Insomnia is a sleep disorder which includes difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking up too early and waking up feeling tired.2
Anxiety involves feelings of worry and unease. It’s your body’s natural response to fearful or stressful situations. You may have an anxiety disorder if your feelings of anxiety or distress become extreme or excessive, occur most days, last for 6 months or longer, and interfere with your daily life and relationships.2,3
Insomnia and anxiety are closely linked. Anxiety frequently causes sleep problems. 70 – 90 % of people with anxiety also battle with insomnia. Sleep deprivation/insomnia can increase your risk of developing anxiety, worsen the symptoms of anxiety disorders, or prevent recovery. 24 – 36 % of people with insomnia are at risk of developing an anxiety disorder (e.g. generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobia).1,2,3,4
How anxiety affects your sleep3,4
How insomnia affects anxiety3,4,5
Sleep deprivation can increase your risk of developing anxiety. People who are prone to anxiety are especially sensitive to the effects of insufficient sleep on mood and emotional health.3
A recent study showed that people who entered the study with insomnia, and who still suffered from insomnia a year later, experienced anxiety at a rate of 6 times greater than people with no sleep complaint.5
Research has shown that people who experience insomnia showed increased activity in the amygdala (a part of the brain responsible for regulating emotion) when shown sleep-related stimuli. Sleep-deprived people also showed reduced connectivity between the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex – areas of the brain that work together to regulate emotional responses like fear and anxiety. Under sleep-deprived conditions, the amygdala may become more sensitive to negative emotional triggers.4
So, what can you do to fix this?
Anxiety and sleep deprivation can be self-reinforcing: worrying causes poor sleep, while further sleep difficulties cause greater anxiety. Treating insomnia may alleviate the symptoms associated with an anxiety disorder and vice versa. Speak to your doctor about the treatment options that are best suited to your needs.2,3
Building healthy sleep habits and a consistent routine can make going to bed a more pleasant experience. Relaxation techniques and exercises can help break the cycle of worry/anxiety and rumination. Deep breathing (a relaxation technique) can help put your mind at ease before bed or if you wake up during the night.3 A deep breathing exercise to help you sleep6
In preparing this article, every effort has been made to provide an objective overview. The content contained in this article contains medical or health sciences information as per cited articles for public information. The content of this article has been initiated and is brought to you by Sanofi South Africa.
- Oh C-M, Kim HY, Na HK, et al. The effect of anxiety and depression on sleep quality of individuals with high risk for insomnia: A population-based study. Front Neurol 2019;10(849):1-8. doi:10.3389/fneur.2019.00849.
- Frothingham S. What is the link between anxiety and insomnia? 11 January 2023. Healthline. Available online at https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety-insomnia. [Accessed 18 August 2023].
- Suni E, Dimitriu A. Anxiety and sleep. 08 August 2023. Sleep Foundation. Available online at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/anxiety-and-sleep. [Accessed 18 August 2023].
- Anxiety and insomnia – a dangerous duo? 27 March 2022. HealthMatch. Available online at https://healthmatch.io/anxiety/treatments-for-insomnia-due-to-anxiety. [Accessed 18 August 2023].
- Glidewell RN, McPherson Botts E, Orr WC. Insomnia and anxiety. Diagnostic and management implications of complex interactions. Sleep Med Clin 2015;10:93-99.
- Tips to help you overcome insomnia and get the sleep you need. Patient resource. Sanofi. MAT-ZA-2100751-1.0-07/2021.