A pathway to a healthier you

Wind down to sleep

Are you constantly on edge? Restless? Thumping heart? Overtired but find it hard to fall asleep? Or stay asleep? 

Constant or prolonged stress can lead to something called ‘hyperarousal’. Our arousal system is part of the autonomic nervous system that helps control alertness and bodily functions.  

Jess, a RN/RM working in a small remote town, felt on edge and unable to wind down. She had been a midwife for 4 years and her job was very demanding. She often worked overtime and the health service she worked at was always short staffed. 

“I have anxiety, and I wake up so many times during sleep. It’s like I’m ‘tired and wired’ all the time. I really want to sleep but my brain feels so alert!”  

Hyperarousal can cause insomnia and has been found to be a key reason for why people experience insomnia. 

Hyperarousal and its relationship to sleep

Moira Jung, psychologist and CEO of the Sleephealth Foundation told us:

“When the arousal system is hyperactive this leads to hyperarousal. People … try to get to sleep and say, ‘I’m quite tired and I close my eyes and suddenly it’s like a switch turned on.’ It’s like being overtired. Sometimes, they also feel their heartbeat pumping in their chest or in the ear, report feeling nervous and restless, even when they don’t have a big event on.” 

Waking in the night

Moira tells us “People with hyperarousal often don’t feel sleepy at all in the evening, (or after staying up all night doing night shift) particularly when getting into bed and feel like it takes a long time to switch off. Hyperarousal also causes problems waking during the night and being unable to get back to sleep. At the start of the night, we may have enough sleep debt to get to sleep. But once that sleep debt is reduced as the night goes on, there is insufficient sleep debt to suppress hyperarousal, and people can wake up and find it hard to return to sleep.” 

Managing stress to feel calmer

Jess knew she couldn’t control her work environment, but she could take steps to manage her stress levels. She loved being in nature, jogging, and yoga, and started to spend time doing these activities more often. Over time, this worked to help her feel calmer during the day and subsequently during sleep.  

Tips for lowering stress levels and winding down to better sleep:

  • practising relaxation techniques, yoga or mediation
  • walking or swimming
  • having a positive outlook on life 
  • balancing work with hobbies
  • taking annual leave
  • using sick leave when needed
  • ensuring days off are restful (as much as you can)
  • starting regular routines
  • finding good support socially and at work.

shared by Moira Jung, psychologist and CEO of the Sleephealth Foundation


Sleep debt – when you sleep fewer hours than your body needs. For example, if your body needs 8 hours of sleep per night but only gets 6, you have accumulated two hours of sleep debt