It goes without saying that stress can make it difficult to fall asleep, but why? According to board-certified sleep specialist Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., when stress triggers us, it’s actually triggering our sympathetic nervous systems, which can temporarily lead to elevated heart rate, respiratory rate, and of course, make it tough to wind down.
And as Nishi Bhopal, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in sleep medicine, previously told mbg, any sort of situational stressor can affect sleep. Whether you’re stressed about a relationship, your job, or the state of the world, all those underlying thoughts have a way of creeping up when you lay down for bed.
In fact, in one 2020 study on stress and sleep, the study authors write, “Bedtime stress, which leads to heightened pre-sleep arousal, affects sleep processes and, consequently, the deployment of attentional resources during next-day execution of a delayed intention.” Another 2015 study on sleep quality and work-related stress also showed that low sleep quality was associated with an increase in work-related stress over time.
Long story short: stress and sleep don’t exactly make a dynamic duo. Luckily, there are a handful of things you can do about it.