Sleep away from anxiety
Have you ever noticed that a common companion or characteristic of anxiety is episodes of insomnia or sleepless nights? Lack of sleep, or insomnia, is a common companion to anxiety attacks. Some may think that anxiety is causing the lack of sleep, and insomnia is just a symptom of another major physiological or psychological problem. However, in all honesty, it may be the exact opposite. Researchers are discovering how poor sleep or insomnia can be one of the main contributors to a case of anxiety.
Some may wonder how lack of sleep can lead to emotional disturbance. Well, let’s start with the basics. There are 5 stages of sleep in the sleep cycle. They are stages 1-4, which make up the non-REM sleep phase (NREM) and stage 5, which is the REM phase. While you sleep, your body must go through all five phases of the sleep cycle several times a night. Although the function of sleep is unknown, multiple studies have been conducted to show that each phase provides a specific benefit to the health of the body. When studying the benefits of stage 5 REM sleep in particular, many know this as the stage of sleep. This stage is helpful in clearing the mind of the stressful events of the day, which is the body’s natural way of dealing with anxiety or other forms of stress. In addition to dreaming, the REM stage is also responsible for stabilizing emotional health. When we don’t have enough REM sleep, the brain’s emotional centers are out of balance and we tend to behave more “hyperactive” than usual. REM sleep is essential for balancing our daily mood and responses to stressful circumstances. One of the many causes of anxiety is a lack of a full night’s rest or an abrupt interruption of REM sleep.
Many factors can be attributed to the blockage of REM sleep. One of the most common is the consumption of alcohol and caffeine, which alone can cause feelings of anxiety and other emotional or psychological disorders. Alcohol and caffeine can interfere with the function of several chemical hormones that regulate the sleep cycle. Some people may use alcohol as a way to relax and induce sleep, but excessive use of alcohol can disrupt your sleep pattern and interfere with REM sleep. Caffeine, on the other hand, can disrupt REM sleep by keeping you awake. Lack of sleep from both alcohol and caffeine is what triggers anxiety.
Sudden and abrupt changes in the sleep cycle can also trigger emotional stress. Insomnia and other sleep disorders can greatly alter the activity of hormones and adjust various pathways in the brain. These changes in brain activity can disrupt the sleep cycle. Another factor that disrupts REM sleep and causes anxiety is an increased level of cortisol in the brain. Research has shown that higher concentrations of cortisol, a stress hormone, not only interfere with the sleep cycle, but also contribute to emotional problems, such as anxiety and other depressive disorders. Exercise, just before bedtime, and a poor diet can raise cortisol levels in the brain, making it difficult to fall asleep at night. As a consequence, the end result is a case of anxiety or depression.
Prescription sleep medications, administered as a cure for insomnia, can also trigger feelings of anxiety. Studies have been done to show that many of the very popular sleeping pills can have mild depression and anxiety side effects. Statistics show that approximately 90% of patients with anxiety and depression suffer from chronic insomnia. Most people believe that anxiety or depression is causing the insomnia, when in reality, the lack of a full cycle of sleep may be one of the main reasons for anxiety or an enhancer of the already present condition. With all this in mind, we must strive to eliminate all kinds of stress and try to maintain a healthy amount of sleep, in order to be free from anxiety or other depressive disorders.