Anxiety and sleep deprivation are one of those disorders that go hand in hand so much that often it can be hard to tell which one came first.
Have you noticed that after a night of poor sleep, your anxiety levels increase? But the question arises, are you anxious because you are not sleeping, or because your sleepless nights are giving you anxiety?
Because the relationship between these two disorders is so complicated, many young adults find themselves trapped in this vicious circle. According to statistics, one in five adults in the US is diagnosed with anxiety, and one in three is sleep deprived.
We can safely say that these disorders are trending right now because they are among the leading modern age diseases that strike our population. Young people are particularly vulnerable and liable to them because of their specific lifestyles. People who develop insomnia have two times the risk of getting anxiety and many other related disorders. It has been estimated that around 70-80% of people diagnosed with clinical anxiety struggle with falling or staying asleep.
From the Scientific Point of View
Sleep itself represents a vast field for research, and every year we have several new accomplishments and results. One interesting study examined the relationship between sleep deprivation and anxiety in academicians. The study gathered 250 academicians from various faculties, who all answered four questions in a combined questionnaire. Researchers used four different scales to measure the perception of sleep deprivation and anxiety: Epworth sleepiness scale, Sleep disorder scales, Sleep quality, and Zung-self anxiety index.
From 250 people who participated in this study, it was proven that 123 have anxiety, and 129 have insomnia, which was the predominant sleep disorder, followed by nightmares, bruxism, and sleep apnea. The anxiety rate among participants with insomnia was found to be 59%. The results showed that this relationship is significant, although it requires further research to explain how exactly these two disorders interfere.
Besides that, this study showed that there are a lot of things in common for people dealing with anxiousness and/or sleep deprivation. For example, they all suffered from occasional headaches, and back and neck pain. In terms of their academic title, the results showed that researchers and assistant professors are often more anxious than full professors or associates.
The neuroscientific duo behind the study on loss of sleep and loneliness, from the University of California, Berkeley, is now on the trail of the connection between sleep deprivation and anxiety in our brain. Their preliminary findings were presented at the annual conference of neuroscience in San Diego, and it seems like they are on the road to demystify how these disorders can trigger one another.
How Sleep Can Improve Your Anxiety
The main side effect of a previous, sleepless night can be diminished with just one night of deep sleep. However, it is not all about the quantity of sleep, but about quality. There are two stages of sleep, REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM.
REM is the stage during which our dreams occur, while non-REM refers to deeper and restorative sleep. These two stages switch in cycles, and with the help of electroencephalography, scientists can know exactly which stage you are in. This is important because there are some indications that people who spent more time in non-REM are less anxious in the morning.
The relationship between acute sleep deprivation and anxiety was well known, but until now we were unable to understand what exactly was going on in the brain. It all happens like a chain reaction or a domino effect. You do not sleep, so you start feeling anxious, and then that anxiety makes it even harder for you to fall asleep. So it is now very clear why so many people struggle to get out of that vicious circle.
How to Fight Anxiety and Sleep Deprivation
Although today we can easily recognize some of the main symptoms, we recommend visiting a clinic and performing a sleep study. Also, visiting mental health professionals should be the next thing on your list. They will advise you on how to treat both disorders conjointly, with the help of therapy, behavioral changes, or medications, depending on what they consider is the best option for you.
Besides these, there are some things that we all can incorporate into our daily routine to prevent or mitigate the symptoms of these disorders.
- Exercise daily because exercising can lower your anxiety, induce sleep, and improve its quality. Just try not to exercise before bedtime, because it may keep you awake. The best time for exercising is during the morning hours.
- Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine during the afternoon. Caffeine itself can trigger anxiousness, but if you drink it in the late afternoon, or during the evening, you will struggle to fall asleep. Alcohol increases our heart rate and also keeps us up at night, and although it may seem like it can lullaby you, you will eventually have to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
- Stress is a major cause of anxiety and insomnia, so you have to find a way to calm your mind before bedtime. Try yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, reading or walking. Anything works as long as it will clear your head and relax you before falling asleep.
- Avoid using electronic devices in bed. Not only does the blue light keep you up at night, but if the content you are watching or reading is disturbing, it is going to trigger your anxious thoughts. Avoid reading emails, or doing anything work-related in bed.
The Bottom Line
Through our guide to anxiety and sleep deprivation, we have shown you how anxiety and sleep deprivation interfere with one another, and what you can do to treat them. We are aware that sometimes you cannot control the reasons that keep you up at night or give you anxiety. However, you can start somewhere, and the first thing is always acknowledging that there is a problem, and then trying to find a solution.
If you are dealing with both insomnia and anxiety, you are in a hard position, but all is not lost. You just need to train yourself to sleep regularly again. We know this is harder than it sounds, but once you start sleeping again, everything will slowly start to fall back into place. The good thing about this situation is that you can “easily” turn around the entire situation.