I would say one of the biggest obstacles I faced trying to get a decent night’s sleep was overcoming my own mind.
Racing thoughts, overthinking, constant worrying, turning positives into negatives, my mind was simply awash with stress and anxiety.
And this went on all day, every day.
The title of today’s article is “What is Stress-Induced Insomnia?”
In a nutshell it’s what I’ve described above, and I would hazard a guess that this daily process (which typically gets ten times worse at night) is something that sounds familiar to a lot of you.
What is Stress-Induced Insomnia? – The Facts
You might be stressed out for any number of reasons – your job, your finances, your relationship, your weight, your overall health, your children, your parents, your pet, etc.
You may even be stressed out by the fact you can’t fall asleep at night or the complete lack of sleep that you’re getting.
We often look at stress as a problem of the mind, which of course it is.
Stress can lead to anxiety and depression, poor concentration and focus, constant tension, etc.
However, it also can impact on the body as well. You may experience headaches, upset stomach, aches and pains in your neck, back or chest. Stress can also cause appetite loss and overeating, both of which will affect your mental and physical well-being further.
When you look at all these factors it seems pretty obvious that it will eventually start causing issues with how well you’re sleeping.
RELATED ====> How To Sleep When Stressed and Anxious
What’s My Story With Stress and Insomnia?
The biggest problem I faced was shutting my mind down once I got under the covers.
I’d had all day to think about certain things and deal with them then and there, but for some reason I’d rather ignore these problems during the day, and then stew on them at night, generally as I was trying to fall asleep.
If I’m being completely honest, the vast majority of things that went through my mind were completely insignificant.
In fact, while lying in my bed I’d often stress myself out over some of the most stupid things. These weren’t even “real-life” problems, and yet I allowed these thoughts to keep me up half the night.
Do you want to know exactly how insignificant and stupid some of the things I was stressing over were?
Here’s an example:
“Should I make sandwiches or just go out for lunch while I’m at work tomorrow? Well to be honest, we’re going out for dinner on Friday night, so I don’t want to eat loads tomorrow, as I mind end up putting on weight.
So, sandwiches it is. But will I have time to make sandwiches before I go to work? Won’t that make me late? Should I set my alarm 15 minutes early now so I’ve got time to make sandwiches in the morning?
But I don’t want to turn over and reset my alarm because then I’ll get less sleep. Although I’m not actually sleeping at the moment, am I? Why aren’t I sleeping? That means I’ll probably feel tired all day tomorrow, so I might not get everything done that I need to.
I’ll be tired and won’t have much energy tomorrow. Oh, I know I can go out for lunch, have a decent meal, and that’ll give me energy to work harder in the afternoon. But I don’t want to go out for lunch because I might put on weight because we’re going out for dinner on Friday night.”
I know what you’re thinking – hand that man a straight jacket and order him a padded cell.
Don’t get me wrong, oftentimes there would be something significant and more important for me to worry about, and of course this once again affected my sleep.
However, I have been lucky in one respect – I mentioned that stress (and a lack of sleep) can lead to various physical symptoms as well, and (touch wood) this hasn’t affected me as yet.
But many of you may not be so lucky.
How Did I Deal With Stress (And Insomnia)?
Okay, I could once again discuss the various “good sleep hygiene habits” that I often extol the virtues of in many of my articles.
You know what I mean:
Turning off electrics well before bedtime, creating a sleep routine, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and onward, getting plenty of natural light during the day, exercising regularly, enjoying a balanced diet, turning your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary, and the list goes on.
BUT, as I say I’ve discussed these factors in great detail before.
Today I want to deal with the root cause. So, not so much the insomnia, but the stress that is causing it.
I guess everyone has different ways of dealing with stress, but this is what worked for me.
I was never a fan of either of these words to be fair – “Mindfulness” and “Meditation”.
I avoided both concepts for many, many years.
It all seemed a bit New Age to me, and once Mindfulness became a buzz-word over the past few years, I ignored it even further.
Oh dear, to my detriment. I finally caved in and decided to give it a go.
I followed the 7 Minute Mindfulness Program and to be completely honest it has made me feel far more relaxed, calm, and a lot less stressed.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t some kind of miracle cure, but it has made a huge difference to my life.
I view working on the mind in much the same way as working on the body.
