Chronic insomnia and activity of the stress system: a preliminary study

J Psychosom Res. 1998 Jul;45(1):21-31. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3999(97)00302-4.


The aim of this study was to assess whether there is an association between chronic insomnia and the activity of the stress system. Fifteen young adult insomniacs (<40 years) were studied. After an adaptation night, each subject was recorded in the sleep laboratory for three consecutive nights. During this period, 24-hour urine specimens were collected for measurements of urinary free cortisol (UFC), catecholamines, and growth hormone (GH). The 24-hour UFC levels were positively correlated with total wake time (p=0.05). In addition, 24-hour urinary levels of catecholamine metabolites, DHPG, and DOPAC were positively correlated with percent stage 1 sleep (p<0.05) and wake time after sleep onset (WTASO) (p<0.05). Norepinephrine tended to correlate positively with percent stage 1 sleep (p=0.063) and WTASO (p=0.074), and negatively with percent slow-wave sleep (p=0.059). Twenty-four-hour urinary GH excretion was detectable in only three insomniacs, two of whom had low indices of sleep disturbance. We conclude that, in chronic insomnia, the activity of both limbs of the stress system (i.e., the HPA axis and the sympathetic system) relates positively to the degree of objective sleep disturbance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Catecholamines / blood
  • Catecholamines / urine
  • Female
  • Human Growth Hormone / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / urine
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology*
  • Polysomnography
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / complications
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / metabolism
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors


  • Catecholamines
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone