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?
- 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.