Have you ever noticed that a common buddy or characteristic of anxiety are bouts of sleepless nights or insomnia? Sleep deprivation, or insomnia, is a common companion with attacks of anxiety. Some may think it is the anxiety that is causing the lack of sleep, and the insomnia is just a symptom of another greater physiological or psychological problem. However, in all honesty, it can be the exact opposite. Researchers are discovering how lack of sleep or insomnia may be one of the primary contributors to a case of anxiety.
Some may be questioning how can loss of sleep bring about an emotional disorder. Well, let’s start with the basics. There are 5 stages of sleep in the sleep cycle. They are stages 1-4, which make up the Non-REM (NREM) Sleep Phase and stage 5, which is the REM phase. While sleeping, the body must go through all five phases of the sleep cycle a few times per night. Although the function of sleep is unknown, multiple studies have been done to show that each phase contributes a specific health benefit to the body. When studying the benefits of Stage 5 REM sleep in particular, many know this as the dream stage. This stage is useful in flushing the mind of stressful events of the day, which is the body’s natural way of dealing with anxiety or other forms of stress. In addition to dreaming, the REM stage is also responsible for stabilizing one’s emotional health. When we don’t get enough REM sleep, the emotional centers of the brain are out of balance and we tend to behave more “hyperactive” than usual. REM sleep is essential in balancing our day to day moods and responses to stressful circumstances. One of the many causes of anxiety, is the lack of a full night of rest or an abrupt interruption of REM sleep.
Many factors can be attributed to the blocking of REM sleep. One of the most common are alcohol and caffeine use, which by themselves, can cause feelings of anxiety and other emotional or psychological disorders. Alcohol and caffeine can interfere with the function of various chemical hormones that regulate the sleep cycle. Some people may use alcohol as a way to relax and induce sleep, but excessive use of alcohol can disrupt your sleep pattern and interfere with REM sleep. Caffeine, on the other hand, can disrupt REM sleep by keeping you awake. The lack of sleep from both alcohol and caffeine, is what triggers anxiety.
Sudden and abrupt changes in one’s sleep cycle can also trigger emotional stress. Insomnia and other sleep disorders can hugely alter the activity of hormones and adjust various pathways of the brain. These changes in brain activity can disrupt the sleep cycle. Another factor that interrupts REM sleep and causes anxiety, is an increased level of cortisol in the brain. Research has proven that higher concentrations of cortisol, a stress hormone, not only interferes with the sleep cycle, but also contributes to emotional problems, like anxiety and other depressive disorders. Exercise, right before bedtime, and improper dieting can raise cortisol levels in the brain which makes it difficult to fall asleep at night. As a consequence, a case of anxiety or depression is the end result.
Prescription sleep medication, given as an insomnia cure ,can also bring about feelings of anxiety. Studies have been done to show that many of the very popular sleeping pills, can carry side effects of anxiety and mild depression. Statistics show that approximately 90% of anxiety and depression patients suffer with cases of chronic insomnia. Most people believe that the anxiety or depression is causing the insomnia, when in actuality, the lack of a completed cycle of sleep may be a major reason for the anxiety or either an enhancer of the already present condition. With all of this in mind, we must make an effort to eliminate all kinds of stress and attempt to maintain a healthy amount of sleep, in order to remain free from anxiety or other depressive disorders.