Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Stress & Sleeplessness | Fight or Flight? | What are Cognitive Distortions | CBT-I | It’s About Balance
It’s a crazy world we live in these days. Before jumping in your car to get to work, maybe you flip on the news before you start your workday. It’s essential to stay in tune with current events and news, but you need to ask yourself the question: how is negative news affecting your sleep?
Stress & Sleeplessness
You may be exposing yourself to too much news if you notice a change in the quality of your sleep. Acute insomnia can occur suddenly over a short period of time, while chronic insomnia lasts for three months or longer. Common types of insomnia include:
- Onset: Trouble falling asleep
- Maintenance: Trouble staying asleep
- Early Morning Awakening: Waking up too early
- Mixed: A combination of all three types: onset, maintenance, and early morning
Fight or Flight?
Overexposure to negative news can lead to increased secretion of stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. They cause a fight-or-flight response, raising your heart rate, circulating blood to organs and muscles, preparing your body to react to perceived danger.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this fight-or-flight response was necessary for our ancestors to evade threats to their survival; however, our days of running from wildebeest are long over, but we’re still physiologically wired to react to stressful stimuli.
These overwhelming feelings that stem from today’s news cause our bodies to go into a state of hyperarousal, affecting the quality of our sleep and leading to long-term conditions like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
What are Cognitive Distortions?
What we see in the news can lead to racing or negative thoughts and worries, which can manifest as cognitive distortions. The stillness of nighttime is the perfect environment for thoughts and worries, perhaps related to what you’ve seen in the news, to float to the forefront of your mind. Types of cognitive distortions include:
- Personalization: You overestimate your involvement in a negative situation
- Catastrophizing: A tendency to expect a disaster or worse event in life 
- Filtering: You only focus on a small part of a situation
- Mindreading: When you make inferences on what people are thinking based on your perception of their actions 
- Emotional Reasoning: When you make decisions based on what feels right to you, not facts
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)
If you feel that you need help to overcome your insomnia, CBT-I is an effective treatment to overcome negative thoughts. It’s a comprehensive approach that targets your thoughts and behaviors, essentially helping you relearn how to sleep.
The American Association of Sleep Medicine (AASM) guideline recommends psychological and behavioral interventions (including, but not limited to, cognitive-behavioral therapy [CBT]) as effective in the treatment of chronic comorbid insomnia as well as primary insomnia.
CBT-I-based programs are available online that provide you with the guidance and information you need to get your sleep back on track.
It’s About Balance
What’s key is striking a balance between keeping yourself informed about breaking news and other areas of your life, like spending quality time with your family, enjoying hobbies, or taking the time to enjoy a good book.
A good rule of thumb is to live for the moment and not let exaggerated fears get the best of you. Exercise to alleviate stress and improve your sleep quality. Also, avoid stress eating, or heavy or spicy foods in the evening as it can lead to indigestion, resulting in sleep disturbance.
If you like to have a few cocktails to relax, try to limit your consumption to a couple of times a week and avoid drinking too close to bedtime.
Although alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it interferes with you reaching your REM phase of sleep, which happens to be your most restorative sleep phase. This disturbance is one of the reasons why you wake up feeling tired after a night of overindulgence.
It’s in your best interest to remove the sources of stress from your life and focus on what makes you happiest. Don’t sweat the small stuff; live in the present, and be thankful for all the great things you have going for you. You’ll be a lot happier, and it will help you get the sleep you need to feel rested.
However, if you continue to have problems sleeping, it’s in your best interest to seek the advice of a sleep doctor.
- Schmidt, R. E., Harvey, A. G., & Van der Linden, M. (2011). Cognitive and affective control in insomnia. Frontiers in psychology, 2, 349. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00349.
- Chand SP, Kuckel DP, Huecker MR. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) [Updated 2020 Jun 9]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470241/
- Schutte-Rodin, S., Broch, L., Buysse, D., Dorsey, C., & Sateia, M. (2008). Clinical guideline for the evaluation and management of chronic insomnia in adults. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 4(5), 487–504. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2576317/