You can’t expect magical changes to occur overnight, but if you keep working at it, the “mind muscles” get stronger through practice and repetition, and eventually you get stronger and fitter (mentally).
Once again, not something I was immediately taken with. I mean we all breathe, each and every single day. We can’t survive without it.
So, how can breathing actually help to deal with stress?
As it turns out, in a wonderful way.
Firstly, one of the first physical signs of stress is typically an increased breathing and heart rate. Therefore, by slowing down both the breath and the heart rate, this somehow has a calming effect on both the mind and the body.
Ever since this discovery I’m always on the lookout for various breathing relaxation techniques, and one that I came across is Alternate Nostril Breathing.
A little more research into this and I soon found out that it is also pranayama (yoga-based breathing technique).
Plus, it also has it’s very own yogic name – Nadi Shodhana.
You can check out the video below to see how this is done, Yoga Style.
However, I must admit this isn’t quite how I do it. Whenever I practice alternate nostril breathing – I do not sit cross-legged on the floor, I do not have my eyes closed, and I do not use the yoga finger/hand sign.
I think just the act of slowing your breath down and concentrating on the specific technique works well to reduce stress and to keep you calm. However, please be my guest if you find the following method more suitable.
Believe it or not, even though I’m about to espouse the benefits of journaling, this is a practice I have only taken up in the past couple of years, whereas insomnia (and stress come to think of it) is something that has been part of my life for decades.
There are actually many methods of journaling, and I use various approaches depending on how I’m feeling at the time.
However, what I like to call the “brain-dump” is one that has served me well when dealing with stress-induced insomnia.
I simply set a timer for 15-20 minutes and then write… and write… and write, about anything and everything on my mind. Just get it all out on paper (I use a pen and paper for journaling, as opposed to any online method).
Once the timer goes off I read through what I have written, and often I giggle away to myself about how silly some of this stuff is.
I would say again that this isn’t going to immediately sort out all your problems with stress, and it is something that you have to do regularly, but after a while it just seems to click.
Very therapeutic I promise you.
It’s taken me a long time to realize that a lot of the problems I’ve faced over the years with sleep are simply down to what’sgoing on in my head.
I understand that there are various reasons that others may suffer with insomnia, and that is what my research, and this website, is dedicated to finding out and discussing.
However, stress and anxiety will typically account for many sleepless nights and therefore it is vital to deal with this.
I’ve spoken many times of good sleep hygiene habits, but for me I have found that mindfulness meditation, breathing techniques and journaling have a wonderful way of calming my mind.
What about you?
Is stress ruining your night’s sleep?
How do you deal with this?
Would you be willing to try one or all of the above methods?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Until then, happy sleeping.
12 thoughts on “What is Stress-Induced Insomnia?”
Very familiar! Especially the being stressed out by the fact I can’t fall asleep at night 🙂
And yes, meditation helps a lot.
And thanks for the breathing video. I am going to try that.
I have watched a video about breathing in a 4-7-8 second pattern which helped.
Great to hear from you.
I would hazard a guess that the “not being able to sleep because you’re worrying about not being able to sleep” phenomenon is probably far more common than we think.
I know it well, in fact I have written about the 4 7 8 breathing exercise for sleep, and you’ll also find a video from the creator of this breathing technique within my article.
I enjoyed reading your mind chatter, it made me smile on the thought that I can often have a similar scenario with myself too! Its frustrating and more worrying and thus becomes a vicious cycle. Like you mentioned in the article, meditation, reading a booking and sleep hygiene help me every time. But you need to be consistent with it like everything else.
Many thanks for sharing your personal experience and solution.
All the best
Thanks for your comments.
Yes, I think we’re all pretty familiar with that little voice in our head causing frustration and worry (and not just when it comes to sleep).
I totally agree – find good habits, be consistent, and the world can seem like a completely different place.
I love your articles. I have always been one to go to bed stressed, and I did toss and turn and check my phone for Emails and then try again to sleep. The job I was doing was so stressful and I actually thought that sleep got in the way of my job. But, as you have said, the root cause wasn’t caffeine, bad diet, lack of exercise. The root cause was my job, and I needed to change it. When I changed it, that is when everything started to change. I started my own blog and wrote about my experiences, I exercised more, I relaxed a lot more and I helped others too.
Helping others is one of the best, most rewarding and has helped me to relax in the evenings. My goals are completely different. I want to help at least one person a day, that is my metric. Not how much money can I save or anything like that.
