Sleep Deprivation and Anxiety: Causes, Connections, and Cures

Quality sleep is crucial to upholding optimal health. More precisely, sleep plays a fundamental role in mental health. What issues arise when an individual experiences a lack of sleep? It affects the daily routine, making the day irritable and frustrating.

An article from the CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declares that grown-ups require not less than seven hours of sleep to maintain optimal health. Poor quality sleep can adversely affect overall health resulting in anxiety and depression.

How is anxiety related to sleep? Do they hold any link with each other? Yes, stress and sleep hold a connection. If a person has a night of poor sleep, he can experience anxiety or sleep disorders. An individual facing an anxiety disorder finds difficulty falling asleep.

CHow does a lack of sleep result in stress? This article will detail the facts and discuss ways to reduce anxiousness and sleep well.

1. What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is feeling worried or fearful with uneasiness. Sometimes, experiencing anxiety is normal during stressful or scary situations. It indicates anxiety disorder that becomes frequent, persistent, and intensive. Furthermore, it affects the routine of daily living.

Can lack of sleep cause anxiety?
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The American Psychiatric Association reports that mental health conditions like anxiety may arise due to sleep difficulties. The Journal of Neuroscience states that anxiousness amplifies sleep loss impacts on aversive brain anticipation.

1.1. What are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders are abnormal mental health problems with excessive distress. People in the USA face this mental illness

Can lack of sleep cause anxiety?
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The National Institute of Mental Health reports that around 19% (40 million) of adults face anxiety disorder. Approximately 7% of children in the age groups between 3 and 17 face anxiety disorders.

Research from Neuropsychopharmacology in 2020 says that sleep disturbance and anxiety-related disorders connect on a bidirectional basis.

2. Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorder symptoms affect the person physically and emotionally. To study the indicators of an anxiety disorder, let’s read further.

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  • Extreme nervousness
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling on-edge
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Poor concentration
  • Intense worry
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Avoidance behaviors

Apart from these, anxiety disorders also occur along with depression problems. ADAA – Anxiety And Depression Association of America provides facts and statistics that nearly 50% of individuals suffering from depression also experience anxiety disorders.

3. Types of Anxiety Disorders 

Anxiety disorders have varied classifications based on specific sleep disorders. Let’s move ahead to read its types.

7 Types of Anxiety Disorders

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves anxiety symptoms with worries due to varied circumstances and unknown reasons.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia (SAD): Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) involves anxiety symptoms of fright in social settings or interactions. The person feels embarrassed in front of other people when judged.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves obsessions of an issue in a negative manner that provokes high anxiety levels.
  • Specific Phobias: Specific Phobias relate to intense fear due to triggers based on particular activities or situations. One example of this phobia is Agoraphobia.
  • Separation Anxiety: Separation Anxiety Disorders arise with separation from loved ones like caregivers. This anxiety primarily affects children but also occurs in adults as well.
  • Panic Disorder: Panic Disorder arises with panic attacks and fears about future attacks lasting for a few minutes. The attacks occurring at night are Nocturnal (Nighttime) Panic Attacks. In a panic disorder, the person experiences sudden, unexpected abrupt moments of fear.
  • Unspecified Anxiety Disorders: Unspecified Anxiety Disorders trigger anxiety not belonging to any anxiety disorder criteria. Diagnosing such anxiety disorders is unknown but causes impairment and distress.
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) involves symptoms of anxiety disorders, mood problems, avoidance, and memories of a traumatic experience.
  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a breathing-related sleep disorder that causes abnormal breaths in sleep with interruptions.

4. Relationship Between Sleep and Anxiety

Anxiety disorders connect well with sleep disturbances. According to Doctor Julia Kogan, lack of sleep and anxiety have a relationship with each other. She also adds that those who are sleep-deprived suffer from stress.

A person who faces difficulty focusing can undergo the worst symptoms of sleep deprivation. It puts the person in a state of worry about being unable to stay asleep. This state of mind is “Anticipatory Anxiety.” This anxiety develops naturally in a stressful or frightening situation. It creates challenges to maintain healthy sleep schedules and routines.

Anxiety can also affect sleeping cycles in a person, which affects Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. It provokes disturbing dreams and creates disturbed sleep.

Besides, anxiety also disrupts Slow-wave sleep. It is a state of deep sleep or NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. It is the deep state of sleep after falling asleep. In this sleep, the body is in a completely restful state.

Experiencing chronic sleep problems disturbs the mood, which in turn, results in psychiatric symptoms. Psychiatric issues may lead to taking the risk of committing suicide.

4.1. Insomnia – Primary Risk Factor of Anxiety Disorders

Severe sleep disturbances result in insomnia, the most prevalent anxiety disorder symptom. It interferes with sleep patterns resulting in poor sleep. Anxiety and ruminating while in bed make an individual tedious to fall asleep.

