Money Matters and Restlessness

Exploring the correlations among finances, sleep and mental health

By Alesandra Woolley

Jun 14th, 2022

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Rent, electricity bills, essentials … expenses come in many forms, and often, this never-ending list can lead to feelings of worry and mental unrest. With images of past-due notices and credit card bills floating through your head, it’s not hard to understand why financial stress might keep you up at night.

Sleep issues and worry are known to be linked, so much so that it can be difficult to determine which one comes first in many cases. And while there are ways to work around money-related stress, sleep issues can haunt you in ways that often affect your health and wellness – both physical and mental.

We wanted to know if and how financial worry, specifically related to bills and maintaining one’s standard of living, took a toll on people’s sleep and emotional well-being. Using the data provided by the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), we sifted through 26,752 individuals’ responses to find out more about the many ways in which stress can literally keep a person up at night – and how far it reaches into people’s personal lives at large.

Refreshed or Restless?

A good night’s sleep is at the heart of a balanced lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying productive, promoting a better-functioning immune system – sleep is tied to all of these benefits and more. Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting the amount they need.

Just 37 percent of respondents reported they woke up feeling rested every day of the week. The others, unfortunately, weren’t so fortunate: 27 percent experienced four to six restful nights of sleep per week, 19 percent had just one to three days of proper sleep, and 17 percent said they never woke up feeling rested.

Women seemed to be particularly burdened by sleep woes, with 19 percent experiencing difficulty staying asleep (compared to 15 percent of men), and another 12 percent reported trouble falling asleep in the first place (compared to 8 percent of men).

On the whole, sleep issues and insomnia affect women more frequently than men. This discrepancy is thought to be the result of certain hormonal factors, but our data also show women were more likely than men to experience concern and worry in general. Given the correlation between stress and sleeplessness, it’s no surprise that women end up tossing and turning more frequently.

Bills: No Rest for the Worried

Overdue bills (or even just bills you’re planning to pay on time) can be a huge factor in personal and family stress. So it’s not hard to believe that this type of financial worry can also take a toll on your sleep.

Thirty-six percent of respondents who were reportedly very worried about paying their monthly bills said they never woke up feeling rested, compared to just 13 percent of non-worriers. A nearly identical percentage of people in both camps felt occasionally rested in the morning, but a much higher number of non-worriers said they always felt nice and fresh upon waking: 44 percent, compared to just 23 percent of those who were worried about bills.

While our study did not focus on diagnosed cases of any mental disorder, anxiety and insomnia are often comorbid. Stress and worry can keep you up at night, which causes you to feel tired, but chronic fatigue can also give rise to anxiety. Either way, worrisome thoughts and sleepless nights go hand in hand.

From credit cards to monthly rent, there is no shortage of expenses – not to mention that life is indeed getting more expensive as the years go by. It is, therefore, more important than ever to manage your financial stress to the best of your abilities: This type of chronic worry can open the door to adverse health effects like migraines, mental health issues, and of course, insomnia.

The Burden of Monthly Bills

Respondents who were concerned about paying their monthly bills were four and a half times more likely to have their feelings interfere with their lives in a significant way. Dubbed the “mind/body connection,” the invisible tether that links our emotions to the rest of our lives means that our feelings can have ramifications that extend beyond the limits of our mind. From troubling health effects to relationship stress, worry can easily wreak havoc on someone’s life.

Despair, desperation, and dejectedness … a huge number of heavy, all-encompassing feelings can stem from feelings of anxiousness. According to one clinical psychologist, financial stress, in particular, is known to breed feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. When we asked our respondents how often they experienced feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, over 92 percent of people who were not at all worried about their monthly bills said they never felt either of those emotions.

On the other hand, just 55 percent of those who worried about their bills said they never felt hopeless, and 65 percent said they never felt worthless. Nearly 6 percent of worriers said they felt both of these emotions all of the time, and on the whole, they reported higher incidences of hopelessness most, some, or a little of the time.

Keeping Your Head Above Water

Whether it’s being able to afford your electricity bill or treat yourself to one lavish dinner per month, who wouldn’t want to maintain – or even exceed – their current standard of living?

