Monday, March 14, 2016

My Anxiety's Relationship WIth Sleep

This has nothing to do with
my anxiety, but I thought it was funny.
When you have an anxiety disorder, you more than likely have sleep problems to go along with it. The two don't always go hand in hand, but most people who suffer from anxiety seem to have trouble sleeping at some point or another. This trouble can take various forms and has had many faces in my life–not all negative, believe it or not. Here are a few troubles I've had with sleep and that you may have if you suffer from anxiety:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Difficulty falling back to sleep
  • Difficulty waking up
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Difficulty trusting the efficacy of your sleep medication

Okay, that last one isn't really anxiety related as much as it is related to my dismay that medication is not magic. 

Anxiety is the antithesis of sleep. Check out this study abstract if you don't believe me. If you are worrying or having physical anxiety symptoms when you lay down at night, you are not likely to fall asleep fast or have restful sleep. I have spent hours laying in bed worry about life, worrying about worry, having panic attacks or stressing about sleep while trying to fall asleep. I know I'm not alone in this, though I never saw anyone else pacing the halls or asking the nurse for anxiety meds at 3 a.m. when I was in the hospital. I suspect they were giving everyone else better meds.

Trouble staying asleep and falling back to sleep is something I experienced mildly in the past. However, it came about full force at the end of last year. I was waking up multiple times a night with panic attacks and having trouble getting back to sleep. This was different from waking up a bit early and laying there hoping for more sleep. It was a desperate clawing need for sleep coupled with panic symptoms that prevented it from happening. The meds that helped me fall asleep did nothing to help me stay asleep. It's been about three weeks since this has happened after a period of it happening every night, so you could say I'm pretty excited.

It is much more common for me to have issues with sleep than it is for me to sleep too much or feel sleepy enough for a nap, but it happens. It typically happens when I'm a bit depressed, but don't have the underlying anxiety that usually triggers it. It also happens when I'm on psych meds for my conditions, and they are working. I think I've decided it's better to sleep too much than too little, so I'm going to be super med compliant this time . . . I promise.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that not all affects of my sleep problems are negative. It's true. I'm typically a night owl, so much so that I may stay up until 5 a.m. and sleep until noon. When I go through a bout of strong anxiety, I tend to get up earlier–a reset that usually lasts a few months after the relapse has resolved. I also tend to get fewer bouts of profound sleepiness in the middle of the day, which is nice. My relationship with sleep may be strained at these times, but I am really productive when I start to come out of the anxiety with a "normal" sleep pattern. It's never long before I'm cleaning the house late at night and reading until the sun comes up again, though.

If you suffer from anxiety and have a hard time sleeping, open up to your docs about it. They say sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health, so seek ways to have a healthier relationship with sleep. Good luck!

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