How to Deal with Stress-Induced Insomnia

Imagine you’re driving a racecar, a red Alfa Romeo tearing up the track at 210 mph all day, every day. Ambition and duty are your fuel, with serious jolts of stress pushing you to move faster and get more done.

Now hit the brakes, kill the engine, and, with a happy little yawn, lean back for a fabulous night’s sleep. Impossible, right? More likely your mind is still zooming, your body is thrumming (or aching), and sleep feels like a finish line you’ll never reach. And then it’s time to rev up for another day again.

Welcome to the world of stress-induced insomnia. Luckily, there are some simple techniques that can help you ease up, quiet down, and get the rest you need to keep on racing at your best.

Calm your body.

Attempting to think your way through stress-induced insomnia with your overtaxed mind only leads to even more panicky stress. Instead, try this series of gentle, soothing exercises from a story in Whole Living called “Flow to Sleep.” Each move is inspired by Traditional Chinese Medicine. One of the simplest is a Chi Gong movement called “Fluffing White Clouds,” which helps regulate sleep by supporting the endocrine system:

“Stand with feet parallel and knees slightly bent. Rest your hands open at your sides with palms facing front. As you inhale, straighten your knees and lift your hands with palms facing up and elbows bent. As you exhale, turn your palms over and let your arms flow down to your sides, bending the knees. Repeat six times.” (See it here)

Try a breathing exercise.

When night stress spikes, awareness and control of breath can help you release into sleep. Alternate nostril breathing, writes world champion triathlete Brad Kearns, balances the body’s energy and calms a busy mind — and it only takes a minute to do.

First, block your right nostril and inhale fully through the left. At the end of the inhalation, block your left nostril and release the right. Exhale through the right nostril. Inhale, then switch to exhale through the left nostril. Complete 10 full inhalation/exhalation breaths.

Put your screens to bed.

As the Chicago Tribune reports, the blue light from computer and smartphone screens suppresses melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate night sleep, and disrupts the circadian rhythms that govern our sleep-wake cycles. The effects are worst when we stare at screens at night. Remove the ever-present temptation to send one more email, make one more revision, tweet one more tweet by designating a non-bedroom spot in the house as Device Headquarters. Plug in phones, laptops, and tablets there before you start your bedtime routine — and leave them there to rest.

Write a been-done list.

The sheer number of things that need to get done is less stressful than how you perceive that to-do list, according to a 2003 study from Psychosomatic Medicine. So why not end your day with “I did” rather than “I must”: Cosmopolitan suggests taking two minutes to write down everything you accomplished, including the small tasks, gives the mind a chance to reset and settle down. (Check out idonethis, an app that makes it easy to track your daily accomplishments.

Becky Karush is a writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. Visit her at