How stress and anxiety can cause insomnia among undergraduate students

Stress is something that everybody faces on daily basis. There are so many factors that can influence stress among undergraduates. One effect of stress is that it can cause sleep deprivation. Frequently being in a heightened state of alertness can delay the onset of sleep and cause rapid, anxious thoughts to occur at night. Insufficient sleep can then cause further stress. Additionally, anxiety can cause serious sleep issues, such as insomnia. While experiencing anxiety attacks may cause many people to feel exhausted or fatigued, the act of falling asleep may actually become harder due to the anxiety and the body's sense of worry or fear.


Stress is primarily a physical response and is defined as a condition typically characterized by the symptoms of mental and physical tension or strain, as depression or hypertension, which can result from a reaction to a situation in which a person feels threatened or pressured or sometimes both. Stress is a central concept for understanding both life and evolution. Learning and memory can be affected by stress. Although an optimal level of stress can enhance ability, too much stress can cause physical and mental health problems reduce self-esteem and may affect the academic achievements of students. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to “fight or flight” mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion. Stress arises when the combination of internal and external pressures exceeds the individual’s resources to cope with their situation.

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For many young adults, school is the best time of life. These critical years can also be undermined by depression, anxiety, and stress. Students are very likely to experience some or many stressors which may test their ability to cope: Adapting to a new environment, balancing a heavy workload, making new friends, becoming more independent, and dealing with myriad of other issues. Excessive workload and homework make students tense and this may lead to inability to give proper time to different study related activities.

Stress is the most undermined syndrome in our society that is neglected since the element of mental health associated with it. Excessive stress could lead to psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. When stress is perceived negatively or becomes excessive, students experience physical and psychological impairment. However, stress can come in different ways in an individual’s daily life. Stress is also viewed as the body’s reaction, both neurologically and physiologically, to adapt to a new condition. When there is a change in life, we adjust ourselves to fit in the new condition. Stressors have a major influence on mood, our sense of well-being, behavior, and health. Acute stress responses in young, healthy individuals may be adaptive and typically do not impose a health burden. However, if the threat is unremitting, particularly in older or unhealthy individuals, the long-term effects of stressors can damage health. Stress can also affect the emotional intelligence. It negatively impacts our ability to intuit other people’s feelings, convey our own feelings and communicate. Stress can also prevent us from being aware of and controlling our emotions, getting along with others, adapting to change, and maintaining a positive mood.


The events that provoke stress are called stressors, and they cover a whole range of situations everything from outright physical danger to making a class presentation or taking a semester's worth of your toughest subject. Some of the main stressor among students are:

Academics: The worry about academic performance can cause stress symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia or changes in your appetite and overall mood. According to Morehouse State University, youth have poor study habits and cram last minute studying in the night before exams. The fear of exams and workload create stress among students. The first cause of stress among university students is a lot of assignments.

Finances: All young people feel stress about money! Most young people do not have jobs, or the jobs that they do have don't pay as much as they would like for them to. They want to maintain the lifestyle and fulfill the demand of articles like mobile, bikes and cars etc. If they fail to fulfill the requirement then it creates a stress. Relationships: Relationships are another big aspect of stress. Everyone wants to have friends, whether they are close friends or just acquaintances. If a person finds that making friends is a bit harder than he/ she had expected, stress is present here as well. Career- Job Stress is a chronic disease caused among the current youth that negatively affect an individual`s performance and/or overall well-being of his body and mind. The high competition, an inconsiderate work colleague, a lack of job security, there are many causes of job stress. The students have fear of not getting the job opportunity and competition in the market.

Time Management: A lack of time management also causes stress on youth, whether secondary or tertiary. Balancing academics, peer activities, and home life can be difficult. Toss in a part-time job and the challenge increases


Anxiety is a basic human emotion consisting of fear and uncertainty that typically appears when an individual perceives an event as being a threat to the ego or self esteem. Anxiety is defined as an emotional state consisting of feeling, tension, apprehension, nervousness, and worry with activation or arousal of the autonomic nervous system, these are differentiated as state and trait anxiety. Individuals with high levels of anxiety generally hold heightened levels of trait anxiety, but in evaluative situations, the state anxiety also elevates. Anxiety is also an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. Anxiety is a mental health disorder characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one's daily activities. Examples of anxiety disorders include panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms include stress that's out of proportion to the impact of the event, inability to set aside a worry and restlessness. Treatment includes counseling or medication, including antidepressants.


Insomnia is defined as difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep, or early morning awakening, associated with impaired daytime functioning, for example, reduced cognitive performance, fatigue or mood disturbances. The Third Edition of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD-3) identifies three distinct types of insomnia namely short-term insomnia, chronic insomnia, and other insomnia (when the patient has insomnia symptoms but does not meet the criteria for the other two types of insomnia). Unlike prior editions of the ICSD, the ICSD-3 classification system no longer contains psychophysiological insomnia, idiopathic insomnia, inadequate sleep hygiene and paradoxical insomnia as sub-classifications because they were deemed to be unreliable in terms of reproducibility in clinical practice. A new umbrella category, referred to as ‘insomnia disorder’ was introduced, and is also used in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5)


Risk factors for developing insomnia include a previous episode of insomnia, a family history of insomnia and predisposition toward being more easily aroused from sleep. Environmental causes of insomnia include noise, temperature, light, electronic devices and uncomfortable sleeping positions. Substance abuse and dependence on cocaine, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine contribute to insomnia. Aging is one of the most significant factors associated with changes in sleep. Insomnia is prevalent in pregnant women possibly due to discomfort, depression and other pregnancy-related complications. Medical conditions e.g. cancer, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory conditions, cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases and certain medicines used in the management of these conditions can impair sleep, leading to insomnia


Most undergraduate students suffer insomnia as a result of stress and anxiety. The anxiety level usually increases during examination or awaiting result of examination of test. Anxiety among students can also occur when the school portal for course registration is on the verge of closure and the student does not have any hope of raising fund for his/her school fees; this can result to mental stress and anxiety thereby causes the students to have difficulty sleeping.


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