Why Some People Respond to Stress by Falling Asleep

Stress Comes Sleepiness People Fall Asleep When Stressed

Do you take stress naps? Have you ever fallen asleep due to excessive stress and anxiety? Sometimes being worked up can cause sleepiness as your mind is unable to cope with the stress.

How we respond to stress

Whenever we are faced with conflict, threat and stress, our mind enters the fight-flight-freeze mode. This is a type of stress response that enables us to effectively react to possible threats. According to an article in The Atlantic, the fight-flight-freeze response is an automatic reaction. It states “The adrenal cortex releases stress hormones to put the body on alert; the heart begins to beat more rapidly; breathing increases frequency; your metabolism starts to speed up, and oxygen-rich blood gets pumped directly to the larger muscles in the body. The point is to become energized, to prepare to face the source of the conflict head-on, or, at the worst, be ready to run away, at top speed.”

When we are stressed all the time and the fight-flight-freeze response is constantly activated, it could lead to some serious and damaging effects on our neurochemistry in the long run. This can result in high levels of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and even sleepiness. Moreover, when our mind and body are exposed to frequent stressful situations, it stays on high alert all the time which leads to feelings of chronic fatigue. This makes us feel tired even during the daytime and fall asleep whenever possible. Falling asleep due to stress is nothing but a physiological and psychological coping mechanism.

Read also: How Stressed Are You? Take This Stress Quiz To Find Out

How stress affects sleepiness

Sleep is crucial for our health and proper functioning. However, stress can often lead to insomnia and sleepiness due to anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Dr. Kelly Baron, a sleep expert at the University of Utah Health explains “Stress and sleep are really known to have a bidirectional or a two-way relationship. So if you’re under stress, it affects your sleep.” Although stress is mostly known to cause sleeplessness, excessive stress can even make us fall asleep.

Why Some People Respond to Stress by Falling Asleep

But why do some of us fall asleep in the face of stress, while others lose their sleep? This is perhaps due to ‘learned helplessness.’ According to Martin. E. P. Seligman, PH.D. at the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, stressful events experienced during childhood can “significantly debilitate” an individual. Such uncontrollable stressful experiences can “produce passivity in the face of trauma, inability to learn that responding is effective,” leading to emotional stress, and even depression. Learned helplessness often manifests itself as sleepiness in response to stress. Hence, when an individual is faced with repeated stress as a child, they would feel helpless as an adult and will be unable to cope with stress. This can result in fatigue and stress naps.

Read also: How Sleep affects Your Mental Health

Learned helplessness

The psychological concept of learned helplessness is often utilized to make sense of different aspects of stress, anxiety, and depression. The Atlantic explains “If at a very early stage in development, a living thing comes to understand that it is helpless in the face of the world’s forces, it will continue to perceive a lack of control, and therefore actually become helpless, no matter if the context changes.”

It is simply a coping mechanism that works for some people. When we feel too overwhelmed by something and experience stress almost on a daily basis, sleepiness can provide us an escape from the situation. When we lack the skills or are incapable to deal with challenges and conflicts in life, we often choose to run away from it. And falling asleep might be the fastest way out of a stressful situation. Psychiatrist John Sharp at Harvard Medical School says “Our feelings are always in the past. This is something that’s really outlived its adaptive value.”

Read also: 11 Holistic Hacks To Reduce Stress And Anxiety

69 thoughts on “Why Some People Respond to Stress by Falling Asleep”

  1. Avatar of Jyoti Agarwal Poddar

    Stress aati hai toh neend aati he nahi hai.kyonki deemag me hazaro thoughts ghumtey rehtey hai.when I’m in stress I can’t sleep better.n it affects my body so badly.that’s why I don’t take stress.I just try to forget it. N of course I can’t forget it.so I pray to God.n leave every thing on the will of God.

  2. Avatar of Judene

    This answers a lot of questions for me. I remember the nurses being shocked that I slept through contractions with my baby! My husband is shocked when I sleep during a long airplane flight.

  3. Avatar of Karen Elizabeth MooreOuellette

    I recharge in sleep . I stress on certain things but I rather identify it and talk to myself and what’s the reasons and are they valid reasonings and can I change anything. Then it soothes the soul . Sleep I sleep to dream , I believe it’s the one place God talks to me just last night Head Karen I don’t know what that means but I heard it like he whispered it too my spirit.

  4. Avatar of Gerry Blue

    In the middle of the storm, I do not run from it, I do not fight it. I root myself into the earth… I close my eyes and breathe… And when my soul is ready… I approach The Minds Journal.

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