Thirty-three percent of respondents who categorized themselves as “very worried” about maintaining their standard of living said they never woke up feeling rested, compared to 13 percent of non-worriers. On the other hand, nearly half of respondents who didn’t feel concerned about maintaining their standard of living reported they always felt nice and rested in the morning. Less than one-quarter of worried survey participants felt the same.

No matter your stress level, restful sleep can be downright elusive sometimes. If you’re looking to boost your chances of waking up on the right side of the bed, there are a ton of techniques you can try: stretching, avoiding the snooze button, and a tall glass of water are a good start.

When it came time to count sheep, how often did our respondents experience restless sleep in the face of an uncertain standard of living? Just 2 percent of non-worriers reported having chronically poor sleep, compared to 74 percent who never felt restless. On the other hand, 11 percent of worriers said they slept restlessly all of the time and racked up a good night’s sleep approximately half as often as non-worriers.  

Lifestyle Worries

Respondents who experienced feelings of worry about maintaining their standard of living were not only much more likely to report those feelings interfered with their daily lives, but also they were also more likely to feel hopeless and worthless. Twenty-three percent of people who were very worried about their socio-economic situation felt this stress affected their life on a larger scale, compared to just 6 percent of non-worriers.

Meanwhile, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, no matter how frequent they occurred, were universally more prevalent among people who reported a high level of worry. The only time non-worriers’ numbers surpassed their stressed-out counterparts was in the “never” category.

While one’s battle against chronic stress and worry can span months, years, or even decades, there are indeed coping methods that exist to diminish and eventually banish feelings of dread. Positive self-talk, reframing stressful thoughts as a productive curiosity, and turning to exercises are just some of the ways you can start wiggling free from the forceful grip of worry.

Sound Sleep, Sound Mind

Sleep is sacred. And if one thing is for sure, it’s that nothing tanks your chances of having a good night’s sleep faster than an anxious brain. Whether it was about paying their bills or maintaining their current standard of living, our respondents experienced a real and significant impact on their rest – and more – as a result of their financial worry.

Our survey revealed that people universally woke up less rested when they were worried about their bills and lifestyle, compared to a much higher number of non-worriers who reported more elevated rates of restful sleep. People who were very worried also expressed much more concern that their financial stress was bleeding into other aspects of their lives, as well as elevated instances of hopelessness and worthlessness.

The jury is still out about whether anxious thoughts beget insomnia or vice versa – so why not stack the odds in your favor? With Mattress Advisor, you can consult trusted reviews about every mattress company under the sun to make sure you’re setting yourself up for a successful slumber. And if you toss and turn, our sleep tips are not to be missed. We’ll help you make an informed choice about the most important element of your bedroom. For recommendations, head over to our best mattresses for the money page.

Methodology and Limitations

All data used for this analysis were obtained through the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), a publically available data set. More specifically, the Sample Adult File was used, which contains data from 26,752 respondents.

Due to variations in response rates for each question, some portions of our analysis do not rely on data from all 26,742 respondents; where appropriate, void/null responses were excluded from our calculations. In some cases, percentages may not add up to 100 percent. Depending on the case, this is either due to rounding or due to responses such as “not ascertained, refused, don’t know” being factored into the calculation of a percentage but not presented in the chart or diagram.

For analysis related to those whose feelings interfered with life, the following methodology was employed by the CDC. The question was asked of respondents who felt the following at least some of the time: feeling so sad nothing cheers you up; feeling nervous; feeling restless/fidgety; feeling hopeless; feeling like everything was an effort; and/or feeling worthless. Respondents were asked how often those feelings interfered with their life and were given four options: a lot; some; a little; or not at all.

Certain questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding. For example, individuals who were categorized as “Never wake up feeling rested” were individuals who reported they woke up feeling rested zero days per week. In the same vein, individuals who reported they woke up rested seven days per week were categorized as “Always wake up feeling rested” in our charts and diagrams.

Fair Use Statement

If you find this analysis interesting and want to use it, don’t lose sleep over missing the opportunity to share it. You’re free to reference it – all we request for attribution is that you link back to the full study so that your audience can reference it for themselves.