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 peeople experience a much more acute, recurring, and overpowering sense of anxiety, which can be the development of an anxiety disorder.
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 millions of people 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.
Types of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders come in many forms. Below are some of the most common types, as well as some of their symptoms and effects.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
GAD is a form of anxiety that people may experience for extended periods of time, normally more than six months, and is a response to stress related to work, personal health, social interactions, or everyday routines. GAD can create an extreme sense of fear or worry that stems from otherwise normal day-to-day routines or activities, and can significantly impact a person’s work, social, school, or general life.
Some common symptoms may include:
Feelings of restlessness or being unable to calm down.
Brain fog, or having difficulty concentrating and easily losing your train of thought. Irritability.
Tight or tense muscles.
Unable to control or distract yourself from worrying.
Having sleep problems such as insomnia, restlessness, or feeling unsatisfied from sleep.