How many times do you go to bed, ready to sleep, but then your mind tricks you, and it starts racing just when your head touches the pillow? If your nights are reserved for overthinking and going through to-do lists instead of relaxing, you probably don’t manage to get enough quality sleep.
Lying in bed doesn’t mean that you are resting in your mind is working against you. In some cases, anxiety contributes to poor sleep, while in others sleep deprivation causes anxiety. What is the primary cause, anxiety, or sleep problems? How do they interfere with one another? Is it possible to prevent one or both of them?
Since many are struggling with one or both of these problems, our guide to anxiety and sleep will give you the answers to these, and many other boiling questions.
Anxiety is a mental disorder that can be considered as one of those modern age diseases since according to the Anxiety And Depression Association of America (ADAA), it affects around 40 million adults, which is 18.1% of our population.
Feeling anxious can be a normal and healthy emotion when it occurs from time to time in certain situations, but when it becomes overwhelming and starts to take over control, you should not neglect the way you feel.
ADAA defined anxiety as a feeling of increased tension and worry thoughts, often followed by increased blood pressure. Mild types can be hard to recognize and diagnose, but in more severe cases, these emotions can even hinder normal daily functioning. However, it has been estimated that only 37% of people with this disorder receive treatment.
If you notice that some of the following symptoms are becoming persistent, you may have a generalized anxiety disorder and should seek professional help.
- Feeling like being on edge most of the time
- You are easily irritated
- You worry too much
- You are struggling with falling or staying asleep
Sleep disorders sometimes trigger other conditions or go along with other disorders. The National Institutes of Health estimates that around 40 millions of Americans have some type of sleep disorder, while an additional 20 million experience occasional sleep disturbances.
Some of the most common sleep disorders that keep millions of Americans sleep-deprived include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, etc.
All of them result in abnormal sleep patterns which tend to hinder people’s mental health. If you have difficulties with falling or staying asleep for longer than a month, you should consider visiting a sleep clinic, where you can take a sleep study to find out what type of sleep problem you are dealing with.
The optimal amount of sleep for adults is from 7 to 9 hours per night, but according to ADAA, an average adult sleeps only for 6.6 hours every night. Developing an unhealthy sleep routine is pretty easy, but getting back on track is not, and you shouldn’t let irregular sleep patterns become a part of your lifestyle.
Which Disorder Came First?
There is no rule when it comes to this, both disorders can be the primary cause and trigger the other one, so this relationship is strong, and it goes both ways. People who developed symptoms of anxiety first, usually start staying up late because they are overthinking, worrying, or they are too stressed to fall asleep. On the other hand, people who are sleep-deprived tend to develop symptoms of anxiety over time.
One common symptom of anxiety and sleep issues is depression, which makes things more complicated because people tend to give up on treatments. When a person suffers from both disorders, it can be hard even for specialists to determine which one is the primary one in order to know how to treat them.
Every case is different because it all depends on circumstances, age, medical history, lifestyle, etc.
For example, teenagers and younger people are more likely to develop sleep problems first, and later the symptoms of depression and anxiety due to their specific lifestyle. On the other hand, adults have been exposed to a lot more stress, the majority experience sleep difficulties due to stress at least once a week, while some have sleep disturbances several times per week.
Many have reported that their anxiety increased the stress about falling asleep and that their cognitive abilities were affected the next day.
While scientists are working hard to unravel many medical mysteries, the exact causes of sleep and anxiety, and the way they interfere remain mostly unclear. The good news is that these conditions can be treated and put under control; hence, it is vital to ask for professional help, because unfortunately a lot of people with these disorders do not do that.
When you are diagnosed with anxiety and some sleep disorder, things are a bit more tricky, but with the help of professionals, you can treat them successfully. Specialists usually prescribe medications or therapy, but often, both methods are necessary if you want to treat both problems at the same time.
You can also try other forms of treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can successfully reduce the symptoms of insomnia and anxiety. This therapy can help patients learn how to detach from negative thoughts, with the help of cognitive restructuring, distraction, or exposure therapy.
In case of severe symptoms that require medical treatment, low doses of diazepam are prescribed to patients, but they are only a short-term solution and should not be used longer than four weeks.
Diazepam is commonly used to treat anxiety, but it also induces drowsiness, which is what patients suffering from both disorders need. Since tiredness is considered as a side effect of this drug, people who are not experiencing sleep disturbances should keep that in mind.
Tips for Improving Your Sleep and Managing Anxiousness
Regardless if you already have one or both of these disorders, you should nurture your mental health and maintain a sleep routine. Since some categories of people are more likely to develop these disorders, for example, teenagers, new moms, or shift workers, here is our list of suggestions on how to improve the quality of your sleep and prevent anxiousness.
- Talk to someone. If you are not comfortable talking about your feelings with people you know, consider visiting a counselor or psychologist, they will help you understand what is going on and provide guidance.
- Reduce the time you spend on social networks. Staring at your phone before bedtime will keep your brain awake, and scrolling too much through social networks has also become a valid trigger for depression and anxiety.
- Calm yourself before going to bed. Practicing some breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation can help reduce stress and prepare your mind and body for sleeping.
- Create a bedtime routine. This should include any rituals that can make you feel good about yourself. Take a long bath, pamper yourself, read, or write a to-do list. Also, you can start writing a journal of your thoughts and worries, as that way you will be able to express them in a way and go to bed more relaxed.
- Start exercising. This can be a great way to manage stress and negative thoughts, but also to exhaust yourself and prepare for sleep.
- Do not stay in bed awake. If you are ready to fall asleep but it’s just not happening, get up, take a walk around the house, drink water, read something, but avoid using a smartphone or exposing yourself to any source of blue light.
Dealing with any type of disorder is a struggle, but when you have to fight two of them at the same time, it gets even harder. The most important thing is to try to remain reasonable and patient and get the help you need to overcome these problems.
Alaska Sleep Clinic is the only lab in Alaska with a psychologist that specializes in sleep disorders. Read more about Dr. Angie Randazzo.
Selena Thomas is a content writer who loves sharing tips on healthy lifestyles. A writer by day and a reader by night, she's fond of writing articles that can help people in improving both physical and mental health. Also, she loves traveling and inspires people on her blogs.