The Relationship Between Sleep and Stress

The Relationship Between Sleep and Stress

Many of the stressors we face day to day can trigger a fight-or-flight response. Prolonged exposure to this stress without relaxation can result in shorter sleep duration and poorer quality sleep.

When you experience stress, your body undergoes a hormonal response in the form of releasing cortisol and other stress hormones. This hormonal cascade creates a burst of energy that allows you to fight or flee from an actual or perceived danger.

Prolonged stress levels, therefore, decrease sleep duration and reduce REM sleep, leading to poorer quality sleep, impaired memory and poorer mood regulation. The lack of restorative sleep, in turn, leads to more stress. It is a cycle that will need to be broken.

Proven strategies for better sleep

The good news is there are proven strategies to help break this cycle and improve sleep quantity and quality. These strategies include:

  • Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Keeping a consistent sleep-wake schedule
  • Limiting caffeine
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Keeping a cool and dark room

Problem-solving and aerobic exercise are also ways to reduce stress. These two strategies are stimulating, so they should be done earlier in the day rather than before bed.

For additional strategies and potential treatment options, please schedule an appointment with your primary care provider.

Information provided by Kelli Christensen, M.D. To learn more, visit