Anxiety and the struggle with sleep

Mary is a young lady about 35 years old who worries about “little things, big things and no things.” The minute she wakes up in the morning, she feels anxious about her day. The anxiety makes it hard for her to fall asleep. She enjoys her job and has a good marriage and 2 happy, healthy kids; but she has always been a worrier. She worries about the health of her kids, parents and about whether she is doing her best at her job as a consultant at a marketing company. The anxiety makes her tense, restless and sometimes dizzy during the day. At night when she wants to settle in bed, racing thoughts and worry kick in. So, she can’t fall asleep till 2 or more hours later. She also wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. She feels frustrated.

Mary suffers from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Sleep problems especially insomnia is very common in this group. Sleep is typically unsatisfying and unrefreshing. During the day, they feel tired, fatigued and have difficulty concentrating. Since anxiety and sleep disturbance are so closely linked, both problems need to be addressed and treated in the individual to help either one.

Treatment of insomnia in individuals with anxiety

  • Improvement of anxiety and insomnia takes a long time- so be patient
  • If you feel you suffer from anxiety that is affecting your sleep, talk to your doctor. You might need to be on medications that help you cope and ameliorate the anxiety while you get therapy such as counseling or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a very effective treatment for anxiety and in turn for insomnia. (refs: Belanger L 2004 J Anxiety Disord. Dugas MJ 2003 J Consult Clic Psych). It is a type of talk therapy that works on the idea that if we change the way we think (negative thoughts to positive ones), then we can change the way we feel (sad or anxious to happy or optimistic).
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol. They can make your anxiety and insomnia worse.
  • Exercise is a wonderful way to reduce the anxiety and tension and improve the sleep quality.
  • Yoga is another helpful way.
  • Learn to meditate in your own spiritual way.
  • Take a warm bath or shower in the evening to help ease the muscle tension.
  • Turn the television off at night about one hour before bedtime and try to listen to relaxing music. You might want to read or just chat with family- all are relaxing activities.
  • Read books about techniques and tips that are recommended by other people to reduce tension, stress and anxiety. It is cheaper than seeing a therapist. However, consider seeing one if the above options are not helpful.