The Dangers of Anxiety-Related Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation can be a real danger to those of us with anxiety disorders, especially in the long term. Chronic lack of sleep has been linked to everything from poor concentration and being more prone to accidents, diabetes, heart disease, and early mortality. The irony is that mood disorders, like anxiety, increase sleep deprivation, which, in turn, increases anxiety. Here is some important information about the dangers of anxiety-related sleep deprivation, and some steps you can take to increase the quality of your sleep.
Here on Treating Anxiety, I tend to blog about anxiety-related issues that I am coping with (or have coped with). Chronic sleep deprivation caused by anxiety and depression has been a huge issue for me for most of my adult life. Now that I'm getting older, I'm becoming ever more cognizant of the dangers lack of sleep presents to my health -- and I'm not just talking about mental health, either.
What Is Sleep Deprivation?
Definitions about what constitutes sleep deprivation vary, but most agree that sleep deprivation occurs when an individual has:
- Had a lack of restorative sleep over a sufficiently long, cumulative period
- Psychiatric or physical symptoms caused by sleep-deprivation
- Had the sleep deprivation interfere with the routine performance of daily tasks
Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, and teenagers need about nine hours a night. Less than that, and a person starts to experience the symptoms of sleep deprivation, even if they feel like they're functioning normally. The first symptoms are usually loss of good judgement, slowed reaction time, and memory loss.
The Dangers of Anxiety-Related Sleep Deprivation
It's easy to dismiss a sleep disorder as "no big deal," and say things like, "I've gotten used to it." I've been doing this for years, and have had long periods where I convinced myself that it was true. However, one of the main ways I've coped is by developing a heavy caffeine addiction and dependency, which has worsened my anxiety, and further eroded my sleep pattern.
It's a vicious circle that has gradually worsened over time. Now that I'm paying more attention to the long-term effects of lack of sleep, I've learned that my anxiety-related sleep deprivation puts me at a higher risk for the following health dangers:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
Decreasing The Dangers of Anxiety-Related Sleep Deprivation
The solution, obviously, is to get more sleep, and/or increase the quality of the sleep you already are getting. Like exercise and your mental health or diet, getting better sleep when you're chronically sleep-deprived takes a bit of discipline, practice, and commitment:
- Commit to getting more sleep. The first step is making a commitment to sleeping better. I find this is getting easier for me as the dangers of anxiety-related sleep deprivation pile up. I'm much more willing to address this issue than I was, say, five years ago.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene involves things like regularly going to bed at a decent hour, getting up at the same time every morning, and making your sleep environment comfortable and conducive to getting good sleep. That means things like making sure your bed is comfortable, keeping your bedroom at a comfortable temperature, controlling the light levels, etc. (What Does Good Sleep Hygiene Mean?).
- Decrease caffeine intake. This is a tough one, seeing as how so many of us with anxiety-related sleep deprivation use caffeine to prop ourselves up during the day. Withdrawal from caffeine can feel awful, but, if you stick with it, it does pass. I'm committing to giving up coffee. It's really hard, but it's getting a little easier each day.
- Consider doing a sleep study. A sleep study is an overnight exam that's non-invasive. Through sensor technology and observation, doctors monitor you to see what's happening in your brain and body as you sleep. Some feel that sleep deprivation is as harmful to society as alcoholism, and believe that everyone with sleep disturbances should do a sleep study. Did you know that there are at least 85 different sleep disorders?
The dangers of anxiety-related sleep deprivation are very real, especially in the long run. As I'm getting older, I'm starting to take my lifelong sleep deprivation more seriously. I'm not a kid anymore, and I can't get away with running on caffeine and sugar to overcome my chronic lack of sleep forever.
It's important for me to make some changes so I get more and better quality sleep. I'm starting to take it seriously, and I hope you will too.
- Chronic Sleep Deprivation and Health Effects. (2010, September 20). Retrieved October 14, 2015.
- 10 Surprising Effects of Lack of Sleep. (2014, February 13). Retrieved October 14, 2015.