Thank you for sharing and keep up the amazing work.
All the best,
Great to hear from you as always and thank you ever so much for your kind words. It’s very much appreciated.
I hear you – I think we can often get caught up in a little bubble of stress and worry that we tend ignore the impact that it’s having on our life in general.
Yes, I read your blog quite regularly Tom, and it is noticeable when you speak of your old job that the stress levels seem to start rising at it’s mere mention.
Anyway, I’m glad that you’re on the right path now, plus I’m sure I’ll be back over to your site Highly Effective Leader to read your latest articles and comment on them.
I enjoyed reading this article and found myself thinking that’s “Me” and my sleep habits… For some reason, I wait until getting into bed to let my mind wander around to this and that. It makes no sense to me!
Usually, the things I think about have nothing to do with the real issues I face throughout the day, much like your examples.
I realize these thoughts going through my head are due from stress from “too much to do in one day” workload.
I personally, have started journaling once getting comfy in my bed, about things going through my head at the time and making my priority list for the next day. I’ll write down a list of things I wish to accomplish and then put numbers next to each one in the order of importance. This method has really helped me because when I get up, I know what I’m doing 1st thing without trying to figure it out.
I like your methods and agree 100% that practicing mindfulness and meditation, journaling, and exercise, all play a large role in being able to sleep peacefully once tucking in for the night.
Thanks for sharing your intake on these “stress” related issues leading to insomnia. So much truth here on this site!
I look forward to reading more of your articles.
Thank you ever so much for your comments and indeed your own stress-relieving practices.
I’m not sure what to say about the overthinking as we get into bed that I haven’t already. Even though I have this pretty much under control, there are still times when my mind wants to take over the second I get into bed.
I love your idea of getting your thoughts down on paper when you’re going to bed and creating a to-do list, and even numbering the order you’re going to complete tasks the following day.
It makes a lot of sense, and I’m sure you’ll agree, it helps to start off the next day on a positive note, which can definitely help to reduce stress.
What a great article! You have an awesome writing style 🙂
I have suffered with insomnia mainly when I am stressed. Your description of your mental blurb/self-talk about sandwiches is sooo ON POINT! it made me realize that is exactly what goes on in my head when I am trying hard to sleep and as a result of that, it makes me even more awake. boo hoo… talk about counter-productiveness!
Anyways, I have tried mindfulness and it works wonders. Another thing that worked for me was listening to a guided meditation for sleep/deep relaxation on YouTube- works like a charm, every time! Also, this might be too girly but I always add some essential oils to a humidifier or burn some aromatherapy candles and that surely relaxes me….enough to calm my mind.
I look forward to reading more from you and am bookmarking your website!
Thank you ever so much for your wonderful comments.
Yes, I’m guessing the “talking to yourself” scenario, typically about something completely insignificant, is very familiar to a lot of people.
You’re correct, there are some great mindfulness meditation videos on YouTube, although personally I now have quite a few tracks set up on my phone and tablet, so I just click a button and I’m away. I guess I’ve found that certain tracks resonate with me and work well, so “if it ain’t broke, don’t try and fix it”, as they say.
No Sasha, not girly at all. I know of many people who swear by the essential oils and aromatherapy methods when it comes to getting a great night’s sleep.
It’s all about what works for YOU.
Thanks once again
Hello Partha. I must say, I too have had some nights that I can’t sleep due to stress or just being over-worked. Most of the time I believe it is self inflicted, as I don’t always “know ” when enough is enough. I will carry on and on until I will fall over. And by then I have all ready gone way past any good limit. Finding a medium that works for you ( to help relax or get your mind to quite down ) is so important. For me its watching one single episode of a favorite episode ( but note only one episode ). Any thing more than that does not have the same result.
Thank you for the informative article
Great to hear from you.
As I’ve said many times, what works for you is what works for you.
Watching an episode of your favourite program on TV just before sleep goes against what is typically recommended. But, if helps you to nod off, then that’s a good thing.
I will always say that watching TV before bed will affect melatonin production and can interfere with our circadian rhythms, thus making it more difficult to fall asleep. And in the main I would always advise against this.
However, as I have said before, we as human beings are complicated creatures, and what works for one person may not work for another.
I appreciate your honesty and thank you for your comments.