It’s no secret that anxiety can make it difficult for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. But how does anxiety affect sleep? Most people with sleeping problems attribute their issues to physical health, but this isn’t always the case. Anxiety can make it difficult for one’s body to calm down enough to allow one to fall asleep. By learning how anxiety affects sleep, you may be able to notice whether this condition has affected you or someone you know at some point in your life.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress, only worse. Anxiety disorders are characterized by an intense feeling of fear or apprehension of what’s to come. While it’s normal to feel nervous on the first day of school or at a job interview, a formal anxiety disorder can be debilitating and prevent you from completing daily tasks and living your life.
There are several different types of anxiety disorders, such as:
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Illness Anxiety Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Each of these disorders is characterized by a fear of something specific. For instance, a person with social anxiety disorder may be terrified of social situations as they may embarrass themselves or offend someone. The physical symptoms of anxiety can also vary depending on the situation, but the most common include:
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Trouble concentrating
- Shaking or trembling
- Racing heart
- A fluttering feeling in your stomach
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle tension
- Avoiding social situations
- Problems in interpersonal relationships
Anxiety and sleeplessness are also connected due to the condition’s ability to excite the brain. If you realize that you have anxiety or that your anxiety disorder symptoms are getting worse, get help right away. Seaside Palm Beach offers mental health treatment that can help you overcome your symptoms and learn effective coping skills that you can practice on your own.
How Can Anxiety Affect Sleep?
Anxiety and sleep disorders are related because people who are often plagued with worry and other symptoms of anxiety disorders usually have trouble relaxing enough to fall asleep. In fact, many people with anxiety disorders experience anxiety-induced insomnia because they reach a state of mental hyperarousal. People with anxiety are more likely to experience higher sleep reactivity, which refers to the degree to which their stress affects their sleep. Anxiety sleep problems are worse at night, especially in people who are highly stressed.
Sleep problems can occur in people with various types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, OCD, and PTSD. One study posted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that over 90% of veterans suffer from insomnia due to anxiety in the form of PTSD.1 People may also have trouble falling asleep at night due to sleep anxiety, or they may even experience panic attacks at night.
Anxiety can not only cause hyperactivity in the brain, but it can also lead to nightmares or night terrors. Once they’re awake, getting back to bed can be difficult, especially if their mind starts racing again, leading to fragmented sleep patterns and reducing both the quantity and quality of their sleep. In turn, this can affect how they perform in other areas of their life. Connections between anxiety and changes in sleep patterns have also been found.
Studies show that anxiety and pre-sleep rumination can affect rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when we experience dreams the most while sleeping. Anxiety can provoke disturbing and frightening dreams, making it more difficult to stay awake and go back to sleep.1 Nightmares can also reinforce negative associations or fears with sleeping, explaining why anxiety is worse at night for many people. Additionally, sleeping problems aren’t just symptoms of anxiety, but the lack of sleep can also exacerbate worsening symptoms, creating a never-ending cycle of anxiety and sleep deprivation. Research also indicates that people with anxiety or prone to anxiety are more sensitive to the effects of insufficient sleep, which can further provoke symptoms.
The same study on how anxiety affects sleep demonstrated that sleep deprivation amplifies response from two areas of the brain called the amygdala and anterior insula.2 The amygdala is the core fear system of the brain. When attacked or “hijacked,” it can send out immediate and overwhelming emotional responses that are out of measure with the stimulus itself. The anterior insula receives sensory information from the person’s environment and links sensory experience with emotions, and both the anterior insula and amygdala project off of each other.
Why Does My Anxiety Get Worse at Night?
Sleep anxiety or nighttime anxiety can also occur in people who have some type of anxiety disorder, which can further complicate matters. Sleep anxiety is a form of performance anxiety or anticipatory anxiety in which people stress about not getting enough sleep to function. However, they become so stressed that falling asleep is nearly impossible. Nighttime anxiety occurs mostly in people with anxiety disorders. It can also occur if the person is anxious or nervous about some event that will happen the following day or if they’re anxious about something that happened that day.
Sleep anxiety symptoms include:
- Nocturnal or nighttime panic attacks
- Difficulties falling asleep
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Heavy breathing (hyperventilation)
- Flushing of the skin
- Sense of impending doom
Nighttime anxiety is also a common symptom of people with anxiety simply because they’re predisposed to mental hyperactivity. Nighttime panic attacks can also occur, and while they only last for a few minutes, it can be difficult for the person to fall back asleep. As mentioned earlier, this can lead to a vicious cycle of experiencing anxiety about falling asleep and then experiencing worsening symptoms of anxiety due to lack of sleep.
A great way to treat nighttime anxiety is by setting up a relaxing nighttime routine. You can enjoy a bubble bath, read or listen to an audiobook, draw, or do anything else that relaxes you before going to bed. If you realize that you’re frequently experiencing symptoms of anxiety or you have an anxiety disorder, then treatment is also recommended. Our luxury drug rehab offers inpatient anxiety treatment that incorporates various therapeutic practices and teaches patients coping skills that can help them manage their symptoms on their own.