How Anxiety Affects Your Sleep

Written by Beth Holloway, RN, M. Ed
2021-04-06

Falling asleep. Does the thought of it make you feel anxious? Do you wake up during the night feeling anxious? If this sounds familiar, you know that anxiety can definitely make it difficult to sleep. 

Many people who have trouble sleeping also feel anxious or they may have a mental health diagnosis - i.e. an anxiety disorder. The anxiety makes it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. In either case, many people report that they can't sleep due to anxiety. Likewise, poor sleep quantity and quality associated with sleep disorders, often worsen anxiety. However, the opposite is also true; anxiety treatment may lessen or even resolve your sleep problems.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Feeling nervous, worried, or afraid is common and usually short-term. It is one symptom of several anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder or panic attacks, and nighttime (nocturnal) panic attacks. A nocturnal panic attack occurs at night and may occur with or without daytime panic attacks.

With some anxiety disorders, the feelings last and may worsen over time. Anxiety disorders are also likely to create problems with relationships, work or school, or other activities.

What Are The Symptoms Of Anxiety Disorder?

The Goodpath sleep assessment helps identify anxiety by asking about these symptoms: 

  1. Feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge.

  2. Not being able to stop or control worrying.

  3. Worrying too much about different things.

  4. Trouble relaxing.

  5. Being so restless, it is hard to sit still.

  6. Becoming easily annoyed or irritable.

  7. Feeling afraid, as if something awful might happen.

These symptoms occur at least several days in a 2 week period. They may also make it difficult for you to do your work, take care of things at home, or get along with people

How Common Are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders are quite common. A national study of adults in the U.S. estimated close to 20% had an anxiety disorder in the previous year. The study determined that anxiety disorders were more common in women than men. Over 30% of U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder during their lifetimes. 

What Is The Treatment For Anxiety Disorders?

The treatment for anxiety disorders is based on the individual, their specific diagnosis, and symptoms. Treatment may include a combination of prescription medicines, counseling or therapy, relaxation and stress reduction, physical activity, lifestyle changes, and complementary treatments. 

If you can't sleep due to anxiety, try:

  • Slow, deep breathing

  • Writing in a journal

  • Listening to soothing music

  • Soaking in the tub

  • Meditating

Goodpath can show you how to sleep when you feel stressed and anxious.

Which Prescriptions Are Used To Treat Anxiety Disorders? 

A medical professional may select from several classes or types of medicines for anxiety disorders.

It depends on many factors, such as the type of anxiety disorder, a person’s medical history, symptoms, response to the medicine, and possible side effects.

How Anxiety Medicine Affects Your Sleep

Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medicines are both used to treat anxiety. By providing relief for anxiety, they help lessen anxiety-related sleep problems. 

Some of the medicines may directly affect your sleep because drowsiness is a possible side effect. Be watchful with antidepressant medicines because they may also interfere with your sleep. 

What Are Some Common Antidepressant Medicines For Anxiety?

Although antidepressant medicines are primarily used for depression, they are effective in the long-term treatment of anxiety disorders. When anxiety interferes with sleep, antidepressants can also help with sleep.

Two types of antidepressant medicines are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Some common SSRIs are escitalopram and sertraline. Some common SNRIs are duloxetine and venlafaxine, extended-release. 

Possible side effects of antidepressant medicines include: feeling nervous, feeling tired or trouble sleeping, nausea, weight changes, headache, and sexual problems.

Antidepressants can help with sleep and anxiety. However, talk with your doctor if your difficulty sleeping worsens.

What Are Some Common Anti-Anxiety Medicines? 

One class of medicines used in the short-term relief of anxiety symptoms is benzodiazepines, such as diazepam and clonazepam. They are often prescribed in combination with an antidepressant. 

A unique anti-anxiety medicine is buspirone. It may take longer to take effect, but it has few side effects and does not lead to dependence.

Possible side effects of anti-anxiety medicines include drowsiness, memory problems, and weakness, and the possibility of withdrawal symptoms (dependence) when stopped.

Should I Contact My Doctor?

If you have anxiety disorder symptoms, which often interfere with sleep, you should contact your doctor to schedule an appointment. In some cases, your doctor can provide treatment. They may also refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. At the same time, you can participate in our sleep program.

Goodpath offers cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), which includes methods to lessen anxiety. CBT-I is one part of our sleep program that includes mind-body techniques, supplements, exercise, and nutritional support. 

The first step in our program?  Our 5-minute assessment. It allows us to look at your specific symptoms and needs. Start your free sleep assessment today.