As you lie in bed, half awake, your mind keeps track of the time. The following day, when your alarm goes off, and you have to get up despite feeling too weary to function, you will remember the night before.
Another day of extreme sleepiness, during which you won’t be able to muster the willpower or focus on accomplishing even the most basic tasks. The more you force yourself to sleep, the less likely you are to do so, which is ironic.
Remember that you are not alone if caught in a never-ending cycle of increasing worry and less sleep.
Anxiety is a well-known cause of poor sleep quality, but does the inverse hold true? Could insomnia also be a source of anxiety? Yes, it can.
In this article, you will learn the two-way dynamics of anxiety and insomnia and the exact mechanics behind this link. As a result, your stress will decrease, and you’ll be able to sleep better tonight, thanks to what you’ll learn.
Fear, threat, or stress can all trigger anxious feelings in certain people. Anxiety is an adaptive response that helps the brain and body avoid actual and perceived danger. Anxiety is a functional evolutionary adaptation that helps us avoid dangerous situations.
Anxiety may have originally served to keep us safe from danger. Still, nowadays, it’s more commonly used to cope with everyday stresses like those at work, at home, or in our personal lives.
The body’s “fight or flight” reaction is activated in response to anxiety and the release of stress hormones. In addition, the sympathetic nervous system is activated during the fight or flight reaction, making the body ready to either fight off the threat or escape it.
The amygdala is an almond-shaped collection of brain nuclei that is the seat of fear, rage, and other primal emotions of the fight or flight response. Several quick changes occur in the body during this reaction, including:
- Muscles receive 300 percent more blood than usual.
- Pupils widen to allow in more light.
- As the body’s blood supply is redirected to the muscles, saliva production and digestion suffer.
- When your muscles need fuel and oxygen, your blood pressure goes up.
- The release of adrenaline enables accelerated motion and enhanced cognitive performance.
- In the event of approaching flight, perspiration increases to help cool the body.
Chronic anxiety, whether prompted by real or imagined dangers, negatively impacts both mental and physical health. Persistent activation of the neurological system can interfere with digestion, sleep, emotional control, and the immunological response.
Sleeplessness is medically referred to as insomnia. While sleeplessness is a common symptom of insomnia, the word describes a spectrum of sleep disturbances.
Insomnia encompasses a spectrum of sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep, feeling exhausted or unrested, or waking up too early. Anxiety is a prominent cause of insomnia, but there are many more.
Differentiating Anxiety From Stress
Anxiety, like stress, is an emotional reaction to a set of stimuli, both external and internal. The risk of financial loss or a near-fatal vehicle crash is one example. In what ways, though, do they vary?
The first thing to understand is that stress is the body’s temporary reaction to specific, outside dangers. The “nonspecific reaction of the body to any demand” is how the “founder of stress research,” Hans Selye, described stress. So, for example, you unconsciously stiffen up when you see a car approaching you.
Meanwhile, the stress reaction in the body can lead to feelings of worry. While tension disappears as soon as you remove yourself from a dangerous situation, anxiety sticks like an uninvited houseguest.
Using the same analogy, you can still feel apprehensive even after swerving your automobile to escape an accident.
You might be worried about the “what ifs” in this situation, such as “what if my reflexes are not quick the next time?” or “what if I hadn’t been concentrating just now?” As you can see, anxiety triggers intrusive, repetitive thoughts about hypothetical dangers.
Anxiety And Insomnia: How Are They Related?
About 40 million Americans struggle with long-term sleep problems, and an additional 20 million experience periodic difficulties sleeping, as reported by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
There’s no denying the connection between anxiety and insomnia.
Mental hyperarousal, often characterized by concern or anxiety, significantly contributes to sleeplessness. Of course, we’ve all had those sleepless nights where we couldn’t get comfortable, maybe because we were anxious about an upcoming presentation or the bills that needed to be paid. Even occasional tension like that is enough to keep most people awake. However, those who suffer from anxiety problems are exponentially more likely to have trouble dropping off at night.
Those diagnosed with an anxiety illness, such as those we’ve discussed, tend to respond more strongly to sleep disturbances.
A person’s “sleep reactivity” refers to how much their stress level affects their sleep, whether it be trouble getting to or remaining asleep.
Insomnia is a common problem for people with anxiety disorders because their persistent state of concern makes it difficult to relax enough to fall asleep. Anxiety over falling asleep can worsen insomnia symptoms and perpetuate the problem.
