The Too Stressed Can’t Sleep Blues

Go, Go, Go, and did I mention Go.  Does this feel like your life – a constant bombardment of job stress, family stress, and environmental stress?  And then you lie down at night, and that deep restful sleep you long for struggles to come.  (Boo!)  Well you are most certainly not alone.  According to a survey from the Better Sleep Council, half of Americans (48%) say they don’t get enough sleep, and less than half of them take any one specific action to help them get better sleep.(1)

Sleep, like the whole of the human body, is complex, and many things may be involved in your inability to get a good night sleep, but for the overworked and stressed out, there is a good chance cortisol is part of the problem.  Cortisol is the hormone that governs your hunger cravings, digestion, blood pressure, sleep/wake patterns, a capacity to cope with stress.   It is produced in the adrenal glands and helps manage glucose levels in the body.(2)  It responds when the fight or flight part of our brain is triggered by stress.  This is an ideal response if you are being chased by a bear, but not when our phone pings at us that we have a message waiting or when we see that escalating pile of laundry in the corner.  But this is what is happening without us even realizing it and it is affecting our sleep and our health.

I started struggling with sleep when I went back to school for acupuncture (oops ;-p) These are some recommendations that I find work for me:

 The Sleep Supplement Regimen


The powerful Ayurvedic herb- Ashwagandha, often referred to as “indian ginseng” because of its many restorative benefits, has been shown to boost the immune system, modulate blood sugar, and lower cortisol levels, helping you stay stable through the day.  Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb.  Adaptogens not only increase the resistance to the adverse effects of long-term stress yet the majority are also a tonic, immune-stimulating and increase general sense of well-being.

Tart Cherry Juice

Multiple clinical studies have shown tart montmorency cherry juice to have a positive effect on sleep, helping you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer. (3)(4)  Tart cherry juice increases melatonin, which can help improve sleep quality immediately, and also improve how your body uses tryptophan, which has been shown to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. 

I recommend starting out with 1 tablespoon and ramping up to 2 if needed.  Tart Cherry Juice might not be the easiest to find on the grocery store shelves, but many stores do carry it and it is well worth asking the store clerk about.  My sleeping life changed when I found tart cherry juice. 

Magnesium and Calcium

Magnesium is a critical mineral responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body. You must have it for your cells to make energy, for many different chemical pumps to work, to stabilize membranes, and to help muscles relax.  Magnesium is a relaxing mineral, helping all forms of tension-  Tense nerves, tense bowels, and tense muscles.

Calcium plays an important role in cell signaling, helping to induce normal muscle contraction and conduct of nerve impulses.  Magnesium and calcium are both sleep boosters, and when taken together they become even more effective. (5)

 What Else Can you Try?

Ditch the alcohol

It may help you fall asleep, but doesn’t assure a quality rest.  As alcohol metabolizes during the night, sleep becomes fragmented and deep sleep decreases.  Try having your nightcap at happy hour at least 3 hours before hitting the pillow. (6)


Acupuncture modulates the hormone system through its effect on the hypothalamus, and stimulates the ‘rest and digest’ part of the brain.  A pilot study of acupuncture, three times a week for twelve weeks, showed a decrease in urinary cortisol levels, improved sleep and quality of life for menopausal women. (7)

by Sarah Edwards, L.Ac. 



(2)Gottfried, Sara, MD.  The Hormone Cure. Chapter 4.

(3) Effects of a tart cherry juice beverage on the sleep of older adults with insomnia: a pilot study. Pigeon WR, Carr M, Gorman C, Perlis ML. J Med Food. 2010 Jun;13(3):579-83.

(4) Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. Howatson G, Bell PG, Tallent J, Middleton B, McHugh MP, Ellis J. Eur J Nutr. 2012 Dec;51(8):909-16



(7)A pilot randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled trial of traditional acupuncture for vasomotor symptoms and mechanistic pathways of menopause. Painovich JM, Shufelt CL, Azziz R, Yang Y, Goodarzi MO, Braunstein GD, Karlan BY, Stewart PM, Merz CN. Menopause. 2012 Jan;19(1):54-61. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e31821f9171.