The Relationship Between Chronic Stress and Sleep

in Stress Research and Insights

Fellow research review of: “The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication” by Anesse Mariotti 



  • Stress is the response of an individual to potential or actual strain—the body's response to factors that may interfere with physical, mental, or psychological integrity.  The paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus is the part of the brain that processes information from stress. The information is then sent to the brainstem and spinal cord, which control sympathetic and parasympathetic activities. The activation of the sympathetic nervous system in stressful situations causes the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine, hormones produced in the adrenal medulla. In addition, norepinephrine from sympathetic nerve endings is released into the bloodstream. These hormones bind to receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system to elicit specific body responses. During stress, the individual may experience increased cardiac output and respiration rate. More blood flows to the heart and muscle, which triggers the "flight or fight response."

  • Cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal cortex, is a stress hormone. There is increased circulation of this hormone during stress. Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus stimulates the anterior pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The ACTH then sends signals to the adrenal cortex to synthesize and release cortisol. The more stress an individual is exposed to, the more the signal to produce cortisol is generated. It operates on a negative feedback system.   

  • During stress, the body's energy store is mobilized to ensure a rapid response that optimizes survival. Everyday stressors include money, job, family responsibility, illness, or other factors that threaten an individual's stability. The impact of the stress response is harmful as it predisposes individuals to cardiometabolic diseases and obesity. The relationship between stress on weight and food intake has not been clearly defined. However, there is a link between stress and changes in eating patterns. Some individuals eat more while others eat less during stressful situations. The intensity and duration of stressors may influence the metabolic response of an individual to stress.

  • myAir app aims to help clients achieve optimum health. Health is a continuum; therefore, it is easy to move towards illness or good health. The app may ask questions like, “do you feel like you were more stressed yesterday?” The app may go further to ask: “did you eat more or less yesterday compared to other days?” This helps us establish the type of metabolic reaction the client has to stress. With information like this, myAir team can develop nutrient bars to meet the client’s nutritional needs.


According to this research, it was discovered that 33.2% of individuals who responded to the questionnaire suffer from chronic pain. 29.1% of them suffer from sleep disorders. In addition, 45.5% of the individuals suffering from chronic pain suffer from sleep disorders, while 26.5% suffer from clinical Insomnia. From the results, it was concluded that many suffer from intense sleep disorders due to chronic pain. However, regardless of pain intensity, there is a suitable treatment.


Studies that explain the metabolic relationship between chronic stress and body weight often use animals. It is easier to observe these changes in animals than in humans. In humans, it is difficult to follow the same intensity, frequency, and quantity of stressors in different individuals. Exposure to a stressor can induce a reduction in body weight for up to 10 days, even if the feeding pattern is quickly re-established. An intense weight loss is often observed after chronic exposure to stress. Several studies show that prior repeated exposure to stressors helps rats develop a protective effect against anorexia on subsequent exposure to stress. Intense stress may cause weight loss. However, there are compensatory mechanisms in the body that are responsible for restoring energy balance.

It is important to note that the type of stressor may play a significant role in determining the level of metabolic imbalances. Previous research shows that stress induces weight loss in rats. However, in humans, this effect is not always observed as the experimental design dramatically varies. The usual stressors that are studied in rats are restraint and forced swimming. These situations often evoke strong stress responses. Some argue that rat brains process these conditions as severely traumatic. In addition, various studies indicated that rats adapt fast to repeated exposure to stressors.  

Several studies aim to define the relationship between stress and metabolism in humans often apply mild but chronic stress factors. This study indicates that chronic stressors can induce binge eating, evidenced by an increase in weight. The individuals had an increased urge to eat palatable or sweet foods. Stress activates pathways that stimulate the reward for lovely food; an example is the mesocorticolimbic dopamine pathway. When this pathway is activated, glucocorticoids increase motivating aspects of palatable foods. This supports the comfort food theory postulated by Dallman. It states that eating edible sugar food can provide relief for negative emotions related to stress. Results from a study (Ulrich-Lai et al.) indicate that sucrose uptake inhibits the communication between the brain and stressor signals. This reduces the body’s response to stress. 

myAir app focuses on helping clients deal with stress. myAir team understands that stressors are part of every individual's life, irrespective of how rich or accomplished one might be. The results from this research serve as a framework for the development of the myAir app regarding stress. myAir team understands that stress on an individual's health may affect several areas of functioning, including metabolism. Through careful history and study of client data, we can offer methods to deal with stress. We also provide recommendations to balance the energy input and output to generate a balance in metabolism. 


Are you always involved in strenuous activities during the day? The best choice you can make for yourself is to get started with your app.

Chronic stress is a result of subjecting the body to extreme activities- both internal and external. Stress can be either self-induced or as a result of external factors. Prevalent medical complications can cause internal stress to the body; if not treated early, it might lead to severe illness and affect sleep significantly. Consequently, individuals engage in strenuous duties which induce pain and fatigue in the body. The pain and fatigue in return lead to disturbed sleep and nocturnal awakenings. This effect is due to an imbalance caused by a sharp, itchy, and burning sensation in the body. The side effect of this is sleep disorder- sleep apnea.  

