Health & Fitness Lifestyle The more you know

Anxiety and insomnia: why can’t you sleep?

A good night’s sleep is essential to stay healthy and it is also why many of us turn around and turn with great concern in the bed, or watch the clock continuously when they cannot sleep for a night or two.

A sleepless night has happened to everyone at least once in their life and does not have to worry, the causes are the most disparate and the organism is able to react effectively if it happens occasionally; It is important to understand that waking up during the night or struggling to sleep is completely normal and happens to many people, most of whom do not even remember the night awakenings.

People with real problems related to insomnia have persistent difficulties in getting enough sleep and, consequently, they feel tired during the day; from a practical point of view the disorder can manifest itself as:

  • employ too much I fear to fall asleep,
  • often wake up during the night,
  • wake up too early in the morning and not be able to sleep anymore.
  • Caring too much about these aspects generally worsens the difficulties, triggering a vicious circle of anxiety and fear that can be difficult to get out of:

If you start to worry about not sleeping it increases the risk of suffering from insomnia.

  • When insomnia takes over, it is important not to give too much weight, knowing that this is probably a passing disorder.
  • We must strive not to think “Tomorrow I will not be able to stand unless I can fall asleep now”, but instead think “I was able to react well when it happened to me in the past and so it will be tomorrow too”.

Other unfounded thoughts to avoid and fight are:

  • Self-convinced that the cause of insomnia is serious, permanent, incurable, … In most cases, the disorder is completely solvable and temporary.
  • Blame the lack of sleep for every problem (mood, concentration, memory, …); certainly, it can influence, but anxiety affects it if not more.
  • Not everyone needs 8-10 hours of sleep if you sleep less and during the day you feel active and rested it is probably more than enough for you

Stress and anxiety can, therefore, cause sleep disorders or aggravate the problem if pre-existing.

How many hours of sleep are needed?

The need for rest varies from person to person and changes several times throughout the life span.

  • Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Newborns, on the other hand, must sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day,
  • while preschool children between 11 and 12 hours a day.
  • Children and school-age children need at least 10 hours of sleep each night.

Some people believe that adults need fewer hours of rest during old age, but in reality, the scientific literature does not bring evidence to support this hypothesis, although it is certainly common to reduce hours of deep sleep (and therefore also ease with which one can wake up during the night).

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorders represent a unique group of diseases that make people’s lives full of unmotivated agitation, persistent, excessive and unreasonable fears and concerns. They can be classified as:

  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD),
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),
  • panic attacks,
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
  • social anxiety disorder (SAD),
  • and specific phobias.

Anxiety disorders are a real and serious health condition, but in most patients, they can be effectively treated.

What is a sleep disorder?

Sleep disorder means the condition in which the rhythms of sleep are altered to the point of interfering with proper physical, mental and emotional functioning

Insomnia is the clinical term used for people who

  • have difficulty falling asleep and/or maintaining sleep,
  • they wake up too early in the morning,
  • they wake up without feeling rested.


Other common sleep disorders are:

  • hypersomnia,
  • sleep apnea (loud snoring caused by obstruction of one of the airways),
  • narcolepsy (falling asleep spontaneously),


while the following are called parasomnias:

  • bruxism (teeth grinding during sleep),
  • nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting),
  • nightmares,
  • pavor nocturnus (night terror),
  • restless legs syndrome,
  • sleepwalking,
  • somniloquio (talk in your sleep),
  • sexsomnia (unconscious sexual intercourse during sleep).

Are anxiety disorders causing sleep disorders or vice versa?

Both scenarios are possible: anxiety can cause problems with insomnia, but research results suggest that sleep disorders can also cause anxiety disorders. This is because lack of sleep stimulates the part of the brain most closely associated with depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders.

The available literature also indicates that in almost all psychiatric disorders there is some form of difficulty related to sleep.

For those suffering from anxiety, insomnia is, unfortunately, part of a vicious circle: many other symptoms including excessive stress, persistent worry, obsessive thoughts, gastrointestinal problems, and nightmares are very likely to steal more precious hours of sleep. Some antidepressants commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders can also cause sleep disorders.

The results of a study published in July 2007 suggest that people with chronic insomnia are at high risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Other research suggests that insomnia occurs in people who experience more negative emotions.

On the other hand, many people who suffer from anxiety manage to maintain an optimal quality of sleep, so the problem arises when the fear of not being able to sleep takes over in these patients.

If I suffer from insomnia, can I be subjected to other health problems?

Insufficient sleep can lead to other risks besides fatigue: insomnia can lead to poor results at work or school, increase the risk of injuries and health problems.

“Ninety percent of the time people suffering from insomnia also have another health problem,” says Thomas Roth, Ph.D., director of the sleep-distress research center at the Henry Ford Hospital (Detroit, USA hospital). “Most of the time these problems consist of anxiety and mood disorders and it is appropriate to consider the impact that each problem has on the course of others.”

People suffering from sleep disorders may also be at risk of heart disease:

  • heart failure,
  • irregular heartbeat,
  • heart attack,
  • stroke,
  • hypertension,
  • diabetes.
  • Some researchers also claim that adults who sleep less than six hours a night are 50% more likely to become obese than those who sleep seven to eight hours a night.

Last but not least, during sleep the body produces important hormones:

  • growth hormone, which improves muscle mass and the ability to repair cells and tissues in children and adults;
  • another type of hormone that increases during sleep helps the fight carried out by the immune system towards various infections;
  • hormone linked to the sense of satiety (leptin).
  • This could explain why a good night’s sleep helps prevent health problems and promotes recovery during periods of illness.

The cure

The treatment is more effective the more precise the diagnosis of the disorder is; it is therefore of great importance to arrive at an accurate diagnosis of all medical conditions that may contribute to the anxiety sleep disorder complained of by the patient, also to determine what the primary cause is: this information will help you and your doctor to establish the most appropriate treatment plan.

If you suspect you are suffering from a sleep disorder, consult a primary care physician or mental health professional, or contact a clinic that specializes in sleep disorders.

Treatment options for anxiety disorders include:

  • cognitive-behavioral therapy (a form of psychotherapy with a solid scientific basis),
  • relaxation techniques,
  • drugs.

The doctor or therapist can resort to the prescription of one of these treatments or, more frequently, to a combination, which allows managing the symptoms quickly but allows to treat also and above all the causes of the disorder.

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