Feeling anxious? Not sleeping well? Anxiety is a common cause of insomnia, and in our busy, stress-filled world, it affects most everyone from time to time.
Yet, for many people, anxiety-induced insomnia is a recurring problem, and it takes a toll on your physical and mental health—including making anxiety worse. Chronic insomnia doubles your risk of developing an anxiety disorder, and even a single night of disrupted sleep can make you more anxious the next day.
Let’s look at the close relationship between insomnia and anxiety, underlying causes that contribute to both conditions, and natural remedies for improving insomnia and anxiety.
Insomnia & Anxiety: Common Links
Insomnia and anxiety share several potential underlying causes and triggers, and identifying and addressing them with appropriate treatments can improve your sleep and anxiety levels:
- Chronic stress: Everybody knows that unrelenting stress causes anxiety. The stress response signals the release of cortisol and other stress hormones, which puts you in a hyper-alert state, increases anxiety, and makes sleep elusive.
- Hormonal imbalances: Imbalances or deficiencies in estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and thyroid hormones, which are increasingly common with age, are linked with both anxiety and insomnia.
- Medical conditions: Chronic pain and untreated illness can make anyone anxious and interfere with sleep.
- Sleep apnea: In addition to seriously disrupting sleep quality, sleep apnea, which affects about 30 million Americans, increases the risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
- Medications: Anxiety and/or insomnia are well-known side effects of several classes of drugs. They include decongestants, caffeine-containing pain relievers, corticosteroids, ADHD stimulant medications, as well as medications prescribed for asthma, seizures, or Parkinson’s disease. Plus, as we will discuss next, some of the drugs prescribed for anxiety and insomnia can make these conditions worse.
Does Anxiety Medication Cause Insomnia?
Believe it or not, the most widely used medications for anxiety and insomnia can cause or increase the very problems they are supposed to be treating.
Celexa, Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, and other SSRI antidepressants are the most prescribed medications for anxiety disorders. Studies suggest that these drugs cause insomnia in as many as one in six people who take them—not good if you have anxiety-induced insomnia.
SSRIs can also trigger or exacerbate anxiety. Yes, you read that right. Well-documented side effects of these very popular drugs include anxiety, restlessness, agitation, panic attacks, violence, and suicide, especially in adolescents and young adults.
If you are dealing with insomnia and/or anxiety and you are taking an SSRI, discuss safer alternatives with your physician. Do not quit SSRI antidepressants abruptly or on your own, as this can have multiple adverse effects, including serious depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.
Benzodiazepines such as Valium, Restoril, and Xanax are prescribed for anxiety and sometimes for insomnia. These drugs are notorious for their adverse effects. In addition to being addictive with high abuse potential, they cause daytime grogginess, poor concentration, and an increased risk of falls and accidents.
They can also cause rebound insomnia, sleep problems that occur when they are discontinued—and discontinuing them is no picnic. Symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include extreme anxiety and insomnia.
Sleeping pills may help you fall asleep, but they have a boatload of adverse effects. One of them is rebound insomnia, which is a serious sleep disturbance that occurs when you stop taking sleeping pills. There are three main types of sleep meds, and all can cause rebound insomnia.
- Sedative-hypnotics such as Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata, the most popular type, are linked with next-day drowsiness, decreased alertness, driving impairment, and parasomnias—weird and sometimes risky behaviors that occur during sleep and are not remembered the next day.
- Over-the-counter sleep aids like Sominex and ZzzQuil contain an antihistamine, which can cause daytime drowsiness. Long-term use of these and other drugs with anticholinergic effects is also associated with an increased risk of dementia.
- Benzodiazepines, as noted above, are sometimes prescribed for insomnia, although their addiction potential has reduced their popularity as a sleep aid. These drugs are bad news. Stay far away from them.
Natural Remedies for Insomnia & Anxiety
Popping a pill may be tempting, but in addition to their serious side effects, sleep medications aren’t very effective. Plus, they’re only a temporary fix. There are much safer effective ways to treat insomnia due to anxiety, help you relax, and support restorative sleep.
- Adopt a sleep routine: A regular bedtime; a cool, dark room; no TV, smartphone, etc., in your bedroom; no caffeine late in the day; melatonin and other supplements: Find a sleep routine that works for you and stick with it.
- Relax: Meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and relaxation/breathing practices are time-honored remedies for insomnia and anxiety.
- Exercise: Physical activity facilitates sleep and increases levels of endorphins and other brain chemicals that boost mood and reduce anxiety.
- Get professional help: Cognitive behavioral therapy is a proven method for overcoming anxiety disorders and anxiety-induced insomnia. It helps you understand and change negative thoughts and modify behaviors in anxious situations. Unfortunately, it often plays second fiddle to medications.
- Take supportive supplements: Nutritional supplements with proven benefits for enhancing relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving insomnia include:
- Melatonin: the “hormone of sleep” and our best-studied natural sleep aid (1–6 mg)
- PharmaGABA: a well-absorbed form of GABA, an amino acid that acts as the brain’s primary calming neurotransmitter (100 mg)
- L-theanine: an amino acid that promotes GABA activity (200 mg)
- Valerian: a traditional herbal remedy for insomnia and anxiety (300–600 mg)
- Ashwagandha: an adaptogenic herb that blunts the effects of stress, reduces anxiety and insomnia, and boosts focus (250 mg)
Take these supplements about 30 minutes before bedtime. With the exception of melatonin, these natural ingredients may also be used as needed during the day to help reduce anxiety.
Insomnia & Anxiety Recap
Nearly one in five US adults have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and an even greater number have chronic insomnia. Because of the significant overlap between these two groups, treating one of these conditions is likely to benefit the other as well.
Talk to your doctor about testing and treating potential underlying causes such as hormone imbalances, sleep apnea, and medication side effects. Make exercise and relaxation techniques part of your daily routine. Adopt a calming bedtime routine and use proven supplements to calm your mind and support your sleep. If you need additional help, do not hesitate to work with a professional counselor or therapist to address issues that are causing anxiety.
Life is too short to be chronically anxious or edgy, and quality sleep is essential for optimal physical, mental, and emotional health. Get started today!