The Science Behind Stress-Induced Insomnia and How to Combat It

Stress-induced insomnia is the major challenge that torments more than a million people. The inability to sleep because of stress can be very detrimental to the general health, well-being, and quality of life. Understand the science of stress-induced insomnia and get the coping strategies for better sleep and improved health. This blog discusses the mechanics of stress-induced insomnia, its effects on the body, and its evidence-based methods to alleviate it.

Understanding Stress-Induced Insomnia

What is Stress-Induced Insomnia?

Insomnia refers to a sleeping disorder separate for people who have either difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and who may wake up too early and not be able to go back to sleep again. Stress-induced insomnia occurs when stress and anxiety mess up a person’s sleep-wake cycle. While this could be related to the state of insomnia, depending on the intensity and period, it might be momentary or constant.

Read More: Insomnia: An Overview

The Science of Stress and Sleep

The Role of Cortisol

Cortisol is the prototypical stress hormone that the body has for responding to stressors. The hormone derived from adrenaline helps control a few body functions—metabolism, the body’s inflammatory process, and sleep cycles. Usually, cortisol follows a diurnal pattern, being highest in the morning with a gradual decline throughout the remainder of the day.

For the highly stressed individual, cortisol can surge and disrupt the circadian primal rhythm. Elevated levels of cortisol in the evening are associated with the inability to fall and stay asleep, resulting in insomnia.

The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis

The HPA axis is a tremendously complex system responsible for initiating the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands, which are responsible for the body’s stress responses and, possibly most importantly the regulation of sleep. Stress-triggered HPA axis activation allows the tea to exert its powerful, dual chronic-stress relief effect through the first decrease in stress-triggered cortisol.

Sympathetic Nervous System Activation

During a period of stress, the body tends to turn on the sympathetic nervous system, getting it ready for a “fight or flight” response. This will increase the heart rate blood pressure, and alertness—all of which, of course, work against relaxation and sleeping.

Effects of Stress-Induced Insomnia on the Body

Physical Health Consequences

  1. Weakened Immune System: When chronic, it usually leads to a worsened immune system, opening the body to attacks from infections and illnesses.
  2. Increased Risk of Chronic Conditions:Prolonged sleep deprivation is linked to chronic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
  3. Weight Gain: With very little sleep, the balance between the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which control appetite in human beings, is disturbed, and this may lead to increased weight or obesity.

Read More: Do You Really Need 8 Hours of Sleep?

Mental Health Consequences

  1. Anxiety and Depression: Stress-induced insomnia can exacerbate anxiety and depression, creating a vicious cycle of poor sleep and deteriorating mental health.
  2. Cognitive Impairment: Lack of sleep impairs cognitive functions such as memory, concentration, and decision-making.
  3. Mood Disorders: Chronic insomnia can lead to mood disorders, including irritability, mood swings, and increased emotional sensitivity.

Read More: Short Sleeper Syndrome: What Causes Short Sleep Duration?

Impact on Quality of Life

Stress-induced insomnia can significantly affect an individual’s quality of life, leading to decreased productivity, impaired social relationships, and reduced overall wellbeing.

Strategies for Combating Stress-Induced Insomnia

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)

CBT-I is a highly successful, evidence-based treatment for insomnia that helps individuals change the negativity of their thinking and behaviors toward sleep. Such techniques include:

  1. Stimulus Control: Create a robust bed-sleep association by using the bed only for sleep and sex and therefore avoiding stimulating activities in bed.
  2. Sleep Restriction: Limiting the time spent in bed to increase sleep efficiency.
  3. Relaxation Training: Techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
  4. Cognitive Restructuring: Challenging and changing unhelpful beliefs and attitudes about sleep.

Read More: Sleep Syncing: A Comprehensive Guide

Sleep Hygiene Practices

Improving sleep hygiene can help create an environment conducive to better sleep. Key practices include:

  1. Maintaining a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  2. Creating a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Engaging in calming activities before bed, such as reading, taking a warm bath, or listening to soothing music.
  3. Optimising the Sleep Environment: Keeping the bedroom dark, quiet, and cool, and using comfortable bedding and a supportive mattress.
  4. Limiting Exposure to Screens: Reducing exposure to blue light from phones, tablets, and computers at least an hour before bedtime.

Read More: What Is Your Sleep Chronotype?

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation practices can help reduce stress and improve sleep quality by promoting relaxation and reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. Techniques such as mindfulness meditation, body scan meditation, and mindful breathing can be beneficial.

Read More: Can Better Sleep Lead to a Younger You?

Physical Activity

Regular physical activity can help reduce stress and improve sleep. Engaging in moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, can promote better sleep. It is important to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime, as it can have a stimulating effect.

Read More: What You Should Know About Taking Melatonin for Sleep

Nutrition and Sleep

Certain dietary habits can influence sleep quality. To promote better sleep:

  1. Avoid Stimulants: Limit the intake of caffeine and nicotine, especially in the afternoon and evening.
  2. Eat a Balanced Diet: Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can support overall health and sleep.
  3. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but reduce fluid intake in the evening to prevent frequent trips to the bathroom at night.

Read More: What You Should Know About Taking Melatonin for Sleep

Professional Help and Medication

In some cases, professional help may be necessary to manage stress-induced insomnia. Consulting a healthcare provider or a sleep specialist can provide additional treatment options, including medication if appropriate.

Leveraging Genetic Insights with CircleDNA

Personalised Wellness and Sleep Recommendations

Understanding your unique genetic makeup can provide valuable insights into how your body responds to stress and sleep. CircleDNA’s Premium DNA Test offers comprehensive reports that include personalised wellness and sleep recommendations.

Why It’s Important

Genetic factors can influence your susceptibility to stress and insomnia. The Wellness report from CircleDNA analyses your genetic predispositions, offering tailored advice on managing stress, improving sleep, and enhancing overall wellbeing. This personalised approach can help you implement strategies that are most effective for your specific needs.

By taking the CircleDNA Premium DNA Test, you can uncover specific insights into your body’s stress response and sleep patterns, allowing you to tailor your lifestyle and wellness practices to support better sleep and reduced stress. Don’t leave your wellbeing to chance – let your DNA guide you towards a healthier, more balanced life.


Stress-induced insomnia is a prevalent issue that can significantly impact physical health, mental wellbeing, and overall quality of life. Understanding the science behind stress and sleep can help identify effective strategies to combat insomnia and improve sleep quality. From cognitive-behavioural therapy and sleep hygiene practices to mindfulness, exercise, and nutrition, there are various evidence-based methods to alleviate stress-induced insomnia.

Leveraging insights from CircleDNA’s Premium DNA Test can further enhance your approach to managing stress and improving sleep. By understanding your unique genetic makeup, you can receive personalised recommendations that support your health and wellbeing. By taking proactive steps towards better sleep, you can enhance your overall quality of life and achieve greater balance and resilience in the face of stress.


American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2014). Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). Retrieved from

Cleveland Clinic. (2021). Stress and insomnia: Causes and treatment options. Retrieved from

Harvard Health Publishing. (2018). Stress and sleeplessness: The vicious cycle. Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. (2021). Insomnia. Retrieved from

National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). 5 things you should know about stress. Retrieved from

National Sleep Foundation. (2020). What is insomnia? Retrieved from

Smith, M. T., & Perlis, M. L. (2006). Who is a candidate for cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia? Health Psychology, 25(1), 15-19. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.25.1.15

Spiegelhalder, K., Regen, W., Nanovska, S., Baglioni, C., & Riemann, D. (2013). Comorbid sleep disorders in neuropsychiatric disorders across the life cycle. Current Psychiatry Reports, 15(6), 364. doi:10.1007/s11920-013-0364-6

Walker, M. P. (2009). The role of sleep in cognition and emotion. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1156(1), 168-197. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04416.x

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