Anxiety Disorder and Sleep: What’s the Connection?

While it may come as no surprise that anxiety disorder and sleep are linked, there is an interesting cycle between the two. According to a Bustle article by JR Thorpe,  “anxiety and sleep can enter into a self-maintaining negative cycle.” There are additional sleep recommendations for anxiety disorder sufferers that will be analyzed here, while also addressing some indicators of how anxiety and sleep disorders may manifest in daily life.


Sleep and Anxiety in Daily Life

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has an article about sleep disorders, and in response to the question “Anxiety Disorder or Sleep Disorder: Which Comes First?” their answer was “Either one. Anxiety causes sleeping problems, and new research suggests sleep deprivation can cause an anxiety disorder.”  This can have a lasting effect, as well; the cycle of high anxiety and poor sleep can help each to get worse with time.

An individual lacking in sleep can be more prone to overreacting to minor stressors (treating them as if they were major).  An example is that of an insomniac in panic mode – “catastrophizing” their lack of sleep as having potentially near-fatal effects.  A person lacking sleep can also read faces incorrectly, or “read faces as hostile rather than friendly.”  While it seems somewhat alarming to acknowledge the intensity of the connection between the two, it is relieving to see that treating insomnia can have a direct effect on minimizing the effects of anxiety disorders.  In addition to the regular sleep tips offered for those having issues sleeping, some additional considerations are outlined below for anxiety sufferers.


Suggestions for Anxiety Disorder Sufferers

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends some generic ideas to help with anxiety.  They include common tips for any individual struggling to sleep, along with some additional ideas such as:

  • prioritize your daily to-do list
  • play soft and calming music
  • direct stress and anxiety elsewhere
  • talk to someone about daily troubles


Thorpe’s suggestions are slightly different, and potentially more helpful.  The first suggestion is more of a warning. Though the benefits of marijuana have been touted recently, using it as a sleep aid is apparently off the mark.  Although marijuana has a reputation for calming effects, it’s been shown that “heavy marijuana smokers showed more sleep disturbance and a greater degree of insomnia.”  Thorpe’s article references a Boston University study.

Another suggestion of Thorpe’s is aromatherapy. The two scents mentioned were lavender and gardenia.  Lavender was studied in intensive care units, while gardenia was studied in Germany and found to have two compounds that interact with GABA – a neurotransmitter that is crucial in the sleep process.

The final two suggestions are actions that an individual can take.  Clock-watching is a habit that individuals struggle with when trying to sleep, and it is something that increases panic although the individual needs calming.  The suggestion Thorpe mentions is to remove clocks from the room, or turn them around to face the wall.

Finally, there is an app to help with anxiety disorder management. Self-help for Anxiety Management (SAM) app is “a step-by-step activity guide to things like meditation and sorting out anxious thinking ruts, but it also provides a lot of information about what anxiety disorders are actually about.” Of course, use with the mindfulness of other sleep tips; limit its use until an hour before bed to avoid possible disruption of circadian rhythm.

Anxiety and sleep disorders do go hand in hand, but this information provides the hope that treatment of one should also help with the other.  If sleep disorders persists, please come and see us at Pittsburgh Dental Sleep Medicine.  We are here to help you find answers!

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