This study assessed physiological activity in patients with chronic insomnia before sleep, during sleep and in response to acute stress. Twenty-four subjects with chronic insomnia and 25 normal sleepers slept in the laboratory overnight and were given a stressful performance task in the morning. Heart rate was significantly higher in the insomniac group at night. The next morning, heart rate was not different at baseline, but was significantly higher during the performance task in the insomniac group. These results are discussed as supporting the notion that insomniacs have greater physiological responsivity to stress. Further research is needed to determine if altered physiological activity is a cause or consequence of insomnia.