Stress-induced sleep disorders: causes & treatment

If you regularly feel tired after a night with problems falling asleep and waking up frequently, this can affect your body and your psyche. The good news: sleep disorders are usually treatable.

In this article you will learn:

  • When sleep disorders occur
  • What are the causes of insomnia
  • What are the Symptoms of Lack of Sleep
  • What you can do about insomnia

Technical terms for sleep disorders

The technical term for sleep disorders is insomnia. A distinction is made between primary and secondary sleep disorders , for which there are different reasons.


Primary sleep disorders are sleep problems that have neither a physical nor a psychological cause. They are usually caused by poor sleep conditions or stress. The so-called insomnias include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty sleeping through the night and premature awakening .


Secondary sleep disorders are sleep problems that have a physical, psychiatric or psychological cause .

What are the causes of insomnia?


If you are under a lot of stress in everyday life, for example because you are nervous and worried about an upcoming exam, this can have a negative effect on your sleep rhythm and cause you problems falling asleep. Other psychological stresses that make you brood at night can also keep you awake.

More on this: How to avoid stress and learn to deal with it


Restlessness, such as noise pollution from neighbors, too high or too low a temperature in the bedroom, or disturbing light influences , ensure poor sleeping conditions and a shorter sleep duration. Even uncomfortable lying down causes a lack of sleep and constant waking up for some people.


Illnesses can also trigger sleep disorders. These include, for example, depression or anxiety disorders, which can lead to problems falling and staying asleep, or rheumatic complaints and other diseases that are associated with severe pain. In addition, even a harmless cold with coughing and runny nose can significantly disrupt your sleep rhythm.

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Certain medications, including certain antidepressants, medications for high blood pressure or asthma, and diuretics, can affect how long you sleep.


Not only illegal drugs like ecstasy can cause sleep disorders. Your sleep can also suffer from other stimulants such as coffee, caffeinated tea, alcohol or nicotine .


Melatonin is one of the hormones that are responsible for regulating the day-night rhythm. Our body produces melatonin itself from the messenger substance serotonin. While melatonin formation is inhibited in daylight, secretion is stimulated in the dark . Energy consumption, blood pressure and body temperature drop. In this way, when it is dark, our body notices that it is now time to sleep. If melatonin production is disturbed, it affects our day-night rhythm and thus also the quality of our sleep.

Symptoms and consequences of insomnia caused by too much stress

A sleep disorder is a sleep problem that lasts for a longer period of at least three weeks and therefore severely restricts the quality of life of the person concerned . Short-term sleep problems, for example as a result of a cold or a stressful day, are not considered a sleep disorder .


Some of the symptoms that occur with a sleep disorder include:

  • Pronounced daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Low efficiency
  • Muscle tension
  • Inner unrest
  • Delusions
  • Influence on eating behavior

Permanently disturbed sleep can make you sick. Diseases that are associated with sleep disorders can be diabetes mellitus, for example, but the risk of becoming overweight also increases with sleep problems. In addition, shortened periods of deep sleep can lead to memory problems


Long-term sleep problems can cause your blood pressure to rise. Our blood pressure drops during deep sleep. However, if the sleep phases are interrupted several times or the deep sleep phase is not even reached, this can result in a permanent rise in blood pressure. This mainly affects people who have to get up repeatedly at night .


Although we often feel exhausted after a bad night and hardly get up the next morning, a lack of sleep usually does not lead to depressive episodes, but only to a depressive mood that disappears again with enough sleep. Rather, persistent sleep disorders are a symptom of pre-existing depression that should definitely be treated.


You should see a doctor if:

  • Your sleep problems persist for an extended period of around three to four weeks
  • Your sleep problems have a significant impact on how you feel during the day
  • You have severe concentration problems or memory problems
  • You suspect a physical or psychological cause behind your sleep disorders
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More on this: Restless sleep or sleep disorder? What helps you and when you start talking about an illness

This is how you ensure a sound sleep

If you have a chronic lack of sleep, you should always consult a doctor who will clarify the causes of your sleep disorders. If your disturbed sleep has a physical or psychological cause, the doctor can help you treat the underlying condition so that it is easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep again.

If the cause of your sleep disorders is stress-related, you should try to reduce the stress and resort to relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or autogenic training. Exercise can also help you fall asleep better and sleep better in the evening. In our 20 tips for healthy sleep  you will also find further measures and recommendations that will help you fall asleep and stay asleep .

Which vitamins should help with lack of sleep?

Sleep problems can be caused by one-sided and incorrect eating habits . Serving too large and eating too high-fat dinner can have a negative impact on the rest of your sleep. Therefore, you should always make sure to eat healthily and not overeat in the evening .

If you suffer from lack of sleep or even insomnia, you should take the following vitamins in particular to promote a sound sleep:

  • Vitamin C is found in berries and citrus fruits, but also in cabbage, potatoes and peppers.
  • Vitamin B1 is found in whole grain products, legumes such as beans and lentils, pork, tuna or walnuts and spinach.
  • Vitamin B3 is mainly found in offal, such as calf’s liver. But coffee beans can also provide you with a portion of vitamin B3, just don’t drink it before you go to bed.
  • You get vitamin B5 from the consumption of fresh watermelon, gorgonzola, peanuts or tuna.
  • Vitamin B6 is found in bananas, avocados, sardines, chicken, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes and whole grain products.

How do you pay attention to good sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is defined as certain behaviors that, when applied over the long term, promote healthy sleep and reduce problems falling asleep and staying asleep. They are also used to prevent sleep disorders. The following behaviors can help you manage existing sleep disorders:

  • Make sure you get the amount of sleep you need . Six to eight hours of sleep per night are considered optimal.
  • Make a habit of going to bed at the same time each day and getting up at the same time the next day. Ideally, you should also fall asleep and wake up at the usual times on the weekend or days off.
  • Avoid taking an afternoon nap during the day , even when you are tired.
  • Make sure you sleep well. Turn off annoying lights and music or the TV, get a comfortable mattress and choose a bedroom temperature that is comfortable for you. Approximately 18 degrees Celsius are considered optimal .
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks in the evening. In addition to coffee and energy drinks, this also includes certain types of tea.
  • Eat a balanced diet and do not eat too large portions or too fatty foods in the evening .
  • Incorporate a little physical exercise into your everyday life. An evening walk , for example, can help with minor sleep problems .
  • Make your evenings pleasant and let the day slowly end. You should avoid exciting crime novels or action films before going to bed .
  • When you go to bed, make sure that your posture is comfortable and pleasant.
  • Find a sleep ritual that really suits you. This can be, for example, meditation, a relaxing bath or a so-called dream trip. Hot milk with honey or tea are also possible. You shouldn’t drink more than one cup, however, as this increases the risk of waking up at night and having to go to the bathroom.
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More about this: Home remedies for insomnia: 5 tips for a healthier sleep

When sleep disorders are caused by stress

Having one or two bad nights is normal. However, if sleep disorders permanently burden the body and psyche of a person , this can affect their physical and mental health. If your sleep problems persist over a longer period of time and severely limit your everyday life, you should consult a doctor .

There can be physical as well as psychological causes behind sleep disorders. You should have this checked out by a doctor if your problems persist, as sleep disorders can also be the symptom of another underlying illness such as depression .

Temporary phases of nocturnal restlessness do not constitute a sleep disorder and can usually be treated without therapy or sleeping pills. A good sleep hygiene, healthy eating and regular exercise you can help better on and stay asleep. But sleep that is really permanently disturbed should be treated by a doctor, as it can result in high blood pressure and diabetes mellitus.

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