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Anxiety and Sleep

I’t’s 4 am, I’m awake. I hope that I can go back to sleep. . . . Did I remember to get the coffee ready?  I hope the traffic won’t be so bad tomorrow night, last night it took me an hour to get home. I’ve got to decide about whether or not I’ll keep the consulting job. Geez, one of us has to write a blog tomorrow, we’ve been putting that off.  I wonder whether I can fit in the gym tonight. I have to remember to take out the trash before I leave. I have to stop thinking . . . I need sleep. Okay, I’ll try to concentrate on my breathing. Breathe in to the count of eight and then let it out slowly and then in. . . I have way too much to do tommorow….breathe in 1,2,3,3,4,5,6,7,8…….

Sound familiar? More and more people complain about poor sleep. The sale of prescriptions for sleep aids and over-the-counter solutions continue to skyrocket. One reason behind this pandemic is likely the modern lifestyle. We don’t fall into bed exhausted after spending the day doing physical labor on the farm or at the factory.

People generally need about eight hours of sleep per night. The real gauge as to whether you’re getting enough sleep is how you feel during the daytime, not the exact number of hours you get. In any case, anxiety frequently disrupts sleep, and a lack of sleep can increase your anxiety. The following list describes the most common sleep disturbances.

  • Insomnia, by far the most common sleep problem, may be the result of anxiety, depression, stress, poor sleep habits, discomfort, or an inadequate sleeping environment such as living in a noisy apartment building or sleeping on a lumpy mattress. Insomniacs have difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep.
  • Hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy and menopause can cause physical discomfort and changes in bodily temperature that interrupt sleep.
  • Jet lag or shift work can disrupt normal sleep patterns. People have a biological clock or rhythm that likes to stay on a regular schedule. Those who have to switch sleep schedules due to travel or work may have difficult staying asleep or falling asleep.
  • Nightmares sometimes increase when a person suffers anxiety. Of course, sometimes they just happen. In either event, if you suffer these frequently, they can disrupt the quality of your sleep.
  • Dreamless sleep is less restorative than sleep with dreams. Scientists call the state of dreaming Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. During this time, the eyes shift rapidly and dreams occur. Interrupted sleep, certain drugs, and alcohol can interfere with getting enough REM sleep.
  • Prostate problems may be disturbing enough to keep a man awake. Men who have an enlarged prostate may wake up numerous times during the night to urinate. If you wake up more than once a night to urinate, you may wish to consult your doctor.
  • Restless leg syndrome, more common among middle aged and older adults, produces the urge to keep moving because of uncomfortable feelings in the legs and feet.
  • Snoring sometimes indicates a more serious problem known as sleep apnea. Snoring can also be a huge problem for partners. People with sleep apnea actually stop breathing for short periods of time and wake up briefly to take a breath. If you or your partner snores heavily and seems to stop and start, consult with your doctor.

In one of our next blogs, we’ll give some tips for better sleep. If you have frequent problems with sleep, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor. However, prescription medication for sleep should in most cases be a temporary, not long term solution. More later.

Anxiety and Sleep

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is:

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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2009). Anxiety and Sleep. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2018, from


Last updated: 3 Sep 2009
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Sep 2009
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