How to Sleep When Your Stressors Keep You Awake

Stress and sleep don’t go together. After all, how often have you gone home, exhausted and eager to rest yet feeling overwhelmed by the number of tasks and problems that remain unachieved and unsolved? How to sleep when stress keeps us awake?

I admit that this happens to me often, especially during the peak of the workweek. Despite the fact that my body has been screaming for sleep, I just can’t do it, because my mind refuses to stop thinking about the things that I still have to do. A part of me even feels guilty about wanting to spend the time to sleep, instead of using it to finish any of my tasks.

During stressful times, the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, are increased. The increase in levels gives one enough energy to respond to the stressor.

Yet, as we experience, high levels of cortisol brought about by excessive stress disturbs our sleep.

The Side-Effects of Sleeplessness

Understandably, with the busy schedules most of us have, getting sleep seems to be our last priority. There also seems to be a perception that sleep is unproductive. A lot of people think that if they want to finish their tasks on time, they have to delay sleep first.

However, work quality, health and safety are sacrificed. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lost sleep can lead to increased risk of vehicular accidents and health problems such as depression, diabetes and stroke.

Aside from accidents and illnesses, the lack of sleep also decreases one’s mental performance, energy and ability to pay attention and concentrate. This leads to an increased chance of making mistakes while on the job.

How can we be productive at work when we’re recuperating at a hospital or continually making errors because we’re not getting enough sleep? Apparently, getting enough sleep is the way to go.

How to Sleep Despite the Stress

Yet the problem of stress remains. Here’s how to sleep tight when the thoughts of our stressors continually invade our minds.

Based on my experience, I found the following tips helpful in getting a good night’s sleep:

1.    Avoid Coffee in the Afternoons

Coffee contains caffeine which gives us a boost, helping us to focus on our tasks at hand. However, caffeine often disrupts our sleep and also increases our stress levels. Since its effects could last from 3 to 12 hours, it’s advised that we drink our daily cups of coffee in the morning rather than in the afternoon.

2.    Create an Environment Conducive to Sleep

Before going to bed, make sure your bedroom is clean, cool, quiet and darkly lit. This is because a bright, dusty, noisy and hot room provides several distractions that often make sleep uncomfortable, causing the sleeper to wake up several times within the night. It’s always a good idea to clean your room regularly and to invest in heavy draperies that will block out any light from outside.

Also make sure that you have comfortable bed. Check if you need to buy a new mattress or pillows. These items are essential to your comfort in bed so always make sure that these items do not only provide cushioning, but also the proper support to your head, neck, back and legs.

3.    Stick to a Comfortable Bedtime Routine

A soothing bedtime routine can help you calm down and get ready for sleep. By unwinding, you are telling your body that it’s time to rest.

I usually start this by stopping any kind of work a 2 to 3 hours before my set bedtime. Next, I prefer taking a nice hot shower or bath to relax my muscles.

After bathing, I recommend that you take part in a relaxing activity. I usually read a magazine or book while I know some people who meditate or listen to soothing music instead.

Don’t watch television before bed. The visual images on the TV tend to stimulate the mind instead of helping it rest. If you really must catch your favorite primetime show, try recording it instead.

4.    Cater Your Stressors

Whenever I start to worry about the problems that I have to face the next day, I like to list them down and prepare a to-do list for each of them. After this, I usually take out my planner and spread the items on the to-do list throughout the week so that I’ll be able to do the items with enough reasonable time without missing any deadlines.

By preparing a plan for each of the stressors, I feel like I am able to do something about them. Through this, my mind is calmed down and less bothered, giving me the opportunity to enjoy a well-rested evening.

5.    Problems Cannot be Solved in One Day

I’ve noticed that people delay sleep because they believe that they could use the time finishing their work instead. In fact, I used to be one of them. Unfortunately, the guilt of not using the time to work also keeps us up at night—even when we actually want to sleep.

I soon started seeing the folly in this thinking wth the help of advice from close family members and friends.

I began to realize that rather than helping me do well in work, depriving myself of sleep has been actually negatively affecting my performance. I needed sleep to concentrate and make better decisions. More importantly, I realized I had to get ample sleep if I wanted to be healthy.

We cannot finish all our tasks in one day. So don’t overschedule. Spread your tasks out evenly in a week in such a way that you won’t overwork yourself or miss a deadline.

Better Sleep Equals Better Productivity

The tips above shouldn’t be hard to follow. The key thing to remember is that sleep is never unproductive. We should always get the proper amount if we want to stay healthy and to perform well at work.

So when your stressors start to invade your mind again and sleep becomes the last priority, remind yourself that proper sleep helps you solve your problems! You need rest to beat the stress!

Your turn: How do you sleep? Got tips for how to sleep when in stress?

Photo by Stephen Brace

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Despite her business management background, Patricia’s true love is writing.  Nowadays, she works as a freelance editor and writer online. Her writing interests lie mainly in culture, work productivity and travel. Email:


  1. Dan Kleiman on the 19th September

    A little tai chi trick for when you’re lying in bed and can’t sleep: circle your feet, from the ankles, 100 times in each direction…..I’ve never made it to 200 total. In tai chi terms, your energy will drop out of your head because you’re focusing on the other end of the body, through feeling, not thinking.

    • Jae Sagarik on the 17th November

      thanks for your little tai chi trick ,, seems to be the most easiest way 🙂

  2. Pooja Lohana on the 19th September

    Wow, that’s something for me to try. Thanks for sharing it Dan. 🙂


  3. noch - be me. be natural. on the 20th September

    it’s maybe a bit of a girly thing, but i find using fragrance essential oils very helpful. i’ll light the candle around 1-2 hours before i go to bed and keep bedroom door shut. lavendar, eculyptus, rose, cedar wood all work well for me to relax and calm down. so then when i enter my room 2 hours later i can breathe in the scent and fall asleepnaturally. using tea light candles that burn for about 3 hours should work since the candle will naturally extinguish by the time you fall asleep 🙂

  4. How To Focus on the 22nd September

    Great article. I always tend to get stressed about school work. I like to write down everything I have to do the next day. This way, I feel like I have “sorta” started taking care of business.

  5. Daquan Wright on the 26th September

    I absolutely agree with this. Your body takes much longer to heel without sleep and it also makes you more prone to illness. Many people think it’s just a matter of being tired, but sleep can affect your cell renewal growth and your immune system as well.

  6. Craig Brooker, MD on the 30th September

    Go to to get real advice on how to treat insomnia from a Cleveland Clinic-trained Sleep Doctor and Neurologist, Dr. Craig Brooker, M.D.

  7. Amol Wagh on the 3rd October

    Wow, that tricks are really worth trying for me.

    Not all nights but I face such stressors 5-6 times in a month, Just because I can not stop thinking about the work I have to do, And How I am going to do so different works together?

    Thanks for writing this article Patricia, feels like someone cares about guys like me !

    • Patricia on the 13th October

      You’re welcome! I’m glad to know that I’ve helped you out. Hope everything works for you! 🙂

  8. Travelturkey on the 11th October

    Great article but i do not have sleep problem.i can sleep anytime:)

  9. Patricia on the 13th October

    That’s good for you, but thanks a lot for your comment! 🙂

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