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Anxiety vs. Insomnia

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 14, 2021

Anxiety is when you feel tense and worried. Everyone goes through that sometimes. But if you feel that way often, it can be an anxiety disorder. It can cause intense attacks that speed up your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, and make you sweaty or dizzy. It also can affect your sleep.

Insomnia is when you have trouble falling or staying asleep. If this happens to you at least three times a week for more than 3 months, it’s called chronic insomnia. It can eventually make you more likely to have other health conditions, including an anxiety disorder.

The Link Between Anxiety and Insomnia

Constant worry during the day often carries over into night. That can cause “mental hyperarousal,” which can keep you from falling asleep.

Once you do get to sleep, an anxiety disorder also can prevent you from staying asleep long enough to feel fully rested. Anxiety has been compared to your body’s alarm system -- it can help keep you safe and out of potentially dangerous situations. But if that alarm goes off all the time and for no real reason -- as it does with an anxiety disorder -- it can keep you from getting enough deep sleep.

All of this can create stress over not being able to get to sleep, or get enough sleep. And that can lead to even more anxiety.

Researchers have also found evidence that a chronic lack of sleep can affect your emotional health. Studies show that people who have obstructive sleep apnea, which makes you wake up continually through the night, are more likely to have mental health conditions like anxiety, panic disorder, and depression.

Could I Have Insomnia or an Anxiety Disorder?

Chronic insomnia is clearly defined as when you have trouble falling or staying asleep at least three times a week for more than 3 months. But an anxiety disorder is harder to diagnose.

In addition to ongoing tension, worry, and trouble with sleep, other signs of an anxiety disorder include:

  • Steering clear of situations that trigger your fears
  • Nervousness, restlessness
  • A sense of impending danger
  • Increased heart rate or breathing
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Digestion problems

See your doctor if you have these symptoms or your level of worry has drastically changed your lifestyle or is affecting work or school. Call 911 if you start having thoughts of hurting yourself or committing suicide.

What You Can Do

Sleep and anxiety disorders are treatable.

If you have an anxiety disorder, your doctor can recommend a mental health specialist. They will likely suggest medications, relaxation techniques, and cognitive behavior therapy to help you understand and better control your emotions and behavior.

If you have chronic insomnia, treatment depends on what’s causing it. Sometimes doing a polysomnogram, or sleep study, can help you figure out what's going on. Your plan might include medications, counseling, and learning about good sleep habits.

You can also do a few things to help break the cycle between anxiety and insomnia:

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: “Anxiety.”

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Sleep Disorders.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Insomnia,” “Common Sleep Disorders.”

Sleep Foundation: “Anxiety and Sleep.”

Dialogues In Clinical Neuroscience: “Sleep and Anxiety Disorders.”

Mayo Clinic: “Anxiety Disorders.”

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