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Guide for Sleeping with Anxiety

woman drinking coffee in bed

If you find yourself struggling to get a good night’s sleep every night, studies have shown that anxiety could be the root cause of your sleep problems. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem, with 20% of American adults and 25% of American teens diagnosed every year. Having an anxiety disorder can negatively impact your sleep and insufficient sleep can have negative effects on your overall health, creating an endless cycle. While this guide is not intended for medical advice surrounding sleep and anxiety, it is important to understand the connection between the two and how they impact physical and mental wellness.

What Does it Mean to Have Anxiety?

Having an anxiety disorder brings with it a cycle of feeling of worry and unease. While it is natural and normal to feel anxiety on occasion, that feeling of distress becomes excessive with anxiety disorders. At times your concerns may be unwarranted or not proportional to the situation, they may even become so severe that they affect your everyday life. When it comes to sleep anxiety, it is difficult to determine if your lack of sleep is a result of a specific anxiety disorder or if your anxiety heightens because you cannot sleep. That said, there are different types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Causes of Anxiety

The exact causes of anxiety remain unknown. In fact, researchers believe that there is no single cause behind anxiety disorders. Instead, research suggests that there is an interplay of factors such as genetics, family history, and negative life experiences that contribute to the disorder. Drug use and other health issues can also contribute to symptoms of anxiety.

Symptoms of Anxiety

The symptoms of anxiety disorders can manifest both emotionally and physically. Emotionally speaking, people with anxiety may feel extremely nervous or have an overwhelming sense of impending doom. These feelings can affect one’s concentration and mood, leading to irritability and restlessness. Physically, anxiety disorders can prompt muscle tension, rapid breathing and heartbeat, sweating, trembling, gastrointestinal distress, and fatigue. Depression is also commonly associated with anxiety, the two disorders typically going hand-in-hand. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), nearly 50% of people with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

How Anxiety Affects Sleep

Nighttime anxiety looks different for every individual, but it often inhibits sleep. As we previously mentioned, it is difficult to distinguish trouble falling asleep due to anxious thoughts or increased anxiety as a result of being unable to fall asleep. Either way, nighttime anxiety contributes to a lack of sleep, which can later increase anxious thoughts even more.

Sleep difficulties have been found in people with various types of anxiety, insomnia being one of them. For example, studies have shown that 90% of people with PTSD have insomnia. Research has even revealed connections between anxiety disorders and changes in the sleep cycle. Anxiety can have a negative impact on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is where our most vivid dreams occur. This means that anxiety may even provoke disturbing dreams or nightmares, reinforcing negative associations and fear around going to sleep.

It is important to remember that anxiety and sleep deprivation have a bidirectional relationship. Anxiety makes it hard to sleep, while sleep deprivation worsens symptoms of anxiety. It is a cyclical relationship that can eventually cause distress about sleep. This feeling of distress creates a type of sleep anxiety referred to as anticipatory anxiety. With anticipatory anxiety, even when you successfully fall asleep, there is a possibility that you will wake up with anxiety in the middle of the night. This sleep fragmentation can further reduce the quantity and quality of sleep.

How to Soothe Your Anxiety and Improve Your Sleep

Anxiety disorders are one of the most treatable mental health disorders. If anxiety is contributing to a lack of sleep, or if disrupted sleep is leading to heightened anxiety, there are a number of ways to soothe your anxiety and improve your quality of sleep. Of course, consult with a doctor before trying any therapies or medications:

  1. Develop a Sleep Routine - You want to create a routine to transition your body from day to night to ease into relaxation and prepare for bed. While this routine can differ from person to person, it is important to establish a set of nighttime activities that condone relaxation. This may look like taking a bath, reading a book, or meditating.
  2. Setting a Bedtime - Sleep research has established the importance of going to bed at the same time each night. By doing so, you will gradually train your body to function according to this schedule and it will become easier to fall asleep. In this case, consistency is key.
  3. Do Not Lie in Bed Awake - If you find yourself having trouble sleeping, do not just lie there for an extended period stressing about sleep. Doing so might allow your brain to consume you with thoughts and worries, further delaying sleep. Instead, if you are unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes, try going through your sleep routine again.
  4. Get the Right Bed - If your mattress is contributing to poor sleep hygiene, it might be time to look at an upgrade. For a bed that promises comfort and support, checkout our BedInABox® mattress selection, with options available for all types of sleepers.
  5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - This is a common treatment for anxiety disorders. This is a type of talk therapy that works to reorient negative thinking.
  6. Medication - There are several medications approved to treat anxiety disorders and their resulting symptoms. Such medications include anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and beta-blockers.
  7. Relaxation Exercises - This may be a component of CBT, but it helps to practice relaxation techniques in order to calm your anxiety. These techniques can include deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.

Clearly, having an anxiety disorder can affect many aspects of your life, including sleep. Prolonged periods of unrest can induce anxiety, which can lead to more trouble sleeping, which creates a never ending cycle of anxiety and sleep deprivation. However, there are simple steps you can take to improve your sleep quality if you experience nighttime anxiety so you can finally get the rest you deserve.