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Sleep and Stress

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Losing Sleep to Stress?

Here are some common experiences people have about losing sleep to stress, along with some possible ideas and tips about making the situation better.

"I lie awake thinking about all I have to do..."

  • Keep a pen and paper by your bed and jot down what you think of.
  • Leave yourself voice mails at work when you think of something.
  • The idea is to get it out of your head and into some kind of "box" so you can sleep, knowing that you can come back to the "box" later to get your idea.

"I (wake up and) worry about things and can't get (back) to sleep..."

  • Set aside focused, uninterrupted "worry time" earlier in the day or evening, perhaps several times a week.
  • The problem here may be that the issues get pushed to the back of our minds by the hustle and bustle of the day, only to come out when our mind lets its guard down - as we're trying to sleep.
  • Try keeping a journal of your worrying. Not a diary or an article, this is simply to be extra storage and processing space for your brain. 
  • Cut down on caffeine intake, especially in the evening.
  • Exercising before bed can make it more difficult to ease into sleep.
  • Eating a lot before bed can give you indigestion and also make it difficult to sleep.
  • Conditions such as depression or anxiety can cause sleeplessness.
  • Experiment and try different ways to get more sleep
  • Go to bed earlier or later.
  • Try lowering your bedroom temperature
  • If you can, try to alter your work schedule to see if sleeping in later helps.
  • Try to get some deep rest (or sleep if you can) for 15-20 minutes in the middle of the day.
  • Unfortunately there are many times when there seems to be no direct answer for sleep problems. Sleep deprivation is a very unhealthy condition which will wreak havoc in all areas of our lives. If nothing is helping, seek medical help!



Studies demonstrated that depriving both lab animals and humans of sleep increased their appetite and food consumption. One study of college students found that getting only 2 1/2 hours of sleep for three nights in a row and interrupting their sleep on three other nights greatly increased their appetite. Another study of young men who were deprived of REM sleep demonstrated a marked increase in appetite and three of them gained weight.

What's the cause: Sleep deprivation and a decrease in body temperature?

What causes the increase in appetite is unknown. What has been proven in laboratory rats is that insufficient sleep decreases body temperature. The consequent loss of body heat increases their appetite, overcompensating for the energy lost. What hasn't been proven is that people will increase body fat by not getting enough sleep.

However, an interesting connection has been proposed between sleep and the "Freshmen Fifteen" or "Freshmen Weight Gain". A recent ethnographic study about the adjustments freshmen make when moving to campus found getting enough sleep in the residence halls to be the most difficult and challenging adjustment they had to make. What remains to be proven is that those freshmen who experience difficulty getting enough sleep also increase their food intake and/or gain weight.

Also remember the effect of sleep on physical and mental performance. Memory skills work best when the brain has had sufficient rest. The Wellness Center recommends you get enough sleep to feel rested 80% of the time. If you have to stay up late, be prepared to take a nap or sleep in the next day. If your sleep is constantly disrupted, then take the necessary steps to change your sleeping arrangements or the cause of the disruption.

Lynne Smiley, PhD