Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress, where you’re fearful of what will happen next. Anxiety disorder occurs if your anxiety feelings are extreme, last longer than six months, and if they are hindering your daily activities.
Insomnia is a medical term referring to the difficulty in sleeping. This can include trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking up too early, and waking up tired. Chronic insomnia is when you have trouble sleeping at least three times a week for over three months.
In a study by Mental Health America, about two-thirds of Americans say that stress and anxiety cause them to lose sleep. The study also noted that bad sleeping habits are linked to anxiety and depression.
The Link Between Anxiety and Insomnia
Studies show that the relationship between anxiety and insomnia is bidirectional; it depends on which comes first. This means that anxiety can cause sleeping problems and that sleeping difficulties can cause anxiety. And just like anxiety, insomnia affects your physical, mental, and emotional function.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, more than 50% of adults with anxiety experience sleeping problems.
Constant worries during the day often extend into the night. This can cause mental arousal that may keep you from falling or staying asleep.
The lack of enough sleep accumulates stress which leads to even more anxiety. Also, sleep disruptions generate emotional sensibility and negative thinking.
The Havard study implied that treating insomnia helps alleviate anxiety disorder symptoms and vice versa.
Other studies found evidence that chronic insomnia can affect your mental and emotional health. Researchers say that people with obstructive sleep apnea are at high risk of mental health disorders like panic disorder, anxiety, and depression.
Since anxiety and insomnia have a strong relationship, it’s essential to address both when looking for treatment options. Treating sleep problems without taking measures to manage your anxiety and stress is unlikely to have any impact.
Treating Anxiety and Insomnia
Insomnia can be treated by sleep aids and prescription medications. But many doctors start with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I is a structured program that helps identify and replace behaviors and thoughts that affect your ability to sleep.
The Mayo Clinic observed that CBT-I may be more effective than medication. CBT-I helps you recognize, understand, and change your attitudes that positively impact your sleep.
Besides eliminating negative thoughts and worries that keep you awake, CBT-I addresses the cycle that has you worried about getting and staying asleep.
CBT-I uses strategies such as:
- Relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises, biofeedback, and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to improve anxiety at bedtime. These techniques help you control your heart rate, breathing, mood, and muscle tension that help you relax.
- Stimulus control therapy. Is a method that helps remove factors that bring sleep problems. It involves practices like setting sleeping and wake-up times, avoiding unnecessary naps, using the bed for sleep and sex only, and going to bed when sleepy.
- Sleep restriction. This therapy helps you decrease the time you spend in bed and avoid daytime naps. This causes sleep deprivation which makes you tired and sleepy the next night, resulting in a night of improved sleep.
- Avoiding stimulants. Avoid stimulants like nicotine and caffeine close to bedtime. This helps you be physically ready for sleep. Your doctor may also recommend avoiding alcohol use and smoking close to bedtime.
- Get comfortable. Make your bed comfortable by getting a good mattress and pillows.
Your therapist may recommend other lifestyle changes and sleep environments that promote better sleep and daytime alertness.
Though doctors don’t recommend prescription sleeping pills, these pills can help you get to sleep and stay asleep. Examples include , Ramelteon (Rozerem), Eszopiclone (Lunesta), Zaleplon (Sonata), and Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist).
There are three main treatment methods for anxiety disorder, including psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle changes.
Also known as psychological counseling or talk therapy, it involves visiting a therapist to reduce anxiety symptoms.
Just like insomnia, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common psychotherapy for anxiety disorders. CBT aims at teaching you specific skills to identify and improve your symptoms and eventually return to activities you avoided because of anxiety.
Various types of medication are used to relieve anxiety symptoms depending on the type of anxiety disorder and whether you have other underlying conditions.
For instance, some antidepressants are used to relieve anxiety disorders. Buspirone, anti-anxiety medication can be prescribed. In limited circumstances, doctors may prescribe medications for short-term anxiety symptoms relief. They include sedatives, benzodiazepines, or beta-blockers.
When receiving the medications, talk to your doctor about the benefits, possible risks, and side effects of the medications.
While many people need psychotherapy or medications to treat anxiety disorders, positive lifestyle changes can also help manage anxiety symptoms. They include:
- Exercise – develop a routine of staying active most days of the week. Exercise helps produce feel-good chemicals that help improve your mood and keep you happy.
It also helps produce endorphins, chemical messengers that help release anxiety and stress. Regular exercise helps balance stress and anxiety hormones, like adrenaline. It also boosts serotonin levels in the brain which are responsible for mood balancing.
- Healthy eating – healthy eating is a good way to reduce anxiety symptoms and stress. Healthy foods rich in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants help nourish the brain and prevent oxidative stress.
If you have anxiety disorders avoid foods with highly refined sugars. They promote inflammation, worsen regulation of insulin and promote oxidative stress.
Incorporate foods like fatty acids, amino acids, and complex carbohydrates.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking – alcohol can cause or worsen anxiety. They worsen the regulation of stress hormones. Smoking ramps up blood pressure, which later on leads to anxiety disorders.
Anxiety and Insomnia – Bottom Line
The relationship between anxiety and insomnia is bidirectional. Meaning that anxiety symptoms can cause sleep problems and that sleep problems can cause anxiety disorders. If you think that you have insomnia, anxiety, or both, talk to your doctor or therapist for diagnosis.