How Can You Sleep if You're Stressed?

Last Editorial Review: 8/25/2017

Ask the experts

When I'm under stress, I can't seem to get any sleep. How can I learn to sleep even during times of emotional stress?

Doctor's response

If you experience short-term, stress-related insomnia, there are some measures you can take to help improve the quality of your sleep.

Make your bedroom an inviting place to be. Clear the clutter and invest in some quality sheets or comforter in a soothing color. Create a welcoming environment with flowers, photos, pictures, candles-whatever makes you feel content and relaxed. Avoid use of the bed for watching TV, eating, or working, so that you are conditioned to associate the bed with sleep. If you do wish to use the bed for a bit of nighttime reading, read only pleasure books in bed.

Establishing a regular sleep-wake cycle is also important. Your body will learn to set its internal clock to your schedule and will eventually respond to internal cues to become sleepy at a given time and to awaken at a given time. A good way to begin this is by getting up at the same time every morning-yes, even on weekends. Even if you're tired, try not to nap. No matter how tempting it may be, that afternoon nap can wreck your body's internal sleep-wake clock and make falling asleep that night even harder.

Finally, don't consume caffeinated beverages in the evening. Remember that eating chocolates and drinking cocoa also are sources of caffeine. Ideally, no caffeine after 4 or 5 p.m. is a good rule to follow. Also, excessive alcohol consumption at any time can also disrupt sleep patterns and lead to unrefreshing sleep.

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Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care