Can lack of sleep cause anxiety?
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Chronic insomnia is the preliminary risk factor for anxiety-related disorders. A study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine surveyed 22,000 adults from thirteen countries about insomnia. It reports that insomnia symptoms were significantly over 40% (higher) in women and young people. 

Insomnia symptoms can be mild and temporary or become severe if untreated. The symptoms of insomnia are:

  • Staying awake for a long time after getting into bed
  • Unable to fall asleep at night
  • Sleeping for a short time
  • Early morning wake up before the alarm rings
  • Feeling tired throughout the day

4.2. Can Lack of Sleep Cause Panic Attacks?

Insufficient sleep releases more cortisol hormone in the bloodstream. It causes headaches and digestive problems resulting in sleep issues. This hormone activates the nervous system. 

Panic Attack (Symptoms)

With nervous system activation, breathing becomes shallow and rapid. These breathing changes can provoke panic attacks.

4.3. What does Research Say about Anxiety and Sleep?

Having sleep problems doesn’t always mean that a person will experience anxiety. However people who are already anxious may experience increased stress when sleep-deprived.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine states that people suffering from insomnia symptoms are vulnerable to anxiety in response to stress exposure.

Heartbeat with blood pressure rises when having sleep difficulties due to anxiety—norepinephrine levels in the blood increase, which causes this condition. Cardiovascular issues like heart arrest or stroke are further risks of high or elevated (BP) blood pressure.

Hypertensive people can experience a rise in heart rates and blood pressure. The American Journal of Hypertension (AJH) published this in 1999.

The Journal of Sleep Research in 2018 explains the association between sleep reactivity and anxiety.

4.4. Can Anxiety Cause Insomnia?

Anxiety can result in loss of sleep. This condition occurs when a person sleeps fewer hours than the body’s requirement.

Can lack of sleep cause anxiety?
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When there is not enough sleep, sleep debt creates excessive physical and mental fatigue and affects the mood and energy levels for the entire day. Sleep debt also causes several other issues, like body stress, that increase the overall levels of anxiety.

5. Impacts of Lack of Sleep and Anxiety

Lack of sleep can impact a person’s life with increased anxiety symptoms. One stormy night’s sleep can very well contribute to irritability, frustration, and anxiety the next day. Sleep deprivation makes it impossible to fall asleep since the mind cannot relax.

Moreover, sleep deprivation can have immediate impacts, like trouble waking up in the morning. Other consequences include stressed relationships or poor work performance. Let us read below to know the effects of sleep deprivation.

  • Impaired memory function and decision-making
  • Poor learning and problem-solving skills
  • High risk of long-term health issues in physical and mental health
  • Increased risk of injuries and accidents
  • Dependency on sleeping pills (prescribed or non-prescribed)
  • Use of stimulants and caffeine for alertness
  • Immune system weakening
  • Increased weight gain and obesity
  • Less efficiency at work
  • Conflict with employees and family members
  • Low mood with negative thinking
  • Affected Hormonal levels

6. Tips to Get Better Sleep

Anxiety and sleep problems don’t get solved in a day. Most people who experience anxiety and sleep loss must incorporate various lifestyle changes to reduce sleep disruption.

One can incorporate numerous methods to enhance the quality and duration of sleep. Following the right tips and techniques can help with sleep loss and maintain a sleep duration. Let us look through the remedies below to avoid sleep deprivation.

6.1. Maintain a Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to the techniques followed for good sleep habits. A properly organized and consistent timetable helps with grades in exams and work. 

Sleep Hygiene: Train Your Brain to Fall Asleep and Sleep Better

Similarly, healthy sleep habits can aid with sleep loss and provide a good night’s sleep. The tips to improve sleep hygiene are as follows:

6.1.1. Follow a Constant Sleep Time

Set an alarm before bed, and get up at that time each day. It establishes a proper sleep routine and makes it easier to fall asleep. This pattern maintains a body rhythm and helps to feel tired earlier. Also, the risk of bed awake at night for a long time is reduced.

6.1.2. Sleep for At Least 7 – 8 Hours per Night

Several factors, like age, determine for an individual on how much sleep a person needs. Generally, teenagers and children require extra sleep compared to adults. An investigation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the amount of sleep a person needs according to age group.

Going to bed early and waking up a little further is also a good practice if sleep is less than 7 hours. Sleeping for a few minutes extra can also aid in well-being and boost health and mood. Keep bedtime relaxed by taking warm baths, listening to soothing music, or reading a book.

6.1.3. Keep Physically Active

Systematic exercise benefits health physically and mentally. Exercising uplifts the mood relaxes the mind, and helps to fall asleep. Exercise releases endorphins, hormones that keep the individual alert and energized throughout the day. So, exercise earlier in the day or afternoon rather than evenings.

