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What causes sleep anxiety?

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

Getting a good night’s rest is essential in order to be able to function at 100 percent the next day. Unfortunately for many people, getting to sleep and staying asleep isn’t as easy as it should be.

Anxiety and insomnia are two very common problems that may hamper your ability to fall asleep. Both conditions can cause you to lay awake for hours, wondering if you will ever get even a wink of sleep before your day starts again. Additionally, both conditions can play off each other, making the other worse. If you struggle with anxiety or insomnia, or a mix of both, you’re not alone. This guide will explore the definitions and symptoms of both conditions, how they can affect each other, and what you can do to treat, manage, and potentially stop your anxiety or insomnia from disrupting your sleep. Facts About Anxiety and Insomnia Experiencing occasional bouts of anxiety can be fairly common for most people, as anxiety is just an echo of our past survival mechanism of “fight, flight, or freeze” when faced with danger. Although the dangers have changed from animal predators to a fear of being late for meetings, the physiological components of our brains haven’t changed much: our brains still see the cause of our anxiety as a “danger” and thus kicks into action trying to find a possible solution or escape route. Occasional anxiety is not a cause for concern, but many Americans experience a much more acute, recurring, and overpowering sense of anxiety, which can be the development of an anxiety disorder. Overall, about 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, and it is the most common mental illness in the U.S. Anxiety disorders can be caused by very specific triggers (known as “phobias”) or can simply be excessive anxiety for extended periods of time that get in the way of everyday life, regardless of a specific trigger or actually being in danger. In these cases, the brain may flood the body with adrenaline, causing a person to experience heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or causing them to lose their concentration at work or school. Additionally, anxiety can cause serious sleep issues, such as insomnia. While experiencing anxiety attacks may cause many people to feel exhausted or fatigued, the act of falling asleep may actually become harder due to the anxiety and the body’s sense of worry or fear. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder affecting 3 million Americans that is characterized by the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep for extended periods of time. It can often be a side effect of a larger problem (known as secondary insomnia), but it can also manifest independently for many people, without a predominant cause or identifying the trigger (known as primary insomnia). There are also people that suffer from both anxiety and insomnia, with each symptom being independent of the other. In these cases, known as bidirectional comorbidity, the two conditions can exacerbate each other and it can be difficult to treat both independently. Additionally, anxiety can be a side effect of other, more serious psychiatric conditions, which can add to the difficulty of treating those with comorbid anxiety and insomnia.


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