Sleep & Stress

Stressed, sleepless and waking at 3am? Sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo discusses the relationship between sleep and stress, and what you can do to take back control of your sleep pattern.


Stressed, sleepless and waking at 3am? Forty Winks is proud to have partnered with sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo, bringing you the latest and most important health tips and advice to ensure you get a better night’s sleep in these times.

If you’re one of the 60% of individuals who are ‘moderately or extremely’ distressed during COVID-19 lockdown, as found in a recent study of over 17,000 individuals; this article is for you.

As a sleep expert, it’s a pleasure to bring light to the subject so you can understand exactly why you can’t fall asleep and keep waking up - truly. Further to that, it’s even more humbling to bring you the advice you need to know to remedy it - starting tonight.

First: why can’t I sleep when I am stressed?

When you’re feeling stressed, research shows you have elevated levels of cortisol - an awakening hormone which leads you to feel anxious, wired and unable to switch off. 

With an opposite relationship with sleepiness hormone melatonin, when cortisol is high, melatonin is low. Typically, melatonin is what allows you to fall asleep with ease. 

I’ve also noticed I’m waking up at 3am. Why?

Academics indicate your circadian rhythm, 24-hour body clock, naturally directs your body to heighten cortisol levels around 3am - it helps your body prepare for the morning ahead. 

If your levels are already high, instead of staying in sleep, you will wake up - often with a chaotic stream of thoughts. 

What can I do about it?

To lower your cortisol prior to bed, I recommend my Signature 7 step bedtime routine. This same pattern (sans steps 4 and 5) can be used to help you return to sleep at 3am too. 

  1. Block out blue light: studies show blue light limits melatonin, the hormone to make you sleepy. Without enough melatonin, you’re left wide awake - even if it’s 11pm.
  2. Diffuse lavender: clinical trials have found it can lessen anxiety by 45%
  3. Have a ‘Goodnight Phone Alarm’: trigger yourself to get off your device with an alarm labelled “sleep better” - this also acts as a psychological cue, reminding you of your sleep goals.
  4. Have a shower: the drop in body temperature - by emerging from your shower to the bathroom - encourages the body to produce sleepiness hormone melatonin, research shows.
  5. Have a sleep supplement and sleep tea. Look for a magnesium based sleep supplement, as it’s been found in academic studies to reduce anxiety by 31%.
  6. Listen to white noise: a recent study found white noise can reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep by 38%. 
  7. Practice deep breathing: it activates the parasympathetic nervous system to help you feel calm, according to academic evidence.

Remember - stress and sleeplessness can be managed; when you have the right strategy and support. All I ask you to do is take action before another night passes.

Written by Sleep Expert Olivia Arezzolo.

Olivia is a Sleep Expert (Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology); Certificate of Sleep Psychology, Diploma of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine); Certificate of Fitness III + IV).

Featured on The Today Show and regularly writing with Daily Mail, and Body and Soul; Olivia’s expertise is delivering straightforward, science-based strategies to improve sleep.


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