Sometimes, a person’s regular sleep patterns might be disrupted by their anxiety problem. For example, research shows that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deep sleep stage linked with vivid dreams. It can be disrupted by feelings of anxiety, concern, or hyperarousal just before bedtime.
Anxiety can lead to restless sleep, which might make one feel tired upon awakening because of the nightmares they have. A typical phobia of sleep is nightmares, which various factors can trigger.
Although we’ve covered how anxiety may lead to or worsen insomnia and other sleep disorders, there is also evidence that suggests that not getting enough sleep can amplify the symptoms of anxiety disorders. In some cases, this leads to the development of anxiety in the first place.
Researchers have observed that people with anxiety disorders are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of sleep deprivation, which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety and insomnia are closely associated and can increase one other’s symptoms, but it’s unclear which occurs first.
Overcoming Insomnia And Anxiety
1. Take it Easy
Your heart may be racing because your “fight or flight” reaction has been activated. At the same time, you lie awake at night worrying about something. Get your body back into a condition of rest if you can.
Taking a few slow, deep breaths can be all that’s needed. Breathe through your nose until your entire stomach swells, slowly letting the air out through your mouth. Spending even a short amount of time doing this may significantly impact your mood.
You may also train your muscles to relax on purpose. From your head to your toes, visualize your muscles becoming progressively relaxed and heavy. Keep uplifting mental pictures or thoughts in mind. Visualize yourself in a soothing environment, such as on a warm, sandy beach or in a quiet woodland clearing.
2. Stop Sitting Around And Start Doing Something
It might help to shift your attention to something else entirely to calm down. Sometimes you find yourself tossing and turning in the middle of the night due to recurring anxieties. Getting out of bed and doing something else for five or ten minutes is what you need to do to regain control of your mind.
Do something that soothes you and doesn’t tax your senses too much. There are many ways to relax:
- Put on some calming tunes.
- Practice some basic yoga poses.
- Read a few pages from your favorite book.
Once you’ve had some time to think positively, you may go back to bed and find it much easier to relax and fall asleep.
To avoid increasing your anxiety and making it even harder to fall asleep, avoid activities like checking your phone or watching overly stimulating TV.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Eight to nine hours of sleep every night is recommended for adults. You must make time for this quantity of sleep.
Please hit the hay at least 8 hours before your morning alarm goes off. If you don’t get enough sleep because you went to bed late, you may discover that you toss and turn all night long.
A night of worrying and stress-inducing thoughts like these will likely prevent you from sleeping soundly.
4. Make Plans For The Next Day And Stay Organized
Be sure to do some pre-day-of-anxiety preparation if you often find yourself worrying as you go off to sleep. When you do this, you may rest easier knowing that tomorrow will bring no surprises.
You may write a list of things you need to accomplish. Before going to bed and then doing those things (such as ironing and laying out your clothing), you wake up feeling accomplished.
5. Sleep Hygiene
Generalizing this advice, there are a few things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep.
Following a consistent bedtime and waking time is recommended, even on the weekends. Maintaining a bedtime routine increases the likelihood that you will be able to drift off to sleep each night.
Reduce your use of sweets, caffeine, and alcohol after 2 A.M. These chemicals can make you feel alert and agitated, which might increase your anxiety levels. If you wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, cutting back on fluids before bed may help.
In addition, try to put away any electronic devices, including your phone and tablet, at least 30-60 minutes before you plan to sleep. The bright lights emitted by electronic gadgets might be too stimulating and prevent you from falling asleep.
It’s frighteningly easy to get into a recurrent pattern of stress and insomnia. No matter how long you go without sleep, you will feel a considerable drop in energy the next day.
Learning the vicious cycle between sleep loss and anxiety (and vice versa) might help you stop the pattern and avoid the unpleasant sleep anxiety problem altogether.
Given the difficulty of navigating the thorny territory of anxiety and sleep deprivation, don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you think you need it. But instead, complement your visits with a therapist by doing these strategies on your own time to help ease your anxiety.
Anxiety and sleeplessness are practically best friends, but that doesn’t mean you have to befriend them.
Altering your routine could help you get a better night’s rest. You should see a doctor if your concern and insomnia prevent you from functioning normally.
It would help if you didn’t accept sleep deprivation as a way of life. Your doctor can prescribe a treatment plan that will allow you to sleep well again.