Stress-related exhaustion disorder--clinical manifestation of burnout? A review of assessment methods, sleep impairments, cognitive disturbances, and neuro-biological and physiological changes in clinical burnout

Scand J Psychol. 2015 Dec;56(6):626-36. doi: 10.1111/sjop.12251. Epub 2015 Oct 23.


The aim of this paper was to provide an overview of the literature on clinically significant burnout, focusing on its assessment, associations with sleep disturbances, cognitive impairments, as well as neurobiological and physiological correlates. Fifty-nine English language articles and six book chapters were included. The results indicate that exhaustion disorder (ED), as described in the Swedish version of the International Classification of Diseases, seems to be the most valid clinical equivalent of burnout. The data supports the notion that sleep impairments are causative and maintaining factors for this condition. Patients with clinical burnout/ED suffer from cognitive impairments in the areas of memory and executive functioning. The studies on neuro-biological mechanisms have reported functional uncoupling of networks relating the limbic system to the pre-frontal cortex, and decreased volumes of structures within the basal ganglia. Although there is a growing body of literature on the physiological correlates of clinical burnout/ED, there is to date no biomarker for this condition. More studies on the role of sleep disturbances, cognitive impairments, and neurobiological and physiological correlates in clinical burnout/ED are warranted.

Keywords: Clinical burnout; assessment; brain; cognition; exhaustion disorder; physiology; sleep; stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional / diagnosis*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology