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.

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

Memories and sleepiness

All memories are initially stored in our brain’s short-term storage so that these can be easily accessed, processed, and, if necessary, replaced to make space for new and important memories. However, when a memory generates too many emotions, it requires a lot of space to get processed. This can overburden the storage capacity of our brain. Dr. Rebecca Spencer, professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts explains “You can be driven to sleep simply by having a lot of emotional memories to process.” 

Sleep enables our mind to sort through recent experiences to make the necessary space for important memories and decide which ones get to be permanent. A 2001 study by psychologists Ullrich Wagner, Steffen Gais, and Jan Born revealed that sleep actually boosts our memory and supports the storage of memories driven by emotions.

Another 2017 study found that stress at work can lead to fatigue and sleepiness. The research concluded, “Fatigue as an indicator of the allostatic load is consistently associated with work-related stressors such as work overload after controlling for depression.”

“Excessive, prolonged stress can cause physical and emotional exhaustion and lead to illness,” writes health writer Hannah Nichols in Medical News Today. Work-related stress can often make us feel overtired and exhausted and result in tense muscles, headaches, and migraines. All these symptoms can not only affect our health but also lead to sleepiness.

Read also: Why Less Sleep And Over Sleep Is Harmful To Your Health

Stress makes us sleepy

Under periods of stress, many people choose to spend excess time in bed, and often fall asleep, as a way of escaping from the stress,” explains Aric Prather, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Weill Institute for Neurosciences at the University of California. He adds “Because sleep, at least in the short term, can provide some relief from the distress, sleeping behavior can be reinforced.”

So the next time you feel overly stressed, it might be a good idea to go for a 15-20 minute stress nap. This is a natural response and there is “no sense ignoring how your body is feeling,” adds Prather. This will allow you to process your experiences and might even empower you to better deal with the source of your stress. 

However, if your work-related stress is leading to sleepiness, then it can be a good idea to go for a cup of coffee instead or speak with your HR about mental health facilities and benefits in your workspace.

Read also: 5 Tips For Lowering Your Stress Level

Why Some People Respond to Stress by Falling Asleep
Stress Comes Sleepiness People Fall Asleep When Stressed pin

— About the Author —


  1. Ashleigh Erin Hughes


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Up Next

Butterfly Hug Method: 6 Remarkable Benefits of Hugging Yourself for Anxiety Relief

The Butterfly Hug Method: Benefits Of Hugging Yourself

If you’re someone who deals with anxiety on a daily basis, you will agree that anxiety often seems like an unwanted guest. It burdens you and makes it difficult to be at peace with yourself. But what if I told you that there was a really nice and effective method to deal with such tumultuous moments? I’m talking about the butterfly hug method.

The butterfly hug technique is considered to be a gentle and effective means of calming anxiety. With its roots in trauma therapy, this method has earned recognition for its capacity to offer solace and alleviate distress.

In this article, we are going to explore the b

Up Next

Mind-Body Harmony: 7 Powerful Somatic Exercises For Anxiety That Will Heal You

somatic exercises for anxiety

Being overwhelmed by anxiety is like being trapped on a never-ending rollercoaster ride you didn’t want to go on in the first place. However, what if I told you that there’s a way to disembark the anxiety train and find peace? Somatic exercises for anxiety are the answer.

Somatic healing exercises can calm your anxious mind and bring your entire being back into balance. These can be incredibly powerful as they connect your mind and body, allow you to understand your inner strength, and let go of all your pent-up emotions.

We’ve compiled for you seven somatic exercises for anxiety that will mak

Up Next

Mastering the Gaze: 5 Powerful Strategies to Conquer Eye Contact Anxiety and Boost Your Confidence

Eye Contact Anxiety Symptoms and Effective Solutions

Have you ever had that feeling where you just can’t look someone in the eye while they are talking to you? Do you feel a surge of anxiety when meeting someone’s gaze? If so, you may be experiencing eye contact anxiety. Identifying eye contact anxiety symptoms can help you understand how to get rid of eye contact anxiety.

What is Eye Contact Anxiety Disorder?

also known as ophthalmophobia, eye contact anxiety disorder is marked by a serious fear of making direct eye contact with another person. While some form of occasional uneasiness when making eye-contact is normal, irrational and excessive fear may be indicative of an anxiety disorder. 

Up Next

How Do Dogs Help with Depression: Exploring 5 Pawsitive Impacts!

How Do Dogs Help with Depression: Psychological Benefits!

The attachment that humans make with dogs goes beyond affability. To learn how do dogs help with depression is to consider not only the happiness they bring but also their deeper healing capacities for mental health

In the present fast-paced and challenging world where mental well-being is as important as physical fitness. The connection between humans and dogs is both ancient and deep. For centuries these creatures have been more than pets; they have been trusted friends, company during difficult times, unfailing love, etc.

This articl

Up Next

When Anxiety Shows Up as Anger: The Fear And Anger Connection:

Fear And Anger Connection: When Anxiety Shows Up as Anger

Can anxiety cause anger? Yes it can! Fear and anger are linked in many ways, and this shows up when you are hit by anxiety and anxious thoughts. This connection might come as a surprise, but it’s true. This article is going to talk about the connection between fear and anxiety, what happens when anxiety turns to anger.


Fear and anger are both threat-based emotions.

Studies show activation in the amygdala during both fear and anger.

Anxiety often shows up as irritability making it more difficult to catch.

Up Next

9 Morning Activities That Are Bad For Your Anxiety

Worst Morning Activities That Are Bad For Your Anxiety

Mornings set the tone for the day, and what you do at the start determines how the rest unfolds. For a positive day avoid certain activities that are bad for your anxiety because they really can throw off your groove!

Are you ready to learn how to avoid these morning pitfalls for a brighter start?

When you wake up to a new day, that fresh optimism is quite literally the start of everything. But due to how busy we are in life, many of us pick up some bad habits that follow us into the morning.

Up Next

What Not To Say To Someone With Anxiety? 5 Things You Should Avoid Saying

What Not To Say To Someone With Anxiety? Things To Avoid

What not to say to someone with anxiety? When you are dealing with an anxious person, you need to show them empathy and open-mindedness. Encouraging someone with anxiety is one of the best things you can do for them. On the other hand, there are certain things you should not say if you are thinking about how to help someone with anxiety.


Telling someone with anxiety to “get it together” or that they’ll figure it out is often unhelpful.

Sometimes an anxious person doesn’t want to hear that they are fine.

An expression of empathy for someone’s challenges can mea