Does Anxiety Cause Insomnia? It's Not As Clear-Cut As You Might Think.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017 by Meg   •   Filed under Anxiety

Are you anxious due to lack of sleep, or are you not sleeping because you're anxious? 

The answer might surprise you. 

Can Anxiety Cause Insomnia?

Despite the complaints of nervous people everywhere, studies report that anxiety has little ability to cause true sleep issues, aside from in those with post-traumatic stress1.

While people may have trouble falling asleep due to scary thoughts or worry, this study suggests that there are no actual differences in the brain during rest, or in length of time spent in slumber once people manage to pass out. What this means is that those who report issues with sleep may not have an actual sleeping disorder, but rather an anxiety aroused nervous system that causes trouble with falling asleep.

But, this is not the whole story. Because other studies suggest that this not falling asleep might create a type of cycle that could eventually lead to dysregulation of other systems in the body: systems that might trigger both sleeplessness and anxiety once they are pushed too far. 

Can Insomnia Cause Anxiety?

A study published in the "Journal of Psychiatric Research" found that insomnia may have the ability to trigger depression and anxiety instead of the other way around 2. An additional study agreed, linking chronic insomnia to later development of anxiety3. This suggests that not sleeping over time--regardless of whether the issue was a sleep disorder to begin with--may eventually trigger clinical sleep disorder along with emotional complications. It is also possible that the sleeping problems themselves may be the result of underlying systems that alter sleep patterns before the emotional complications show up.

One possible explanation is thyroid stress. This condition may contribute to issues with hormonal regulation, and thus depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance. According to author Dr. Datis Kharrazian in Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms, this may occur because the thyroid can alter sugar regulation, and the interplay between those factors can affect the systems that allow your body to rest4.

"Not tonight, baby. I've got to sleep in order to regulate my hormonal systems."

The body is necessarily complex, which makes this topic complicated. From hormonal issues, to chemical regulation, to scary thoughts to learned cycles of behavior, sleeping issues are both triggers to mental health issues as well as the result of them.  Find out more HERE: Why Can't I Sleep?! Hyperarousal and The Three Types of Insomnia

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Topic-Relevant Resources

Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms (when my lab tests are normal)
Exploration of the causes and effects of thyroid malfunction on mental health and other body systems