Food Anxiety Health

Relationship between stress and sleep: solutions to get a restful sleep

estrés sueño dormir

One of the most basic needs of the human being is to sleep . However, for many people it even becomes an added problem to the rest of daily worries, which does nothing more than accumulate stress even at night . As this break from our mental activity does not occur, we wake up tired and with little desire to take on a new day.

During the night, intrusive thoughts related to not sleeping itself are our worst enemy. Improving our sleep hygiene is key to eliminating sleeping difficulties and increasing our general well-being.

The dream: our stress recycling plant

Stress is an adaptive psychological process through which psychophysiological mechanisms are activated in our body that allow us to collect more information and face situations and conflicts in our day-to-day life as quickly as possible. It is like a state of alert that keeps us active, attentive and motivated both mentally and physically. However, this brain activity accumulates waste in our brain that must be eliminated so as not to overload it with stressful material unnecessarily.

Recently, a study from the University of Tsukuba (Japan) has discovered that during sleep there is an increase in blood flow in our brain during the REM phase, whose mission is to eliminate all those wastes that we have accumulated throughout the day ( Hayashi et al , 2021) . This is the reason why when we get to sleep we eliminate part of our accumulated brain waste (stress among others) and our anxiety levels are balanced. If not, our stress level continues to rise even at night. When we get a good night’s sleep, we wake up more relaxed and calm.

In addition, another phenomenon of great importance occurs during sleep. which is the consolidation of the information we receive throughout the day, especially by assimilating emotions into our memory, according to a study from this same year from the University of Michigan (Aton et al , 2021). For this reason, a deficit in sleep can mean that the next day we have to re-process the same emotional information from the previous day if we want to consolidate it, so we continue to accumulate stress in an indirect way.

What if we don’t sleep?

Apart from these cognitive effects on the processing of our information and the lack of brain cleaning and hygiene that lack of sleep produces, when we accumulate lack of sleep due to stress there are another series of key characteristic symptoms:

  • Intrusive mental images, your brain goes into a loop by not having the information correctly consolidated in memory.
  • Tremors, from the accumulated tension without solving.
  • Irregular awakenings, the brain fails to enter the sleep phase so it tries to keep you alert and awake when it is not playing.
  • Recurring worries about lack of sleep or the hours to go to sleep, which enters a loop of worries that in turn increase our stress level.
  • Feeling of daytime sleepiness, which further increases the anxiety generated by lack of sleep by not achieving the necessary rest goal.

Solutions to try to sleep despite stress

That the cause of lack of sleep is stress requires intervention from various areas to achieve a satisfactory result. The management of this situation despite knowing what causes it (family, work, financial problems, relationship problems, responsibilities, illnesses, etc.) is complex and difficult to isolate when the moment of rest arrives. Broadly speaking, it is essential to have clear three key aspects to begin to solve this problem:


  1. Sleep hygiene: establish schedules to sleep, but when you are sleepy and wake up; not staying in bed too long without falling asleep; using the bedroom only to sleep or not doing high intensity exercise late at night are some of the keys to good sleep hygiene.
  2. Modify the diet : to eliminate stress it is advisable to consume foods rich in tryptophan , omega 3, vitamin B, complex carbohydrates and proteins that are the ones that will have greater control over our tension states, it will help our brain neurotransmitters in charge of the control anxiety to do its job: serotonin, norepinephrine and GABA. In addition, there are foods that also help us regulate melatonin (responsible for regulating the circadian sleep-wake cycles), such as nuts or green leafy vegetables. Some of these foods are blueberries, avocado, salmon, nuts, dark chocolate, dairy or turkey among others. For this reason, we should not rule out the use of food supplements rich in melatonin that can help us fall asleep more efficiently if we do not incorporate it enough in our diet.
  3. Professional Help. All these guidelines are difficult for a person who wants to learn to sleep to assimilate, so it is always best to receive professional help from a pharmacist, doctor or nutritionist, as well as from a psychologist who can help improve behavioral habits and relieve cognitive stress caused by excessive worrying.


Sleep is a basic need that cannot be sabotaged by the stress of our day-to-day lives, but you can put the brakes on it and begin to rest properly. You deserve rest, and your body will notice it. Ultimately, sleeping is an investment in time and well-being.



Chia-Jung Tsai, Takeshi Nagata, Chih-Yao Liu, Takaya Suganuma, Takeshi Kanda, Takehiro Miyazaki, Kai Liu, Tsuyoshi Saitoh, Hiroshi Nagase, Michael Lazarus, Kaspar E. Vogt, Masashi Yanagisawa, Yu Hayashi. Cerebral capillary blood flow upsurge during REM sleep is mediated by A2a receptors . Cell Reports , 2021; 36 (7): 109558 DOI: 10.1016 / j.celrep.2021.109558

Brittany C. Clawson, Emily J. Pickup, Amy Ensing, Laura Geneseo, James Shaver, John Gonzalez-Amoretti, Meiling Zhao, A. Kane York, Femke Roig Kuhn, Kevin Swift, Jessy D. Martinez, Lijing Wang, Sha Jiang, Sara J. Aton. Causal role for sleep-dependent reactivation of learning-activated sensory ensembles for fear memory consolidation . Nature Communications , 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-021-21471-2 .

Iván Pico

Director y creador de Psicólogo Colegiado G-5480 entre otras cosas. Diplomado en Ciencias Empresariales y Máster en Orientación Profesional. Máster en Psicología del Trabajo y Organizaciones. Posgrado en Psicología del Deporte entre otras cosas. Visita la sección "Sobre mí" para saber más. ¿Quieres una consulta personalizada? ¡Escríbeme!

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