Sleep Anxiety & Insomnia: Causes & Treatments

An image of a woman in pajamas, resting her head in her hands.

How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep When Struggling With Insomnia and Anxiety

Sleep, and an uninterrupted sleep cycle, are essential to health and wellbeing. Resting recharges our batteries and gets us ready to take on the day. But what happens when you can’t get a full night’s rest, or, worse, are suffering from chronic sleep loss?

Sleep deprivation and deficiency can alter brain function, as well as can increase the risk of obesity, heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and more. To manage or treat these conditions and get better sleep, it may help those who suffer from common sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep anxiety, to fully understand what is going on.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is the ongoing difficulty of falling and staying asleep. This can be a concerning problem, as continual loss of sleep can affect many aspects of everyday life. Insomnia can cause fatigue, difficulty concentrating, a decline in motivation, and can have adverse effects on your overall mood. It can be caused by stress, depression and anxiety, a traumatic experience, side effects from medication, your sleep environment, and disruptions to your circadian rhythm.

Not to be taken lightly, 30 to 35 percent of adults have experienced brief symptoms of insomnia. This percentage is significant, and while they only suffer brief and varied symptoms of insomnia, there are those who suffer from short-term (15 to 20 percent) and chronic (10 percent) insomnia disorders as well. The National Sleep Foundation has stated that there are multiple ways to describe insomnia:

  • Acute Insomnia: A short period in which one experiences trouble sleeping.
  • Chronic Insomnia: The more extended pattern of not being able to sleep. A person is experiencing chronic insomnia when they have trouble falling or staying asleep for at least three nights a week, lasting three months or longer.
  • Onset Insomnia: When a person’s troubles occur at the beginning of the night.
  • Maintenance Insomnia: The failure to stay asleep, waking up during the middle of the night and having a hard time getting back to sleep.
  • Comorbid Insomnia: Insomnia that is exacerbated by other conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Comorbid insomnia gives insight into several other conditions that can cause sleep deprivation. Although not necessarily true of other sleeping disorders, insomnia in particular can manifest due to several other afflictions.

How Does Anxiety Affect Sleep?

Everyone experiences sensations of nervousness, fear, and worry. However, when these occurrences become regular and/or overwhelming, the symptoms become indicative of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and phobia-related disorders. Anxiety disorders can interfere with many aspects of daily life, including job and school performance, as well as personal relationships.

Anxiety can trigger the onset of sleep problems. Conversely, sleep deprivation can cause anxiety. This is an example of comorbidity — the co-occurrence of multiple medical conditions, in this case, a mental and a physical disorder, within the same person. While comorbid conditions can exist completely independently of one another, sometimes they create a vicious cycle, and each condition causes the other to worsen over time. In this case, the inability to sleep may make a person anxious to go to bed, which will, in turn, affect their ability to go to sleep, and so on.

What is Sleep Anxiety?

The frustrating cycle illustrated above — when you are having trouble sleeping because of your anxiety, and when your lack of sleep subsequently causes you to become more anxious —  is known as “sleep anxiety”. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that:

“Three-fourths of adults whose sleep is affected by stress or anxiety say that their sleep problems have also increased their stress and anxiety,” and that, “54 percent say that stress or anxiety increased their anxiety about falling asleep at night.”

Anxiety disorders are a common mental illness, and many can be aggravated by sleep deprivation. Anxieties revolving around sleep can turn into insomnia, chronic nightmares, uneasy feelings about time, and back into more anxiety. Luckily, there are ways to break the cycle.

Common Treatments for Sleep Anxiety and Insomnia

As insomnia, anxiety, and sleep anxiety are significant problems affecting quality of life for many people, methods of treatment or minimizing the hardships have been developed. While there are tried and true medicinal and behavioral treatments, alternative methods are also being explored. Cannabis-based products such as CBD oil, for example, are currently being studied for their potential use in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia.

 

You should always seek professional help when looking to treat anxiety and insomnia. However, you can ask your doctor if any of the following options would help in managing your sleep anxiety and/or insomnia.

CBT Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia is being used to pinpoint the activities and thoughts leading to sleeplessness. CBT is a structured program focused on finding the underlying causes of insomnia, rather than treating symptoms as they occur with sleeping pills or other medicine. A sleep therapist may propose stimulus control therapy, sleep restriction, sleep hygiene, sleep environment improvement, relaxation training, and other techniques to help an individual gain better control over their ability to sleep.

Creating a Routine

Especially for insomnia, creating a routine to generate better sleeping habits, and to regulate circadian rhythm, can be beneficial. Adhering to a sleep schedule, waking up/going to sleep at the same time, performing a bedtime ritual to relax, watching what you eat and drink, avoiding naps in the daytime, and exercising daily can all ready you for a good night’s rest.

Keeping a Sleep Log

A sleep log is an excellent addition to the above routine. Keeping track of what time you went to bed and woke up, how long you slept, and what times you awoke at night can highlight some disruptions in your circadian rhythm. Also, jotting down any caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol you consumed, anything you might have eaten to keep you awake, medications taken, and emotions you had that day can all help to identify daily habits that may be prolonging or triggering bouts of insomnia.

Avoiding Stimulants

Even if you aren’t sensitive to caffeine, beverages such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks can keep you up at night. Additionally, medications such as diuretics, antidepressants, and those that contain amphetamines can make it difficult to go to sleep. If you have insomnia, it is a good idea to cut out all stimulants to help facilitate sleep. Your cell phone, tablet, or computer may be contributing to your insomnia as well. These devices contain blue light and devices that contain blue light and can hinder sleep, as blue light boosts attention, reaction times, and mood.

Alternative Remedies

Sleeping pills and pharmaceutical sleep aids can offer a short term solution, but may come with several unwanted side effects, including dependency. Other side effects include  headaches, soreness, dizziness, and more — if these pharmaceuticals even work for the individual in the first place. There are several remedies, and over-the-counter remedies to aid sleep, without the above side effects, such as:

  • Caffeine free tea, such as Chamomile tea.
  • Melatonin.
  • Valerian and Kava root.
  • Lavender, California Poppy, St. John’s Wort, and the Passion Flower.

Additionally, cannabinoid pharmacology suggests that cannabis may someday be considered to have therapeutic or medicinal properties. Products derived from cannabis, such as CBD oil, may someday even be recommended as alternative remedies for better sleep and anxiety treatment. The cannabis plant comes in three distinct variations, and cannabis products and solutions differ as a result. CBD differs from THC and does not produce a high when consumed, but still shows promise in many areas of medicine. Nevertheless, more studies, tests, and trials are necessary to identify all of the properties associated with cannabinoids like CBD, as well as to determine whether they can truly be recommended in the safe treatment of any type of medical condition. Only time, and research, will tell. In the meantime, CBD oils are readily available for purchase online — granted you adhere to your state’s laws concerning cannabis products and consumption.

Insomnia and anxiety can make living a normal life extremely difficult, and can even lead to the development of more significant conditions, such as depression. However, knowing what anxiety and insomnia are, how they feed off of each other, and understanding that there ways to treat them, is the first step identifying and treating both conditions. Consult with a physician if you’re experiencing sleep deprivation, and keep your head up. There are solutions out there, and you can live a normal life.

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