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Anxiety and Sleep Disorders

Anxiety and stress can create sleep problems and even lead to a sleep disorder. Plus discover why some anxiety medications can worsen sleep disorders.

Typical anxiety and stress can hinder sleep, and many symptoms of an anxiety disorder can further exacerbate a sleep problem. Many times, anxiety co-occurs with depression, which is also associated with sleep disorders.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders consist of a range of mental illnesses including:

While everyone experiences anxiety or nervousness at times, anxiety disorders differ as they cause distress that negatively interferes with everyday life. Symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:

  • Feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness
  • Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
  • Repeated thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences
  • Ritualistic behaviors, such as repeated hand washing
  • Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • An inability to be still and calm
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness
  • Problems sleeping, nightmares

Sleep Disorders and Anxiety

Anxiety can cause, or be a symptom of, many sleep disorders. Commonly seen sleep disorders include:

  • insomnia
  • REM behavior disorder, including panic attacks and sleep paralysis

Insomnia is the most universal, and while anxiety is known to induce insomnia, insomnia can also cause or worsen anxiety. Many people with anxiety find themselves awake at night due to fear, worry, obsessive thoughts, nightmares or gastrointestinal problems.

Anxiety and sleep disorders can often create a vicious circle. Anxiety induces a disorder such as insomnia. Lack of sleep then worsens anxiety, which makes insomnia worse, causing more anxiety.

Some antidepressants prescribed for anxiety can also worsen sleep disorders ("Treating Anxiety-Related Sleep Disorder")

References:

1 Ross, Jerilyn, M.A. The Link Between Anxiety and Sleep Disorders Health Central. Jan 5, 2009. http://www.healthcentral.com/anxiety/c/33722/54537/anxiety-disorders

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2019, September 8). Anxiety and Sleep Disorders, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/sleep-disorders/anxiety-and-sleep-disorders

Last Updated: September 18, 2019
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Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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