Anxiety can affect you in a lot of different ways. The constant worrying thoughts can make it difficult to socialize or work and may even affect your body. But anxiety can also eff with your sleep, and lack of sleep can make you more stressed and anxious.
If you have regular problems sleeping, you may have insomnia. Signs of insomnia include:
- finding it hard to go to sleep regularly
- waking up several times during the night
- waking up early and being unable to go to sleep
- finding yourself still feeling tired when you wake up
- finding it hard to nap during the day, even though you’re tired
Here’s everything you need to know about anxiety with insomnia, and how to deal.
Anxiety and insomnia seem to go together, especially when stress is involved.
Anxiety is a natural response your body has to stress or fear, which can already wreak havoc on your sleep.
The American Psychological Association notes that 43 percent of American adults report that stress has caused them to lie awake at night in the past month. And, poor sleep habits have been linked to illnesses like depression and anxiety.
Beyond stress-induced anxiety, you may have an anxiety disorder if:
- your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- you have panic attacks
- you find it hard to find joy in things
So, does anxiety cause insomnia? Or does insomnia cause anxiety? Well… it could be either. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety can cause sleep problems and sleep deprivation can also lead to an anxiety disorder.
A 2012 review of studies found that psychiatric disorders can impact sleep. Sleep problems are often present or influenced by psychiatric disorders. In the case of anxiety, chronic insomnia may also increase your chances of developing an anxiety disorder.
Another review of studies found that brain activity after periods of sleep deprivation is similar to brain activity in anxiety disorders. More specifically, your brain’s fight-or-flight response turns on when you haven’t slept enough.
Sleep and mental health go together. Sleep deprivation messes with your physical and mental health, but researchers are still figuring out exactly what’s going on in your brain.
A research review showed that a good night’s sleep helps your mental and emotional strength, while chronic sleep deprivation can cause negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.
While scientists don’t know all the ins and outs, they have discovered that sleep disruption really messes with your brain by affecting neurotransmitters and stress hormones.
This effect can impair your thinking and how you regulate your emotions. It also explains why insomnia can amplify psychiatric disorders and vice versa.
If you find you’re having trouble sleeping at least three times a week, try talking with your doctor about your options.
They’ll probably perform a physical exam and have you keep a sleep journal for a few weeks. From there, they might refer you to a sleep specialist who can complete a sleep study.
Also known as a polysomnogram, a sleep study electronically monitors your sleep activities so a specialist can interpret what’s going on with your brain and body while you sleep.
Types of insomnia that may be to blame
- Acute insomnia is usually caused by a stressful life event that’s amping your stress levels and causing you to lose sleep for a short time. It often resolves without any treatment.
- Chronic insomnia is when you can’t sleep over a long period. It’s usually considered chronic if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least three nights a week for 3 months or longer.
- Comorbid insomnia occurs with another condition, which could be anxiety and depression, known to be associated with changes in sleep.
There are both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical treatments for insomnia that you can discuss with your doctor. You may need to try some different treatments before finding the most effective one for you.
The American College of Physicians recommends cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) as the first route to treat chronic insomnia.
This process helps you recognize your emotions and attitudes that affect your sleep. You can then learn how to change them to get back some Zzz’s.
What about sleeping meds?
Some over-the-counter (OTC) medications can be used for sleep, but it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking anything.
Even OTC medications can have side effects and they may not help you solve your sleep problems long term.
If your doc thinks meds can help you, they may prescribe you a sleep medication like eszopiclone (Lunesta) or zolpidem (Ambien). Keep in mind: These can be habit-forming and should be taken with precaution.
If your anxiety is affecting your sleep habits, try these lifestyle changes to help you curb your anxiety and get a good night’s sleep.
- Just breathe. Try meditation or breathing exercises to help curb your anxiety before you go to sleep. Taking a bath might also help you relax and help quiet your mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep.
- Try some magnesium. Magnesium supplements may help your anxiety and sleep. Magnesium’s relaxing effect may be due to its ability to regulate melatonin production, a hormone that guides your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
- Put down the electronics. Checking your phone or watching TV before bed might be overstimulating and make you associate your bed with activity, not sleep.
- Keep to a schedule. Help train yourself to sleep by keeping a bedtime and wake-up time.
- Workout on the reg. Regular physical activity can help people fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and wake up during the night less often.
- Avoid coffee and booze before bed. Stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can keep you awake and alert, rather than relaxed and sleepy.
Anxiety and insomnia are basically BFFs but that doesn’t mean you have to stay friends.
You can introduce lifestyle changes to see if that helps you sleep. But it’s a good idea to see a doctor if your anxiety and lack of sleep are disrupting your life.
Don’t settle and assume you have to live on no sleep. Your doc can help you find the best treatment option to get you back to a good night’s sleep.