Neil B. Kavey, MD, is Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at The New York-Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. He has been practicing sleep medicine since 1973 .
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of sleep matters.
Ask the Expert
Read Dr. Kavey’s entire response on the NSF website here.
I have a stress-filled job, and I also have periodic bouts of insomnia. Could there be a connection between the two?
In a word, yes. Not all insomnia is due to stress, but people who are under considerable stress can have
insomnia. In the case of insomnia related to stress, alleviating the stress should alleviate the insomnia. Stress causes insomnia by making it difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep, and by affecting the quality of your sleep. Stress causes hyperarousal, which can upset the balance between sleep and wakefulness.
Nevertheless, many people under stress do not have insomnia.
How can I know if my insomnia is the result of stress, or something else?
As with any symptom, an important question to ask is “when did it start?” Does the sleep problem come and go with the occurrence and disappearance of stress or does it persist through all the permutations of one’s life? That is, is it situational? Also it is helpful to clarify what one means by stress.
For example, are you frequently anxious whether or not you are under unusual stress? Is it hard for you to “wind down” at the end of the day? Are you frequently infuriated? Or do you feel depressed? If you feel “blue” much of the time, your problem may be a mood disorder, like depression.