“I just can’t manage to make my brain shut off when I’m trying to sleep!” It’s a common complaint experienced by many people that suffer from anxiety and insomnia. And honestly, it’s the truth. Ironically, your brain does a lot of work when we tend to assume it should be asleep.
I.R. Tarkhanov, is reported to have described this succinctly in 1879: “Why does a person sleep if the brain continues to function during sleep even more intensely than during waking?…During sleep, the respiratory and circulatory centers fo the brain do not sleep; speech centers do not sleep if we sleep talk; the attention, hearing and olfactory centers do not sleep; finally the cerebellum does not sleep, as demonstrated by the balancing antic of sleepwalkers. So what is sleep? The only centers that sleep are responsible for consciousness. All others continue to operate, even more actively than daytime.” (Pigarev and Piagreva).
Insomnia can cause sleep anxiety
And more than a century later, sleep technology affirms this conclusion. In fact, current research will attest that sleep is influential in so many different systems of our body. It does not act independently, nor in isolation, at all. Insomnia affects our emotional and physical health- sometimes simultaneously. Not getting enough sleep can make it more difficult for your body to fight off viruses. Poor sleep also makes it more difficult to manage stress. It can even affect your mood on a long-term basis and bring on feelings of depression or anxiety. Sleep anxiety is an invasive force that can wreak havoc for many that suffer from insomnia.
Chronic insomnia can cause emotional difficulty as well. It can become common for a person that has been unable to sleep for extended periods to develop anxiety about insomnia. “Why can’t I just fall asleep?” “All of this insomnia cannot be good for me.” “What if this sleep difficulty continues forever? What if not getting enough sleep is just a new normal for me?” These are just a few of the anxious thoughts someone experiencing chronic insomnia may be thinking. Hence, insomnia can create sleep anxiety.
What is Sleep Anxiety?
Many people begin to worry about the long-term physical effects that coincide with not getting enough sleep. Others may start to develop a fear of falling asleep because he/she is afraid that they will just wake up again and not be able to fall back asleep – like every other night. Others just begin to assume they have reached the age when they will never be able to get good sleep again. To the outsider, this type of anxiety can seem very irrational and nonsensical. However, to the one that suffers from chronic insomnia, such feelings of anxiety are actual reality.
Yet, there is excellent news in that each of these can be treated! Chronic insomnia and anxiety can be effectively treated by a trained healthcare provider. A trained physician is able to identify the cause for chronic insomnia, and then effectively manage it. There are even medication-free options available. In fact, the American College of Physicians recommends these options as the primary mode of treatment before initiating medication for the treatment of insomnia. Additionally, anxiety can be significantly improved with the help of a trained counselor. Many breathing exercises, mindfulness training, and other behavioral techniques are helpful to relieve anxious thoughts.
The brain and sleep have a complex connection. It can be challenging to identify which is the cause and which is the effect of anxiety and sleep difficulty. Each brings a unique offering to the problem of chronic insomnia. Yet, regardless of the onset, there is help available that can change the nightmare of insomnia to help you get better sleep.