You know what it feels like to lay awake at 3 am, your mind racing with anxiety? Well, it turns out there’s a reason why stress screws up your sleeping patterns. 


With more cortisol in your bloodstream, your heartbeat quickens, giving your brain more oxygen and releasing extra energy, which makes it tough to transition into sleep mode. Plus, when you’re already stressed and are advised to get eight hours of sleep, the stress you’re already feeling ratchets up and we become even less likely to switch off.

“If you are experiencing stress and anxiety during the day, then it is most certainly going to come to bed with you at night,” says health psychologist Dr Marny Lishman. “You may find yourself waking during the night or early in the morning.”

“Elevated cortisol levels can suppress the production of serotonin (the happy hormone),” says health coach and wellness blogger Nic Makim.

“If we don’t produce enough serotonin during the day, our bodies are unable to produce enough melatonin (the sleep hormone) at night.”

The worst thing about this particular by-product of being stressed is that often we are well aware of how beneficial a good night’s sleep would be, yet still can’t stop our minds from running through our ‘to-do’ or ‘what if’ lists. Because we live in the ‘always on’ era of smartphones and email, many of us think of it as an indulgence to press the ‘off’ button for a whole evening or prioritise a state of relaxation.

The fix:

Aim to shut off your digital devices at least an hour or two before bed when you’re stressed and make a point of eating a nourishing evening meal to improve your slumber.

“The main nutrients we need for managing stress include magnesium, healthy fats and vitamin B,” says Makim. “Calcium and magnesium soothe the nerves and are essential for managing stress. I recommend eating foods that are high in calcium, magnesium and tryptophan – an amino acid that acts as a precursor of melatonin and serotonin – such as yoghurt. You can even take a bath in magnesium salts as well as taking it as a daily supplement.”