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Have you ever considered that anxiety is not merely caused by stress or worrisome thoughts, but our physiology can contribute to anxiety as well?  Research suggests that constant sleep deprivation can actually cause an anxiety disorder.[1]    

Although there are many different factors which contribute to anxiety disorders (which will be discussed in future blogs) sleep is an important tool for stabilizing anxiety for several reasons:

1. Neuroscientists at the University of California-Berkley discovered that sleep deprivation actually triggers excessive neural activity in the brain.  In other words lack of sleep can actually trigger symptoms of anxiety.[2] 

2. Sleep relaxes the muscle tension that is caused by stress.  When we are sleep deprived we feel a greater amount of anxiety the next day due to tense muscles.
 

3. People who are sleep deprived have chronically elevated levels of adrenaline which also causes a significant increase in anxiety.[3]
 

4. Without enough sleep the cortisol levels in your body remain elevated.  Since cortisol keeps the body on alert the sleep deprived person may be in a state of hyperawareness which contributes to feeling anxious.[4]
 

5. Researchers from Harvard noted that in “sleep-deprived brains, the amygdala seems to be rerouted to a brain-stem area that triggers fight-or-flight reactions which trigger panic attacks”.[5]
 

According to this research it is vital that you get enough sleep if you have an anxiety disorder so that you can help your body repair and regenerate so that you feel calmer during the day.  

 
Here are some suggestions for getting more sleep: 
 

1. Go to the doctor.  Make sure there is no physical ailment that is affecting your sleep pattern, such as sleep apnea or a thyroid problem.


2. Don’t drink or eat any coffee, cola, or chocolate products.   If you have high levels of anxiety you may be particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine which will keep you awake at night.


3. Dim the lights in your home one hour before you go to bed.  Dimmed lights signal the brain to produce melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy.


4. Stay away from using computers and cell phones before bed as the light from these devices signals your brain to stay awake.


5. Develop a relaxing nightly routine.  Engage in activities that you find relaxing before going to sleep such as reading a book or taking a bath or warm shower.  If you are watching an exciting TV show or listening to catastrophic news your brain may be processing disturbing information, thus making you worried and keeping you from falling asleep.


6. If you are worrying before you go to bed, practise writing your worries in a journal so that you can let go of the worries.  Once you’ve written down your worries tell yourself that you do not need to think about them again until the next day.


7. When you go to bed practice deep breathing exercise for ten minutes.  Think of a pleasant place that you’ve been to, such as the beach.  Keep this picture in mind while you breathe in for the count of 5, hold for the count of 5 and exhale for the count of 5.   At first this exercise might not seem to help, but with continued practice many people have found deep breathing to be very calming.

[1] https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/sleep-disorders

2 https://psychcentral.com/news/2013/06/27/sleep-loss-increases-anxiety-especially-among-worriers/56531.html

3 http://www.healthcentral.com/sleep-disorders/c/68/6852/sleep-health/

4 http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/news/articles/2015/05/guide-to-healthy-sleep.aspx#axzz4cZ7iSHrh

5 http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/news/articles/2015/05/guide-to-healthy-sleep.aspx#axzz4cZ7iSHrh

How Lack of Sleep Affects Anxiety

March 29, 2017​


People with anxiety disorders are frustrated at constantly feeling anxious. They desperately want to stop this unpleasant feeling that is disturbing their life.