Anxiety and stress, especially on a chronic level, can be the cause of many physical and mental health problems—including insomnia. Insomnia is a sleeping disorder in which people may have difficult with falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early in the morning. Even when people with insomnia are able to fall asleep, they may not sleep in a way that allows them to feel refreshed and restored in the morning.
For people who already struggle with anxiety and stress, adding insomnia into the mix may feel like the proverbial straw that breaks that camel’s back. Anxiety is difficult enough on its own, but add that to lack of restorative sleep and the ability to function on a day to day basis can be severely impaired.
What are the Symptoms of Insomnia?
Insomnia is basically defined as the inability to sleep in a way that makes the person feel refreshed the next day. On the short-term, this is considered to be acute insomnia and may be triggered by an illness, traumatic event, exams at college, or something else temporary. Acute insomnia may last for only one night, or could go on for up to three weeks. This typically does not require any sort of medical intervention as it goes away on its own and normal sleep patterns are restored.
In order to be defined as chronic, insomnia happens at least three times a week for more than three consecutive weeks. Chronic insomnia can interfere with a person’s ability to perform daily tasks and can have a seriously detrimental effect on the quality of a person’s life. Some research shows that chronic insomnia may be hereditary, but this also could be due to poor sleep hygiene habits passed down through families.
Symptoms of insomnia include:
- Feeling tired in the morning after sleeping
- General tiredness and fatigue that lasts throughout the day
- Depression, anxiety and irritability
- Difficulty with focus, concentration and attention span
- Struggles with memory
- Tendency to have accidents or errors in simple tasks
- Being worried about sleeping
How to Deal with Anxiety Induced Insomnia
Fortunately, insomnia is able to be controlled, even though it may feel overwhelming. Every treatment plan for insomnia will be distinctly related to the determined cause of the sleeping problems. If you are assured that anxiety is the cause, then treating the anxiety should consequently reduce the problems with sleeping well at night.
Anxiety related to insomnia may be treated naturally or with medication, depending on the severity and your doctor’s recommendations. One likely treatment will be to evaluate your sleep hygiene habits to see if there are ways that you can better promote sleep health.
Several options for treating anxiety and sleeplessness exist. These may include:
Exercise. Getting your heart rate up and working your muscles not only helps to keep you in shape but also reduces the power anxiety can have over you. A sedentary life can cause pent up energy and promote a worrying mindset. Exercise can help very much with this while releasing happy chemicals in the brain like serotonin and dopamine. Do try to work out at least three hours before going to bed so that your heart rate can go back down and your body has the opportunity to relax before sleep.
Regular Bedtime. If you can teach your body and brain when it’s time to go to sleep, you’re less likely to lie in bed wide awake. Go to bed at the same time every night and set your alarm to wake up at the same time every morning—even if you don’t actually have to get up! This will help your circadian rhythm get back on track.
Relaxation Time. Set aside at least an hour before the time you need to go to sleep to just relax. Put away any type of electronic device such as computers or smartphones and concentrate on relaxation. Take a warm bath. Cosy up with a book underneath dim lighting, or even by candlelight. Use lavender essential oil to help with relaxation.
Avoid Certain Substances. People who have insomnia often get into the vicious cycle of requiring caffeine to give them energy and get them through the day. The problem with caffeine is that it is a stimulant which means it can actually produce more anxiety. If you feel anxious or are unable to sleep, try cutting back on caffeine in the morning and cut it out altogether after 2pm or so.
Although many people think that drinking alcohol is helpful in relaxing before bed, it can actually promote problems with sleeplessness. Nicotine is another substance that can interrupt sleep cycles and create problems with insomnia and anxiety.
Melatonin. The production of melatonin is critical for your body to be able to sleep well at night. Melatonin is naturally produced from serotonin, which is a “feel-good” hormone. You can also get your brain to produce melatonin by making sure that you have daily exposure to sunlight. If you live in a dark, cloudy place, consider the use of a light therapy lamp each morning to help promote the production of melatonin while helping set the circadian rhythm. Some people also take melatonin orally, but a doctor should be consulted first.
Counseling. Stress and anxiety can often be relieved by talking to someone about life and gaining perspective or learning coping skills. Your doctor may be able to recommend a therapist or counselor who can help with anxiety and also offer tips on promoting better sleep.
Medication. Some people with chronic insomnia and anxiety need to take medication in order to help them gain the balance they need. Some people take anti-anxiety medication temporarily in order to get out of the vicious cycle, and then can be weaned off of it. Your doctor will help you discern if this is an appropriate option for you.
Weighted Blanket. Some people who struggle with anxiety or sensory issues find that weighted blankets can help. These specialized blankets help to minimize problems with sleeplessness and stress as they provide pressure treatment. The pressure provided by a weighted blanket promotes the production of serotonin and melatonin, may decrease the production of cortisol which can inhibit sleep, and reduces the symptoms of anxiety related to insomnia.
Sleep Study for Insomnia
If your doctor is concerned that you might have other underlying causes for your insomnia, you may be asked to participate in a sleep study. This would likely take place at a sleep clinic where you would stay overnight. The room would probably feel more like a hotel room than a hospital room, but you would be hooked up to a variety of monitors. A sleep study takes measurements such as blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels, REM activity, limb movement and other information critical to learning about the cause of your insomnia.
Insomnia caused by anxiety is not a pleasant situation, but there is hope of relief. You may have to start small by making some changes in lifestyle habits. But if you are committed to the process and include your doctor on the journey, you should be able to find relief from anxiety and insomnia.