If you have ever had a bad night’s sleep you probably are familiar with the feeling the day after. Many people often compare it to a hangover – only without the accompanying physical discomfort. People who don’t get enough sleep tend to be more anxious and irritable but write it off to just being tired. If that is the case, will experiencing sleep deprivation on a more serious level create the potential for an anxiety attack? Yes. The risk for an anxiety or panic attack rises radically in relationship to the amount and quality of sleep you are not getting.
The connection between sleep deprivation and anxiety attacks
Studies have shown that people who experience regular patterns of sleep deprivation will also experience a 40% increase in the risk of having an anxiety or panic attack. It is important to note that the people who are at risk for these attacks are not always those that have a history of them or of any other mood disorder. The specific way that sleep deprivation can change the behavior and functionality of the temporal lobe and the I-function process in the brain can generate anxiety attacks in people who have no other risk markers for them.
Sleep deprivation and mood disorders
Of great concern to the medical community is the increasing revelation that sleep deprivation plays a much more important role in serious mood disorders than previously thought. While you may begin with just being a little jumpy and irritable, once sleep deprivation has been created you can escalate to full out anxiety and panic attacks, delusional states, anger outbursts and paranoia. In fact, as they go back and forensically study many “crimes of passion” they are seeing that there is a pattern between criminals who were sleep deprived and their sudden violent outbursts.
The real concern is not just that a normal, functional person could be transformed into a paranoid delusional state, but that sleep deprivation for those that already have a serious mood disorder or mental illness can be even more detrimental. When you take this into account with the fact that many medications used to treat mood disorders carry a risk of insomnia with them, things begin to look very tricky. How it all begins is almost the same for everyone.
Studies have specifically identified the type of anxiety attack that is most associated wth sleep deprivation – anticipatory anxiety. With this form of anxiety the person begins to feel anxious about the potential outcome of something that has not happened yet. It is rooted in the experience of something real that is getting ready to occur – but that event may not be an unusual event. A sleep deprived person may begin to experience anxiety over going to work. This is what makes the combination of sleep deprivation and anxiety attacks so awful; the anxiety associated with sleep deprivation is something that anyone can experience.
Why would not getting sleep cause this type of anxiety?
There is a better understanding know of why a lack of sleep or poor quality sleep would cause anticipatory anxiety more so than any other type of anxiety. Sleep deprivation impacts the ability of the temporal lobe to function first. This is the area of the brain that deals with language, symbols, learning and long-term memory. When it is impaired, it begins to have a problem understanding new stimulus that it is receiving. It then tries to put the mis-understood stimulus with long term memories and can create the potential imagining of things going wrong in our daily lives for which there is no evidence or history of it ever happening before. This is why the anticipatory anxiety first shows itself connected to simple daily activities and can be so paralyzing.
The vicious cycle of medication and sleep deprivation
Unfortunately, many people are aware that they are having increased feelings of anxiety and/or anxiety attacks more so then they are aware that they are sleep deprived. When they seek help for the anxiety they are often put on medication. This medication very often has a side effect of making sleep difficult or promoting insomnia. If you take someone who is already sleep deprived, give them medication that then adds to the problem with sleeping – the result is that the medication will not relieve their symptoms, but that they may get worse. It is a good idea, whenever there is an issue of mood disorders or increased anxiety appearing in your life to seek treatment for that, and to examine your habits for sleep hygiene.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene refers to the pattern and habits you maintain around the process of sleep. It incorporates everything from what you wear to sleep to where you sleep to how often and what you do in the hours before you go to bed. One unfortunate side affect of living in a modern culture is that our reliance on electronics, and our increasingly busy lifestyles has promoted bad sleep hygiene as normal behavior. There are entire industries that are devoted to providing artificial ways to put oneself to sleep an then wake oneself up. Each day is seen as not having been lived to the fullest unless you are constantly busy.
What sleep hygiene recognizes is that every human body has a need for sleep. That all sleep must move through a set pattern of stages. That the length of time spent in the stages and the amount of time spent in sleep has very little variance. You can’t “get by” on too little sleep or “learn” to do without it. The amount and quality of sleep you need is a biological determination and not a psychological one. Taking a look at your lifestyle habits and how you approach sleep is essential to preventing sleep deprivation, and lessening the impact of anxiety attacks in your life. One of the best things you can do is to keep a sleep diary and mark all the things you do from after you eat in the evening until you go to sleep. Show this to your physician and they can help you identify habits that have to change.