Stress - A Hidden Cause of Insomnia

by Greg Newson 0 Comments

Stress, A Hidden Cause of Insomnia | Vitality and Wellness

Stress - Little Word, Big Problem

We've all had days, weeks and for some even months when we have felt out of control and more stress than normal. Stress can leave us feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, short tempered, unable to cope, emotional plus is a major cause of insomnia. There are many forms of insomnia for example not being able to stay asleep or the opposite having trouble falling asleep, but in this blog we will focus on mainly on stress and how it contributes to insomnia. 

What is stress?

Stress is a reaction that occurs within the body when the Sympathetic Nervous System is over stimulated or overactive. When person is presented with a challenging situation, whether it be running late for an appointment, pressures of work, family or financial problems, finding ourselves on the wrong side of the law or struggling to accept some terrible news, a stress response is triggered. 

Within the body the are two major components of the nervous system the first is the Sympathetic Nervous System and it's what keeps us awake, motivated, balanced and is heightened when it senses danger. The second component is the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which relaxes and calms the body. It is responsible for  digestion, bowel movements, sexual arousal, salivation, and urination. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is the opposite of the Sympathetic Nervous System, one stimulates the other relaxes. 

When a stressful situation presents the Sympathetic Nervous System stimulates the adrenals to secrete adrenaline (epinephrine). An increase in adrenaline results in a rise in heart rate, breathing, blood flow and pressure, an amplification of the 5 senses and muscle strength. Digestive secretion, saliva and urine flow are decreased during this time. This is done in preparation for the fight or flight response. This response was great a 10,000 years ago if you were confronted by a sabre-toothed tiger or a warring tribe, but in today's society, the constant over-activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System causes real and long term harm to our health.

Stress Support | Vitality and Wellness Centre

How Does The Body React To Stress?

After the release of adrenaline, the body scrambles to help support the flight-or-fight response and reducing the negative effects on the body of stress. It does this by secreting cortisol, the body's main anti-stress hormone. Once a perceived threat has passed, adrenaline and cortisol levels return to normal as does the heart rate, breathing and blood pressure, while other systems that were suppressed resume their regular activities.

Unfortunately if the stressors are always present or a person constantly feel under attack or pressure, the fight-or-flight response remains switched on.

The long-term activation of the flight-or-fight and the subsequent excessive exposure of cortisol can cause physical and emotional harm by disrupting nearly all essential body processes. This increases the risk of many health problems, including:

Adrenal fatigue Hair loss
Anxiety Headaches
Auto-immune disorders Heart disease
Cancer Infertility
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Insomnia
Dementia Loss of libido
Depression Memory and concentration impairment
Digestive problems Weight gain

How Does Stress Cause Insomnia?

To have a good restful night sleep the body needs ample amounts of melatonin and GABA. Melatonin is manufactured from the happy neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin, which in turn is made from the essential amino acid tryptophan. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety, anger, crying, carbohydrate cravings and of course insomnia.

Elevated cortisol increases the production of the enzyme tryptophan pyrrolase, which inhibits the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin as well as causing the destruction of available tryptophan. This two fold attack on serotonin levels results in less melatonin being available to initiate and maintain sleep.

GABA is the body's major relaxing, calming and tranquillising neurotransmitter, it plays a crucial role in activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System and is responsible for maintaining sleep throughout the night. Elevated cortisol reduces GABA and Parasympathetic Nervous System activity resulting in continued elevated stress levels and a poor nights sleep.

Effects of Stress on Melatonin Infographic

How To Reduce Stress and Elevated Cortisol? 

Breathing - There are many breathing techniques that can have profound effects on the way we feel, sleep and our stress levels. A simple deep breathing technique is to breathe in through the nose for a count of 5 and out through the nose for another count of 5 and do this for 5 minutes. Breathing deep in and out through the nose activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, reduces adrenaline and cortisol secretions while increasing Serotonin and GABA levels. Trying doing this for 5 minutes morning and night and you'll be amazed at the difference.

Herbs and Nutrients - We are lucky to be blessed with some wonderful herbs and nutrients that help reduce elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels while at the same time strengthen and support the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

Magnesium, known as the 'lullaby mineral', is the main mineral supporting the nervous system making it highly beneficial during times of stress and for insomnia.

The amino acid Glycine acts as a relaxing neurotransmitter on the nervous system, helping to reverse the negative effects of stress on the body and facilitating a good nights sleep. Another important amino acid L-Theanine, which is only found in tea helps to increase the relaxing alpha brain waves and GABA. 

Herbs have such amazing nurturing and healing properties on the whole body, individual organs and systems. Great nervous system herbs include California Poppy, Chamomile, Magnolia bark, Lemon Balm, St John's Wort,  Ginkgo biloba, Withanina, Bacopa, Passion flower and Skullcap all to help improve sleep, lower elevated cortisol and adrenaline plus reduce the toxic affects of stress 1. B Group vitamins play a major role in stress reduction by supporting the Parasympathetic Nervous System and adrenal function. 

