You are using an older version of Internet Explorer that is not supported on this site. Please upgrade for the best experience.

How does stress affect our sleep?

April 20, 2020

Are you having trouble falling asleep lately?

You’re not alone.

Many Americans are having difficulty falling asleep, while others are reporting troublesome dreams – the result of isolation and worrying about their health, finances, and the welfare of other family members.

According to Dr. Karin Johnson, director of the Sleep Lab at Baystate Medical Center, these anxieties can lead to sleep disturbances.

“We know that stress can disrupt your sleep patterns, and sleep deprivation can then make it harder to deal with stress,” Dr. Johnson said. “A healthy night’s sleep has never been as important as it is now during the coronavirus pandemic, and it is no time to be losing sleep.”


“A good night’s sleep promotes a healthy immune system, and people are more susceptible to common viruses, especially COVID-19, when they don’t get enough sleep,” said Dr. Johnson.

Tips for a good night’s sleep

Dr. Johnson suggests the following tips to help you sleep during a stressful time:

  • Keep the same sleep schedule seven days per week, and get up at the same time every morning.
  • Don’t stay in bed for more than 10-20 minutes if you can’t sleep, especially if your mind is racing.
  • Turn off the TV, smart phone, and other electronics for the last 1-2 hours before bed and develop a relaxing bedtime routine. Limit your news exposure during the day to lessen your anxiety.
  • Practice mindfulness or other relaxation techniques during the day.
  • No alcohol before bedtime, and avoid nicotine, food and drinks that contain caffeine, and any medication that acts as a stimulant prior to bedtime.
  • Get regular exercise, but don’t engage in any rigorous exercise within two hours of bedtime.
  • Get bright light in the morning and keep lights low before bed.
  • Make your bedroom quiet, dark, and a little bit cool.
  • Don’t watch the clock at night, but use an alarm to help wake you up.

Listen to your “internal clock”

Everyone has an internal “body clock” that tells you when to wake up and when it is time for sleep.

If you feel tired, go to sleep or take a nap.

If you awake refreshed and alert, it is time to get up.

“Maintaining a regular daytime routine like eating regular meals and getting adequate daylight, especially in the first half of the day, is critical for keeping your body’s clock in sync and able to sleep well at night,” said Dr. Johnson.

Why is it important to get a good night’s sleep?

When it comes to knowing how much sleep to get, there is no “one size fits all” equation for a good night’s sleep, noted Dr. Johnson, pointing out that adults generally need 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

“Healthy sleep is needed for a healthy body, recharges our brains, helps the body to repair itself, and rids the body of toxins,” said Dr. Johnson.

Insomnia and sleeping too long

While COVID-19-related insomnia may be affecting some, others have reported sleeping more.

But too much sleep can be bad for you.

“Frequently sleeping longer than nine hours may be a sign of an underlying condition like obstructive sleep apnea or depression, or even a side effect from a medication,” said Dr. Johnson.

But insomnia and a lack of sleep have been health concerns long before the pandemic outbreak.

A report conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2015 found that one-third of Americans were not getting enough sleep.

Not everyone who can’t fall asleep in the face of today’s pandemic are necessarily suffering from insomnia, which requires adverse effects on daytime functioning.

“Most people do not require medical care for short-term insomnia, especially when a clear stressor exists. By following the above tips, sleep will generally improve on its own, but if insomnia is lasting months or significantly affecting daytime functioning, you should talk to your doctor,” said Dr. Johnson.

About Baystate’s sleep medicine program

Baystate’s Sleep Medicine program continues to treat sleep disorders including insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy using virtual phone and video visits throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information about the Baystate Sleep Medicine Program, call 413-794-5600.