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Research from the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) shows that workouts are the best way to reduce stress and anxiety disorders. Yoga has high benefits for physical and mental health, as it helps with anxiety and sleep issues.

6.1.4. Turn Off Lights

Keep the bedroom dark and quiet by putting off lights. Also, the temperature inside the room must be comfortable to sleep. A dark room is conducive and ideal to fall asleep faster.

Outside light can also cause trouble falling asleep in the early morning hours. The best solution is hanging curtains that prevent light from entering the room. The room temperature can ideally be between 60 to 67 degrees for sufficient sleep.

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6.1.5. A Pleasant and Peaceful Room

Along with switching off devices and lights, physical comfort also plays a crucial role in better sleep quality. A cosy bed with comfortable pillows and bedsheets makes the room conducive and relaxing to fall and stay asleep.

6.1.6. Switch Off Electronic Devices

Ensure to put off TVs, laptops, computers, and smartphones at least 1 to 2 hours before bed. These devices keep the brain active and stimulated with content and news.

Further, the blue light emitted from electronic devices disrupts the natural sleep cycle. An article from Harvard Health Publishing describes blue light and its effects on sleep.

Blue light also inhibits the secretion of Melatonin. It is a hormone that the brain produces in darkness that makes one feel dozy, inducing sleep. When the hormone release gets curbed, it becomes difficult to get a night of good-quality sleep.

Additionally, make sure to silence the devices during sleep hours. It will make you stay asleep once you fall asleep. Put on the morning alarm by keeping the notifications silent.

6.1.7. Avoid Heavy Meals Before Bed

Food keeps the body and brain energized. Taking heavy meals before bed will disrupt sleep. It fuels the body and interferes with sleep patterns. The time to bed and meals should ideally be 2-3 hours. This time allows the body to digest food without additional time to create hunger again.

In tight schedules or other circumstances, limit yourself to eating healthy fats and proteins before bed. It will avoid any hunger, reducing sleep disruption.

6.1.8. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Alcohol can make one fall asleep, but it can create sleep difficulties at a later stage. A 2005 study published in HHS Author Manuscripts reports that continued consumption of alcohol for the long term diminishes sleep patterns.

Can lack of sleep cause anxiety?
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6.1.9. Refrain from Nicotine and Caffeine Intake

Stimulants like nicotine and caffeine hinder the ability to fall asleep. Consuming nicotine during bedtime acts on several neurotransmitter systems influencing sleep and mood.

Our body takes at least 2-3 days to eliminate nicotine. A 2015 observations study published in Addiction Biology states about sleep changes in smokers after withdrawing nicotine.

Similarly, caffeine mixes in the bloodstream and stays in the body for some time after a coffee intake. It can take about 10 hours to clear caffeine from the bloodstream.

6.1.10. Avoid Long Naps in the Day

Short naps do not create sleep issues at night. Taking long naps at intervals can affect sleep. Most adults prefer a 15-20 minute nap to avoid sleep deprivation.

Individual factors also play a vital role in deciding when and how much nap is best for the person. Those who have tight working schedules could keep the naps before 3 p.m.

6.1.11. Practice Guided Meditation for Sleep

Plenty of videos and audio available online offer meditation for sleep. The duration ranges from 10-20 minutes. This meditation practice focuses on deep breathing to flow with the thoughts naturally. Further, the focus shifts to physical sensations and muscle relaxation.

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Another option is practising meditation for anxiety. This meditation helps the person to analyze their thoughts and let them go off. These relaxation techniques reduce problems with anxiety and sleep, although not specific to sleep deprivation.

6.1.12. Pen Down Thoughts That Keep You Awake

Write down thoughts on paper that keep you awake. It would help to take the steps to fix the problems of anxiety and sleep. It will calm the mind and aid to fall asleep.

An alternative way is writing about the best moments that make you grateful to cherish. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research shows that gratitude thoughts can improve sleep quality.

6.2. Use Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medications 

OTC Medications are natural sleep supplements that help with relaxation and anxiety. A 2012 research published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine reports that Ashwagandha root extract reduces anxiety and stress. 

6.3. Insomnia Medications

Consider talking to a healthcare provider who may prescribe sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs that help promote sleep. As these medicines have side effects, follow the healthcare provider’s instructions.

6.4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the best psychotherapy treatments for conditions like anxiety. The therapist aids patients in identifying the emotions causing anxiety and stress. Then after, they guide the patients to generate calm and relaxed thinking.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

7. Final Note

Anxiety and sleep are always distressing factors affecting the day-to-day routine. Following several relaxation techniques with a timely diet can keep you healthy. If you are struggling with sleep and anxiety, consider getting professional help or talking to a sleep specialist.

Bhagyashree is a blogger residing in Mumbai who loves reading and writing blogs on WordPress. I love researching and writing content for fitness niches for a better and a healthy lifestyle. Education: B.E. graduate from the University of Mumbai.

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