The link between stress, mood and sleep.

How does stress affect you? Would you describe yourself as feeling wired and tired? Or do you feel tired all day, but then can’t sleep at night? Perhaps it feels like your battery is flat, or you’re irritated, moody and unmotivated. Would you be surprised to hear that any or all of these symptoms suggest adrenal fatigue and/or poor sleep quality?

The various links between stress and mood are well documented – but where chronic stress and low mood are present, sleep deprivation is likely to exist as well. The reverse is also true; sleep disturbances are strongly related to increased cortisol levels and the development or exacerbation of mood disorders.

The importance of a good night’s sleep

Getting good quality sleep is an essential part of maintaining great health. While we rest, the human body performs many functions that support growth and repair, energy balance, metabolism, immune response, concentration, memory and cognition. 7-8 hours of good quality sleep is required each night for adults. Children require significantly more.

Many of us simply do not get enough sleep. And not necessarily because we aren’t going to bed early enough either. Sleep quality is often poor, and this is due to REM and NREM cycles being disturbed as result of poor eating habits/diet, sedentary lifestyles, exposure to blue light from phones, tablets and TV screens, stress or poor sleep hygiene.

How does sleep impact mood?

When the brain does not get enough sleep, it cannot operate efficiently. Irritability, anxiety and increased sensitivity to pain are common following periods of disturbed sleep (2). This is partly due to raised levels of cortisol, but inflammatory markers like interleukin-6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP) are also common in those who suffer from insomnia. This is because regulation of inflammatory and oxidative processes throughout the body are sleep dependent (3). From depression to Alzheimer’s, low grade chronic inflammation in the brain (known as neuroinflammation) is known to be a cause of synapse disruption and neuron destruction. The subsequent reduced brain and neurotransmitter function results in symptoms of depression, anxiety and other cognitive disorders. It is important to note that poor diet and lifestyle are also heavily implicated in the development of inflammation in the brain.

Stress and sleep

Cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline are secreted when we experience stress. These hormones are synthesised by the adrenal glands, and allow us to respond and survive stressful situations. However, during periods of chronic stress, this response becomes dysregulated, resulting in disrupted sleep patterns, fatigue, anxiety, low energy and/or hyperactivity, and depression. But sleep reduction or disturbances also increase cortisol levels (1). It’s a vicious cycle, but fortunately it can be broken.

Break the cycle

Small lifestyle changes, coupled with a nourishing diet and planned relaxation time help to calm the nervous system and reduce stress. Exercise and exposure to natural light help to regulate the sleep-wake cycle and is of particular importance for those that work mostly inside. Yoga and regular meditation are excellent methods to promote relaxation of body and mind.

A bedtime routine and appropriate sleep hygiene helps to prepare the body for rest. Go to bed at around the same time each night, and make sure the bedroom is cool, dark, quiet and free of electronic or wifi devices. A warm bath/shower and a cup of relaxing herbal tea is a good idea to integrate into your routine, and works well for children too.

Basic nutrition is essential. B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, essential fatty acids and vitamin C support nervous system and adrenal function. Protein is an important component of neurotransmitters and adrenal hormones and should be included with each meal. For extra mood, sleep and adrenal support, there are many beautiful herbs that have proven calming and sleep promoting effects. Passionflower, Valerian, Withania, Californian Poppy and Zizyphus are a few that I use effectively for my clients on a regular basis.

As always, please check with your qualified natural health practitioner before taking any supplements. If you would like more information on sleep, stress or mood support, please feel free to contact us.



(1) Vgontzas, A.N. et al. (2003). Impaired nighttime sleep in healthy old versus young adults is associated with elevated plasma interleukin-6 and cortisol levels: physiologic and therapeutic implications. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 88(5):2087-95.

(2) Vanini, G. (2016). Sleep Deprivation and Recovery Sleep Prior to a Noxious Inflammatory Insult Influence Characteristics and Duration of Pain. Sleep. 39(1): 133–142.

(3) Irwin, M.R et al. (2016). Sleep Disturbance, Sleep Duration, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies and Experimental Sleep Deprivation. Biological Psychiatry. 80(1):40-52


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