If you're under continued or intense stress and are having difficulty falling or staying asleep, waking frequently, or often waking up before it's time to rise, you're probably suffering from stress-induced insomnia.

Prolonged insomnia reduces your performance at work and school, slows your reaction times (making driving dangerous), contributes to obesity, impairs your immune function, and increases your risk for long-term diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

Treating Insomnia

Fortunately there are many options for treating insomnia, including over-the-counter and prescription medications. However, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is widely (and successfully) used for treating depression, is equally, or more, effective than sleep medications. Under the care of a trained therapist, CBT changes the way you think and act to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

There are many lifestyle changes, alternative medicine options, and home remedies you can also try to cure your insomnia. Here are just a few suggestions.

  • Stick to a bedtime schedule, which trains your body when it time to go to sleep.
  • Reduce worry and anxiety. We know: it's easy to say, harder to do. However, relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and guided imagery are effective for many people.
  • Take care of yourself by seeking support from others, eating healthy, limiting caffeine and sugar (especially before bedtime), and avoiding alcohol and nicotine.
  • Exercise early in the day. This helps reduces stress and promotes deeper sleep.

Don't let insomnia and stress create a vicious cycle that takes a toll on your mental and physical health. Seek professional care if your insomnia lasts more than a month.


Reeve, Kathleen and Bailes, Barbara. "Insomnia in Adults: Etiology and Management." Journal for Nurse Practitioners 6 (1) (2010): 53-60. Medscape Medical News. Web. 25 January 2010.

"Insomnia." Mayo Clinic. Web.

"Can't Sleep? What To Know About Insomnia." Web.

"Can't Sleep? Insomnia Causes, Cures, and Treatments." Web.

"What Is Insomnia?" National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health. Web.