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Insomnia, the sleepless nights that affect millions of people worldwide, is often linked to emotional and mental stress. Whether you’re an insomniac seeking solutions or a wellness seeker aiming to understand the intricate connections between stress and sleep, this article is for you.

The Connection Between Emotional Stress and Insomnia

Emotional Stress and Its Impact

When life throws curveballs, emotional stress can skyrocket. This kind of stress triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, designed to keep you alert in times of danger or challenge.

However, when these hormones are constantly elevated, they interfere with your body’s natural ability to wind down and prepare for sleep.

Types of Insomnia Related to Emotional Stress

In my book The Deep Blue Sleep—A Roadmap to Fall Asleep and Stay Asleep Naturally, I dive deep into five types of insomnia. Let’s explore three of them briefly in this article as they relate to emotional and mental stress.

The Anxious Type:

  1. Symptoms: Difficulty falling asleep due to racing thoughts, worries, and anxieties.
  2. Causes: Situations like job stress, relationship issues, or financial concerns can keep your mind preoccupied and prevent you from entering a relaxed state necessary for sleep. Physiologically, this can often be related to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The Overthinking Type:

  • Symptoms: Waking up between 1 and 3 am, unable to go back to sleep due to ruminating and overprocessing information.
  • Causes: This type of insomnia is often related to unresolved issues and the need to process large amounts of information, leading to a restless mind during the night. It often connects to digestive problems or hormonal imbalances.

The Overtaxed Type:

  • Symptoms: Waking up too early, around 3 or 4 am, with an inability to fall back asleep as you start thinking about the upcoming day.
  • Causes: Overwhelming responsibilities and the anticipation of future tasks can lead to this type of insomnia, where the mind is constantly in a state of readiness. Cortisol levels can spike too early, decreasing the chance of falling back asleep.

How Mental Stress Contributes to Insomnia

Mental Stress and Its Effects

Mental stress, like emotional stress, triggers the release of stress hormones. However, mental stress often stems from cognitive demands, such as work pressure, academic challenges, or problem-solving tasks. When your brain is overactive, it becomes difficult to transition into the calm state needed for restful sleep.

Types of Insomnia Related to Mental Stress

The same types of insomnia that stem from emotional stress can also be attributed to mental stress:

Anxious Type:

  • Symptoms: Similar to those caused by emotional stress, with the added burden of mentally taxing activities.

Overthinking Type:

  • Symptoms: The brain’s constant need to process information amplifies the tendency to wake up in the middle of the night.

Overtaxed Type:

  • Symptoms: The mind’s anticipation of the day’s challenges can lead to early awakenings and difficulty returning to sleep.

Strategies to Lower Stress and Improve Sleep

Reducing stress and enhancing sleep quality go hand-in-hand. Here are effective strategies to help you wind down and ease into a restful night:

Winding Down Process

Avoid Electronics:

Blue light from screens interferes with melatonin production, a hormone crucial for sleep. Turn off electronics at least an hour before bed.

Meditation and Relaxation Techniques:

Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and sleep.

Lowering Cortisol Levels


Regular physical activity helps reduce cortisol levels. Aim for moderate exercise like walking, swimming, or yoga.

Nutritious Diet:

Foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can help regulate cortisol. Focus on a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

Cortisol level testing:

A 24-hour 6 to 7-point saliva test can give us valuable information on using supplements to regulate the stress response.

Increasing Calming Neurotransmitters


Incorporate foods like almonds, bananas, and spinach that boost GABA production.


Enhance serotonin levels with foods rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, nuts, and seeds.

Glycine and Taurine:

These amino acids promote relaxation. Bone broth, meat, and fish are excellent sources.

Neurotransmitter testing:

Urine neurotransmitter testing is often one of the most valuable tools I use in the clinic to assess what’s needed to improve sleep and mood.

Working on the Digestive System

Reduce Inflammation:

Anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric, ginger, and leafy greens can improve gut health, closely linked to brain health and stress levels.

Eliminate triggering foods:

Doing an elimination diet for 3 to 4 weeks can help identify which foods may be causing inflammation in your body and contributing to your insomnia.

Comprehensive stool testing:

Comprehensive stool testing gives us information such as the levels of beneficial and harmful bacteria, the ability to digest food well, reaction to one of the gluten proteins, the likelihood of intestinal permeability issues (leaky gut), and more.

Balancing Sex Hormones

Hormone Regulation:

Imbalanced hormones can cause insomnia, especially in perimenopause and menopause.

Testing of sex hormones:

Whether pre-menopausal or post-menopausal, testing for sex hormone levels can offer excellent insights to support your sleep healing.


Understanding the connection between emotional and mental stress and insomnia is crucial for improving sleep quality.

If you’re struggling with insomnia, click here to book a free consult. For long-distance patients, click this form to fill it out and see how I can help you sleep better.

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