- Sleep Deprivation Directory: Find News, Features, and Pictures Related to Sleep Deprivation. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2015.
- Sleep Deprivation Definition. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2015, from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/sleep deprivation
- How Does a Sleep Study Work? (Excessive Sleepiness). (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2015.
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Weber, G. (2015, October 14). The Dangers of Anxiety-Related Sleep Deprivation, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2015/10/the-dangers-of-anxiety-related-sleep-deprivation
Author: Greg Weber
I am sleep deprived. 3 weeks now. Pain has kept me up. I feel suicidal. I'm 69 broke hip 2 years ago. I want to die every day.
I am so sorry for your suffering. The Great Physician, Jesus Christ is the best medicine you'll ever find. Family and a church would be the next thing. God brought me through my years of suicidal thoughts by His mercy and Grace. All things are possible through Christ who strengthens us! God be with you!
I had a complete mental or nervous breakdown because of long-term sleep deprivation and this actually caused some legal issues for me.I had never in my life experienced anything like it.Noise pollution is what caused the sleep issues that I was having.I juat figured that it would get better. But instead I collapsed mentally.I know now that if I ever have that problem again I will definitely do something about it.
I'm sorry you struggled with such severe sleep problems. If you need help in the future, please browse our Sleep Disorder Information, Research, and Support area (https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/sleep-disorders/sleep-disorders-and-sleep-problem….) I wish you much better sleep health in the future.
What did you do to change it? I am currently struggling with sleep deprivation and it's like a living nightmare. Things I'm not usually scared of I'm terrified of. Help!
Jane, I assume your question might be directed toward John, but I thought I'd share some additional information. I'm really sorry to hear you are struggling so much. You may want to consider talking to your doctor or a therapist. Here is an article with some tips for sleeping habits: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/sleep-disorders/develop-good-sleep-habits/. I also find that things like self-massage, reading, etc. help me to calm down. You might also try an epsom salt bath before bed and lavender essential oil, as both of these things can be calming. If you have not tried, tapping or EFT, this is another good one to calm fear. I'll be sharing an article and video on this in a couple of weeks, but here's another one in the meantime. https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2017/02/emotional-freedom-technique-as-…
What about those who have schizophrenia and have extreme anxiety how do you deal with that
vicious circle for me.......constant stress with family issues that never seem to give up, has made me anxious and run down and my sleep patters over the past 6 months have become more like cat naps, I fall asleep for a couple of hours then wake up and find it difficult to switch off. the more this has gone on the more iv started saying and doing irrational things.......things so simply out of character. whilst the family issues never seem to give up my stress levels get worse then I get a feeling that I am going to explode.......I get a rage that I take out on my partner....feel so sorry or her......this don't happen too often but my recent outburst was full of accusations that I convinced myself were true
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I believe that the number one thing to focus on if you want to sleep well is your diet. The sleep hormone melatonin is derived from the neurotransmitter serotonin and people who eat a lot of processed food tend to have low levels of serotonin. They often develop a form of food induced brain dysfunction we now call Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome. People with CARB syndrome tend to have low levels of all the monoamine neurotransmitters so a good night's sleep quickly goes out the window. They also have low levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.
The solution is to eat a whole foods diet and to reduce your intake of sugar and highly refined carbohydrates. I often recommend taking supplements like L-tryptophan and 5-htp that build up levels of serotonin in your brain. You can also take melatonin although I prefer getting it with a skin cream. Taking L-theamine from green tea can also be helpful.
If you combine these methods with those outlined in the article I'm pretty sure you will sleep like a baby!
All life I've had anxiety and would self medicate so when i came down I'd get that sleep i was after. As i gotten older it has caused me so much pain in my life. At times i thought i was going crazy. And no matter how many trips to the Drs it was always , here take this or take that and even though i begged for help , it never came. Thank you for this article becuase I've been getting the help i needed for so long and i realized i have to do the work . if i want change i have too put in that work . Again i thank you.