Some people have asked whether lack of sleep and anxiety are linked. Other people haven’t really thought about any link between lack of sleep and anxiety. Anxiety sufferers should definitely read this information.
My take on it: I came down with my first panic attack after a night when I lacked sleep. I had the next day as a vacation day from work so it was one of those nights where I anticipated all of the things that could be done in the day that followed (planning my day while I was supposed to be sleeping!). My mind was essentially racing all night or so it felt. The next day I had a very bad panic attack – my first actually.
I’m not telling you this to scare you or suggest it was simply the lack of sleep causing my anxiety and panic attack. Rather I know that you might have heard about the benefits of sleep and dismissed them and perhaps my personal history will have an important implication: that sleep can have a very powerful influence on your moods.
Consider for instance, what the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School says in its article Sleep and Mood:
“Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood. University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.”
The article goes on to state mood and mental states can also affect sleep. “Anxiety increases agitation and arousal, which make it hard to sleep. Stress also affects sleep by making the body aroused, awake, and alert. People who are under constant stress or who have abnormally exaggerated responses to stress tend to have sleep problems.”
Other resources reveal that additional problems associated with lack of sleep are that it can elevate the body's production of stress hormones, affecting mood of course, cause depression, raise blood pressure and boost blood levels of substances that are responsible for increasing inflammation, which appears to be a major risk factor for heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and even obesity.
There is research showing subjects who lacked sleep ended up eating more. Sleep deprivation can affect hormones which regulate appetite control.
At this point it’s important to focus on what the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School says. That is, that addressing sleep problems makes a difference.
The article goes on to state “Even if you do not have underlying sleep problems, taking steps to ensure adequate sleep will lead to improved mood and well-being.”
An interesting and informative video is presented about a young attorney who found herself lacking sleep after the birth of her first child. It really ended up affecting her mental health but fortunately she was able to get some help addressing the problem and returned to better sleep and mental health. You can actually access the video and a new browser window will open up if you click here (so you can flip back over to this browser window and will not lose your place).
I want to quickly mention some other benefits of sleep:
- boosting the immune system
- maintaining a healthy weight
- helping you work and live more productively and interact more effectively with people
- positively influencing your physical, mental and emotional health
So I think it’s clear that proper sleep is very important.
How much sleep?
Somewhere around 8 hours. It could be a little more or less, depending on the individual but this is probably a relatively good guideline.
How can you get a good night’s sleep?
Watch out for caffeine; even one cup in the morning can affect some people.
Ensure that your room is quite dark because too much light can be very problematic for sleep. If light is a problem then you might consider investing in a slumber mask which helps to block out light.
I also came across some wonderfully helpful tips from Dr. Andrew Weil which I’d like to share below.
Ensure you do not have too much noise in your room. If noise is an unavoidable problem (as it is for many folks in busy areas) then consider getting a white noise machine or small fan that runs in the background. You can adjust to this consistent background noise while these things help block out other external noises.
Also ensure that your room is not too hot. A cool temperature is best for sleeping.
If you awake in the night then do not turn on the lights, but rather use a flashlight where feasible. Light effects a brain chemical called melatonin. Melatonin regulates your sleep-wake cycle, so having too much light will cause you to increase levels of melatonin which begins to wake you up. This is the same process that happens when the sun comes and you begin to awaken.
Establishing a routine and preparing for bedtime in advance, making your sleeping quarters as comfortable as possible. Using some natural aromas or lighting a candle as you do your “shut down” routine, i.e. brushing teeth, etc., can be helpful.
Also developing good sleep habits such as sleeping on your side and developing - and sticking to - a bedtime and sleep schedule can be incredibly helpful.
So lack of sleep and anxiety can definitely be linked. However by ensuring you have enough sleep and a quality sleep can have an overall positive effect on your anxiety and overall health.
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