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The Cycle of Lack of Sleep and Anxiety

Doctors have long known that patients who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders often have trouble sleeping as a regular side effect. This is because all that stress makes it nearly impossible to close your eyes, clear your head, and actually rest. Our reactions and responses to stimuli of all varieties are heightened – even when it’s bedtime.

Do you have an anxiety disorder, or are just going through a period of higher than normal stress?

Then you are likely familiar with that feeling of being unable to “turn off your brain” when it’s bedtime.


Research to Prove The Lack of Sleep and Anxiety Disorder Cycle

But new research from the November 4, 2018 annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience suggests that anxiety and poor rest link together in more ways than one. And the relationship between the two may be more complicated than we think.

In fact, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston conducted a recent study about this cycle. The results showed that anxiety and lack of rest is actually a two-way street, with one condition exacerbating the other.

Overall, when you have anxiety, you are less likely to get a good night’s rest. But conversely, if you have trouble sleeping – or have a sleeping disorder like obstructive sleep apnea – your anxiety naturally increases.

The University of California, Berkeley also conducted a recent and similar study to back up this correlation.

In this study, researchers looked at the anxiety levels of several dozen healthy people. After a night of poor rest, these folks took anxiety tests the following morning. The researchers found that their anxiety levels were 30% higher than when they had a normal night’s rest. In fact, the anxiety levels in these otherwise healthy individuals were similar to those in people who have an actual anxiety disorder diagnosis.

In the same study, the researchers found that people’s brain activity also changed after a lack of rest. The areas associated with emotion were noticeably more active. And the prefrontal cortex – an area that can actually reduce stress and anxiety – noticeably less active.


Which Comes First – Poor Sleep or Anxiety?

Certainly there’s a link between anxiety and poor quality sleep. But these recent findings muddy the waters about which problem is the cause, and which is the symptom.

If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), for example, anxiety and irritability may be something you experience on a regular basis. However, you may not have an actual anxiety disorder, as these could just be side effects.

As it turns out, obstructive sleep apnea is commonly misdiagnosed as an anxiety or mood disorder. This is especially true in women who may not show more obvious signs of OSA, such as snoring.

Read this recent post for more information about recent findings on sleep apnea.


In essence, no matter if your root issue is related to anxiety or the quality of your sleep, the important thing is to pay attention, and to note any changes to your sleeping schedule that may lead to anxiety-related side effects. Because these two conditions are linked, it’s important to get either root cause under control in order to alleviate both anxiety and a lack of quality sleep.


We can help you take the first steps in identifying a sleep disorder like OSA. Contact us today to find out more.

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The Cycle of Lack of Sleep and Anxiety
An anxiety condition can cause problems with your rest, but new research shows that anxiety and poor sleep may be more connected that originally thought.