How Lack of Sleep May Be Fueling Your Anxiety

Plenty of people toss and turn at night, fighting for sleep that doesn’t come. For most people, there are times when your mind races like a freight train through the night, refusing to let you slip into the restorative embrace of sleep. Instead, you find yourself trapped in a cycle of worries and what-ifs.

But these sleepless nights don’t just impact your nighttime activities; there’s a direct correlation between the lack of sleep and the intensity of anxiety the next day. Many folks find that their thoughts seem to spiral more easily into catastrophic scenarios, their ability to cope dwindles, and even the smallest hurdles feel insurmountable.

If this sounds like you, keep reading, because today we’re going to talk about the connection between lack of sleep and anxiety.

The Link Between Sleep and Anxiety

The intricate link between sleep and anxiety is deeply rooted in the complex interplay of biological, psychological, and neurochemical processes within the human body. Sleep is a really complicated process, even though it seems simple. It’s more than just closing your eyes and resting; during sleep, your brain repairs itself, processes memories, and much more. Understanding the science behind this connection can help explain why disruptions in sleep patterns can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and vice versa. Let’s take a look at all the key pieces in this complicated puzzle.

One of the mechanisms that can help explain the relationship between sleep and anxiety  is the way your neurotransmitters and hormones interact and regulate sleep. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation, plays a critical role in modulating sleep-wake cycles as well as emotional states. Disruptions in serotonin signaling have been implicated in both anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances, highlighting the interconnected nature of these phenomena.

The stress hormone cortisol plays a key role in the body’s response to stress and is intricately linked to both sleep and anxiety. Elevated cortisol levels, which often accompany chronic stress and anxiety, can disrupt the normal sleep-wake cycle, leading to difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. In turn, sleep deprivation can further elevate cortisol levels, creating a vicious cycle that perpetuates both anxiety and sleep disturbances.

Another major role is played by the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in processing emotions, particularly fear and anxiety. Sleep deprivation has been shown to enhance amygdala reactivity, making individuals more prone to exaggerated emotional responses and heightened anxiety levels. This means that you’ll often be much more sensitive to emotional stimuli, like your anxiety triggers!

Sleep also plays a crucial role in cognitive function, and disruptions in sleep patterns can impair various cognitive processes, including attention, memory, and decision-making. This cognitive impairment can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, making it more difficult to cope with stressors and manage anxious thoughts and feelings effectively.

Disruptions in the body’s circadian rhythm, which regulates the timing of sleep and wakefulness, can contribute to both sleep disturbances and anxiety. Shift work, irregular sleep schedules, and exposure to artificial light at night can disrupt the circadian rhythm, leading to sleep problems and increased susceptibility to anxiety disorders.

So all in all, sleep and anxiety go hand in hand. Anxiety can make it hard to sleep, but without sufficient sleep, you will feel more anxious. It’s a vicious cycle… but it’s one that doesn’t have to keep you stuck!

How To Get Better Sleep

So now that you know about the relationship between sleep and anxiety, what can you do to get better sleep? Improving sleep when experiencing heightened anxiety can be challenging, but there are several strategies that can help alleviate anxiety and promote better sleep quality. Here are some practical tips to consider:

Establish a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Engage in calming activities before bedtime to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. This could include reading a book, practicing mindfulness or relaxation techniques, taking a warm bath, or listening to soothing music. Consistency is key in training your body to associate these activities with sleep.

Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment

Optimize your bedroom environment to promote restful sleep. Keep the room dark, quiet, and cool, as these conditions are conducive to sleep. Invest in comfortable bedding, pillows, and a mattress that supports your preferred sleep position.

Limit Stimulants and Screen Time

Avoid consuming caffeine and other stimulants close to bedtime, as they can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Similarly, avoid using screens– such as smartphones, tablets, computers, and TVs– in the hour leading up to bedtime. The blue light emitted by these devices can disrupt melatonin production and inhibit sleep. This can be hard, especially if you’re a bedtime reader, but try switching to a paperback and a soft lamp. You might find you really enjoy it.

Practice Stress-Reduction Techniques

Incorporate stress-reduction techniques into your daily routine to alleviate anxiety and prepare for sleep. This could include mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization techniques. Find what works best for you and make it a consistent part of your bedtime routine.

Limit Worrying Thoughts

Sometimes we can’t help worrying– and honestly, that’s ok! What’s not ok for us is when our worrying starts overtaking our daily lives and making us miserable. If racing thoughts and worries keep you awake at night, consider setting aside dedicated “worry time” earlier in the day to address these concerns. Write down your worries and potential solutions, allowing yourself to mentally let go of them before bedtime. This kind of worry journaling well before bed can also help quiet the mind and reduce anxiety-related thoughts.

Get Some Movement In

Engage in regular physical activity, as exercise can help reduce anxiety and promote better sleep quality. However, avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime, as it may increase alertness and make it harder to fall asleep. Aim to complete your workout at least a few hours before bedtime to allow your body to wind down. And this doesn’t have to be strenuous– a quick walk around the block can be enough to help your body wind down.

Seek Professional Help

If anxiety significantly impacts your ability to sleep despite self-care efforts, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or mindfulness-based therapy, can provide effective strategies for managing anxiety and improving sleep quality. In some cases, medication may also be prescribed to help alleviate anxiety symptoms and promote better sleep.

Remember that improving sleep with anxiety may require patience and experimentation to find the strategies that work best for you. It’s essential to prioritize self-care and seek support when needed to address both anxiety and sleep disturbances effectively. If you want some professional support around getting your sleep back on track, reach out to the therapy team here at Love Heal Grow. Our team has a lot of experience with anxiety, and we’re here to help you!


Love Heal Grow Relationship Therapy Center Sacramento

Free Relationship Therapy Starter Pack

*How to Find a Therapist

*What to Expect in Your First Appointment

*How to Get the Most Out of Therapy

*How to talk to your boss about going to therapy during the workday

*How to seek reimbursement for therapy from your PPO plan

*Over twenty pages of relationship and life stressor tips and exercises that it would usually take 10+ therapy sessions to cover.

Check your email!