How Are Anxiety and Sleep Connected?

February 7, 2024

image representing anxiety and sleep

Lack of sleep and anxiety can be interconnected. Anxiety may lead to problems with sleep, and conversely, struggling with insomnia can intensify feelings of anxiety. Consulting with a healthcare provider and engaging with talk therapy can help you address issues with sleep quality. Read on to learn more about anxiety sleep problems and find out how to connect with evidence-based care.

Links Between Anxiety Disorder and Sleep

Anxiety and sleep problems go hand in hand. If you have an anxiety disorder, you might lie in bed worrying and find it hard to fall asleep. This is because when you’re anxious, your mind can be so active that it’s tough to settle down, with anxiety preventing sleep.

People with anxiety are also more sensitive to stress messing with their sleep. If someone is stressed, they’re more likely to have trouble sleeping.

Different kinds of anxiety, like GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) or the kind that can happen after a really bad experience can make it hard for someone to sleep well. For example, research shows that lots of people who have have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) often find sleeping with anxiety challenging.

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Need Help Getting Mental Health Treatment?

Being stressed about not being able to sleep can make you scared to go to bed. This fear can mess up your normal sleep routine. When you’re anxious, you might also have intense dreams that can wake you up and make you scared to go back to sleep.

Also, people with a sleep problem where they stop breathing for short times during the night (sleep apnea) may experience mental health complications that include feeling depressed, anxious, or having panic attacks.

Getting help for sleep problems might make anxiety symptoms better and treating anxiety might help you sleep better too. Seeking help for both conditions is advisable due to their interconnected nature.

How Does Anxiety Affect Sleep?

Anxiety can have a significant impact on sleep, often leading to sleep disturbances or insomnia. Here’s how anxiety can affect your sleep:

Trouble falling asleep

When you’re anxious, your mind can be filled with racing thoughts or worries, making it hard to relax enough to fall asleep. This state of mental alertness can keep you awake, delaying the onset of sleep.

Interrupted sleep

Anxiety can also lead to waking up frequently during the night. You might find yourself suddenly awake and struggling to get back to sleep due to anxious thoughts or general restlessness.

Poor sleep quality

Even when you do fall asleep, anxiety can affect the quality of your sleep. You might experience restless or light sleep, not getting into the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep as often as needed. This can leave you feeling tired or unrefreshed in the morning.

Nightmares or disturbing dreams

Anxiety can contribute to more frequent or vivid nightmares. These distressing dreams can disrupt your sleep and increase nighttime anxiety, provoking a cycle of anxiety and poor sleep.

Physical symptoms

Anxiety can manifest physically, with symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sweating, or heavy breathing. These symptoms can be particularly noticeable at night, making it hard to get comfortable and fall asleep.

Worry about sleep

If you’ve had trouble sleeping due to anxiety, you might start worrying about sleep itself. This worry can increase anxiety at bedtime, making it even harder to fall asleep.

Addressing anxiety is crucial for improving sleep. Techniques like relaxation exercises, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), and in some cases, medications, can help manage anxiety and improve sleep quality. It’s also helpful to establish a regular sleep routine and create a calm, relaxing bedtime environment. If sleep issues continue, consult with a healthcare professional for tailored advice and treatment options.

A woman appears troubled, as she experiences lack of sleep and anxiety

How to Treat Anxiety and Sleep Disorders

Living with anxiety and sleep disorders can be challenging, but there are effective treatments and strategies to help manage these conditions. Collaborate with a healthcare professional to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. Here are some common approaches to treating anxiety and sleep disorders:

Therapy and Counseling

CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach for both anxiety and sleep disorders. It helps people identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to their conditions, potentially leading to lasting behavioral change.

For specific phobias or anxieties, exposure therapy gradually exposes individuals to their fears in a controlled and safe environment to reduce their anxiety response over time.

Sleep therapists can help people address insomnia and other sleep disorders by teaching relaxation techniques, sleep hygiene, and modifying sleep-related behaviors.

Medications

Medications such as benzodiazepines or SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may be prescribed to manage anxiety disorders. That said, these medications should be used cautiously and under medical supervision due to potential side effects and dependence issues.

For short-term sleep problems, doctors may prescribe sleep aids like benzodiazepines or non-benzodiazepine hypnotics (z-drugs). However, these should not be used as a long-term solution due to the risk of dependence.

Lifestyle modifications

Practicing stress reduction techniques like mindfulness meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can help alleviate anxiety and improve sleep quality.

Engaging in regular physical activity can have a positive impact on both anxiety and sleep. Exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes as many days as possible.

Avoiding caffeine and heavy meals close to bedtime and maintaining a balanced diet can support better sleep. Limit alcohol and nicotine intake.

Sleep hygiene

Try to maintain set times for going to bed and waking up every day of the week to regulate your body clock. Ensure that your bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Invest in a comfy mattress and pillows. Reduce exposure to phones, tablets, and TVs before bedtime, as these devices emit blue light that can interfere with your sleep.

Support and self-care

Reach out to friends, family, or support groups to share your experiences and receive emotional support. Prioritize activities that promote relaxation and well-being, such as taking baths, reading, or participating in hobbies.

Remember that treatment for anxiety and sleep disorders may require patience and a combination of approaches. Always consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable treatment plan for your individual needs. Overcoming these challenges is possible with the right guidance and support.

FAQs

Can anxiety disrupt sleep?

Yes, anxiety can significantly disrupt sleep, often leading to difficulties in falling asleep, frequent awakenings during the night, and restlessness or unsatisfying sleep.

If you have an anxiety disorder can’t sleep, what should you do?

If you’re struggling with anxiety and not sleeping, establish a calming bedtime routine, avoid stimulants like caffeine before bed, and consider seeking professional guidance from a mental health expert or sleep specialist.

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Get Treatment for Anxiety at Connections

If you need treatment for anxiety, we offer a variety of treatment programs at Connections Mental Health in Orange County. All of our mental health treatment programs blend evidence-based and holistic therapies to help you improve well-being and restore functioning.

We admit no more than six people to our treatment programs at any one time, enabling you to receive individualized care and peer support while addressing any mental health challenges that are holding you back.

Call 844-759-0999 today and find out how to effectively manage anxiety in California.

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