Sleep Deprivation and Anxiety

Sleep deprivation can have numerous and detrimental affects on the body. Anxiety can lead to sleep deprivation, and sleep deprivation can also cause anxiety. Sleep deprivation can be a chronic, ongoing condition, or it can be acute, meaning it happens briefly, but severely. A little sleep loss leaves one fatigued, a lot can interfere with brain function.

Anxiety Causing Sleep Deprivation

We’ve all tossed and turned before a big job interview or test. This kind of anxiety is designed to be effective; it’s designed to be helpful, providing more time and energy for strategizing. But if night after night the mind won’t release and problems churn through the brain without resolution, then anxiety has reached a dysfunctional phase, and the body pays a price for the lack of restive and regulating sleep. Worse, worrying about not being able to get to sleep can then lead to decreased sleep. Bedtime routines can help put the body and mind in a more sleep-friendly place before bed.

Anxiety Resulting from Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation causes neurological and biological stress. Continued loss of sleep is a chronic stressor, which impacts the body. Various systems are affected, notably, the hippocampus, which is connected to post-traumatic stress disorder. The amygdala, responsible for fight or flight and explored in anxiety disorders, could also be affected. Anxiety can be reduced by getting a full and proper night’s sleep. Acute anxiety that is caused by sleep deprivation usually goes away quickly once sleep is restored.

People suffering from anxiety often complain of sleep problems and feeling sleep deprived. In fact, up to 70 percent of generalized anxiety disorder patients complain about sleep problems. But the truth is while sleep might be harder to attain, several studies have found the sleep they get is actually adequate. Several independent studies found the amount of sleep they get in a lab is not that different from a control group's sleep patterns. There are some minor sleep differences, such as with panic disorder there are more periods of brief wakefulness. But the “architecture” of the sleep is still within the realms of normal. This may indicate that someone with chronic anxiety is hypercritical of the healthy contours of sleep during the night, or they feel more affected by them.

Physiological Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep is necessary for regulation of many physiological functions. Among them is the regulation of hormones such as cortisol and melatonin, which maintain the body's immune system and circadian rhythms, respectively. Increased levels of inflammation in the body associated with chronic loss of sleep and hormone imbalance also are linked with cancer and heart disease, among other diseases. Stress can affect the part of the brain associated with memory and emotions, resulting in increased anxiety.

Sleep Deprivation and Panic Attacks

Sleep deprivation, one form of anxiety disorder, also plays a role in panic attacks. Some people suffering from panic attacks wake up from a sleeping state to a state of panic. People with panic attacks can also just have disturbed sleep, when their sleep is not interrupted by the attacks themselves, yet it is still restless. Research has also found that those with panic disorder are more likely to have a panic attack following a night of sleep deprivation.

What You Can Do

  • If you haven't had any sleep for 48 hours, consult a doctor immediately.
  • Talk to your doctor about sleeping medication options, the pros and cons.
  • Remove all stimulants from the diet: no caffeine, chocolate or sugar. If it is too hard to cut these completely, limit your intake after early afternoon.
  • Create a haven for sleeping: Set the temperature to a cool, comfortable level. Keep your room dark. Don't watch TV in bed.
  • Create a bed time ritual: Try mind/body practices such as meditation, yoga before bed. Relax your mind by reading a book. Avoid electronics and bright lights, however, as they may stimulate your brain.

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