Another cause of chronic stress aside from pain is excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs. The results discovered that some patients are addicted to drugs for a boost in their activities. This habit has subjected the body to severe complications and stress disorders. 

Migration to chronic stress is because the drugs could no longer block the pathway, hence a more potent medication to boost activeness.  Also, excessive intake of alcohol has effects on the body coordination of some patients. This influence made them prone to injuries and body imbalance, leading to stress disorders. 

The general effect of stress, regardless of cause and intensity- is its influence on sleep. Stress provides an inactive sensation to the body as opposed to an agile and relaxed feeling. The inactivity affects the body's metabolism, coordination and leads to interference with REM sleep. Hence the nocturnal awakenings.

Another cause of stress in the body is depression and imbalance in sleep duration. Factors like depression and anxiety can cause sleep disorders. A feeling of depression and anxiety in the body interferes with sleep patterns, which causes sleep apnea. The body experiences sharp and burning sensations when an individual does not observe enough duration of sleep.


Stress may promote the mobilization of fat in specific individuals. It motivates them to eat sweet foods, which increases obesity. Therefore, chronic stress predisposes an individual to metabolic syndrome. Its primary symptoms include hypertension, hyperglycemia, and low HDL cholesterol in the body. The individual is also at risk for cardiovascular disorders and type 2 diabetes mellitus. 

Sustained increased levels of glucocorticoids mark chronic stress. This is a leading cause of insulin resistance. It also affects the thermoregulatory and energy expenditure functions of the brown adipose tissue. The role of glucocorticoids in metabolism is not clearly defined. They are responsible for stimulating lipolysis, glycogenolysis, and gluconeogenesis, which increases glycogen deposition. Individuals with Cushing syndrome, a disorder characterized by excess production and circulation of cortisol, have symptoms like abdominal obesity, preference for fat foods, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. Insulin, which is often released due to glucocorticoids, plays a role in the accumulation of fat. 

Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is produced in the hypothalamus and sympathetic nervous system. It is an important hormone that plays a significant role in the metabolism under stress. NPY acts on the hypothalamus to optimize food intake under the influence of signals from stressors. Studies show that it may be instrumental in reducing anxiety and depressions that accompany stress. NPY is an adrenergic transmitter that may act on its own or modulate the actions of ATP and norepinephrine. In adipose tissues, NPY negates the effects of norepinephrine, thereby limiting lipolysis. Studies show that 

NPY is taken up in fatty tissues after exposure to chronic cold or social defeat, as observed in rats. Administration of NPY antagonists to the fatty tissue of these rats reversed the increasing accumulation of abdominal fat. 

In addition, we can conclude that NPY increases under stress. It stimulates angiogenesis and adipogenesis, which causes increase deposition of fat. Dexamethasone, a form of cortisol, can potentiate the effects of NPY during stress. Stress is an inevitable part of life, hence the need to understand its impact on body metabolism.

myAir app can help clients track changes in metabolism on different days to elicit a pattern. Changes in body weight can be another source of stress and worry to the individual. Many individuals are mortified at the thought of being overweight. Therefore, for those who tend to get fat during stress, the myAir app may be handy. myAir team can make delicious nutrient bars with reduced calories for them. This way, they get to eat sweet foods that will not increase their weight.


The stress response is the body's reaction to situations, actual or potential, that threaten its integrity. The body mobilizes its energy stores to respond to stressful situations appropriately. The metabolic effect of stress on the body varies based on several factors that we do not adequately understand. 

However, studies observe a suppression in appetite in intense but chronic stress. Consequently, the individual begins to lose weight if feeding interventions are not implemented. The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and the corticotropin-releasing hormone are pathways that may help us understand this weight loss phenomenon associated with stress.  

Corticotropin-releasing hormones can activate the sympathetic nervous system and release catecholamines such as norepinephrine. They are implicated in the suppression of appetite, which leads to weight loss. They often exert their effects on the liver and the adipose tissue (store of fat) in the body. 

Other studies suggest that chronic stress may potentiate overconsumption of sweet and palatable foods. Consequently, there is an increase in fat deposition and accumulation, leading to weight gain. The sustained release of glucocorticoids and neuropeptide Y are a possible explanation for this increase in body weight. 

Stressors can activate all the systems we have mentioned above. However, the specific technique and metabolic outcome are dependent on several internal and external factors of the individual. 

Therefore, it is crucial to understand these pathways and systems to prevent morbid states that may result from metabolic imbalances. There should be a balance between energy intake and output to maintain optimum health. 

myAir app is committed to helping clients deal with the effect of stress. Suppose a client is consistently over-eating during stressful periods. In that case, myAir team can develop a meal plan that is delicious but with little fat. Exercises are also encouraged to burn excess fat. Those deficient may be advised to consume vitamins or vitamin products to activate their hunger centers and promote the urge to eat.  


Original publication: The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication

By Anesse Mariotti

Published by Future science OA in 2015

Footnote: No conflict of interest was recorded in this study


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