For patients suffering from high stress and associated insomnia we generally prescribe the Stress Support Pack, which contains key nutritional supplements help increase GABA, improve the function of the Parasympathetic Nervous System, lower elevated cortisol and adrenaline, improve sleep, increase a sense of calm, plus reduce the toxic and negative effects of stress. Where 

Reducing Stimulants - Even though people feel they need a coffee, cola or energy drink to give them a boost, especially if they are tired. The truth of the matter is, these caffeinated drinks can have an adverse effects by increasing adrenaline and causing the urinary excretion of magnesium. Caffeine can also overwork the adrenal glands and liver while exacerbating the toxic effects of stress. 

Improving the Diet - Improving the quality of fresh and healthy foods goes a long way in supporting the body during times of stress, while helping to counteract its negative effects. Incorporate a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, beans, seafood and grass fed meats is important not only for stress support, but our long term health and longevity. 

Exercise - Regular exercise improves breathing, activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, reduces stress, decrease elevated cortisol while producing endorphins, special brain chemicals that make us feel good.

Do you need stress support promotional banner


There are two important tests that can help sufferers of stress and insomnia, they are the Mental Health Test that measures the neurotransmitters Serotonin, GABA, Adrenaline, Glutamate, Dopamine, PEA, and Nor-Adrenaline. Plus the Adrenal Fatigue Test which measures cortisol 4 times a day, thus providing greater understanding of adrenal function and cortisol levels.

The information provided here is of a general nature intended for educational purposes only. We make no claims to diagnose, treat, prevent, alleviate or cure illnesses or diseases with any information or product stated. With any health issue we suggest you consult your healthcare professional before undertaking any health treatment.

I hope you found this blog useful and if you did please leave a comment or share on social media.

Thanks and have a great day!


  1. Rountree, R. (2012). Roundoc Rx: Insomnia: The Impact on Health and Interventions to Improve Sleep. Alternative & Complementary Therapies 18 (3), 116-121. doi:10.1089/act.2012.18306

Greg Newson
Greg Newson


Greg Newson is a qualified Naturopath, Western Medicine Herbalist, Nutritionist, Remedial Massage Therapist and Professional Health & Wellbeing Speaker. Greg has a passion for helping people and has been treating patients in clinical practice since 2002.

Greg is the owner of the Vitality and Wellness Centre, Lismore NSW Australia, a busy Naturopathic Clinic that cares for people suffering with any type of health complaint. He is dedicated in educating people to understand and embrace the enormous potential that natural medicine has on our long-term health and well-being. Greg is able to help people improve their health and offers in-clinic, phone and Skype health consultations as well as Guest Speaking on natural medicine and heath related topics.

Greg Newson's Qualifications: Advance Diploma Human Health Science 2001 (Charles Sturt University), Advance Diploma Remedial Massage 2002 (Health Schools Australia), Advance Diploma Western Herbal Medicine 2003 (Health Schools Australia), Bachelor Health Science 2005 (Charles Sturt University), Advance Diploma Naturopathy 2008 (Health Schools Australia), Advance Diploma Functional Nutrition 2008 (Health Schools Australia).

Greg is a member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)

Also in Health Matters

The Dangers of Dysbiosis | Vitality and Wellness
The Dangers of Dysbiosis 😱

by Greg Newson 0 Comments

Dysbiosis is an imbalance in the micro-organisms that reside within the intestinal tract. This occurs when there are excessive levels of detrimental organisms and lower levels of the beneficial ones. Detrimental organisms include; bacteria, parasites, worms, viruses, fungi, protozoa and amoeba's.

Read More

9 Common Causes of Diarrhoea or Loose Bowels | Vitality and Wellness Centre
9 Common Causes of Diarrhoea or Loose Bowels

by Greg Newson 0 Comments

Diarrhoea or loose stools can affect everybody from time to time, but if it is present on a daily basis the long-term health ramifications can be severe. In this blog the 9 Common Causes of Diarrhoea or Loose Bowels we discuss the causes, side-effects and how to permanently treat Diarrhoea and loose stools

Read More

Pyrrole Disorder and Pyroluria Treatment | Vitality and Wellness
Pyrrole Disorder and Pyroluria Treatment

by Greg Newson 0 Comments

For anyone who has been diagnosed with Pyroluria or Pyrrole Disorder what to do next can be confusing. Some practitioners tell patients to take xyz supplement for life and while supplementation will help the symptoms of Pyroluria and Pyrrole Disorder it won't cure the condition. At Conquering Pyroluria we believe in treating the body holistically.

Read More