All About Anxiety: Why Is It Preventing You From Sleep?

Table of Contents

Anxiety is a normal human response to alarming situations and other stressors, such as an overdue bill, potential changes to one’s employment, or taking an important exam, for example. An Anxiety and Depression Association of America poll revealed that many Americans feel most anxious or stressed about the status of their personal finances. Anyone can feel anxiety, which is characterized by worry, dread, and uneasiness. When a person experiences anxiety, it affects their physiological reactions, their behavior, or their thoughts. It can affect a person’s actions and how they perform in a number of ways. For some, it can be helpful by making a person more aware or vigilant; however, it can also be a hindrance.

When people feel anxiety, they experience some combination of physical and psychological effects such as an inability to concentrate, fearful anticipation, elevated awareness or alertness, nausea, loss of appetite, and sweating. Some may even experience panic attacks. Most people are able to manage anxiety when it does occur, and the feelings typically pass quickly. But for some people, anxiety can lead to one or more anxiety disorders. In America, 40 million adults are affected by anxiety. That’s 18 percent of people who are 18 years old or older. Of these cases, 22 percent have severe cases. When it comes to gender, women are at a 60 percent higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative, but shouldn’t ever be taken as medical advice, nor should it supplant the advice or supervision you’d receive from a trained medical professional. If you feel like you may be suffering from an anxiety or sleep-related disorder, please see your healthcare provider immediately. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People who experience excessive amounts of anxiety, even when there is no reason for it, may have a condition known as generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. The onset of GAD may occur at any time from one’s childhood into middle age; however, on average, the onset age is in the early 20s. When a person has this condition, they feel extreme anxiety on most days for six months or longer. In many instances, it occurs with other anxiety disorders, such as phobias, panic disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression. Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder may include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, irritability, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and muscle aches or tension. To be diagnosed with GAD, a person must meet criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM-5. The exact cause of this disorder is not yet known; however, there are certain elements or factors, such as personality, being a woman, or genetics, that can heighten one’s risk of developing it.

Once it is diagnosed, there are several treatment options that may prove helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often an effective recommendation, as it can help people to identify certain thoughts or behaviors and teach how to adjust them. Medications may also be used for treatment. At home, one can take actions in addition to the prescribed treatment plan to reduce anxiety, such as learning yoga or meditation.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

When a person has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they find themselves obsessed with a particular thought, concern, or image. For example, this can be a thought that something is unclean, uneven, or disorganized. Signs of obsessive behavior include worry over things such whether the door is locked or the iron is unplugged or a fear of becoming contaminated by items that others have touched or by skin-to-skin contact. Some may feel stress that items are not neatly folded, lined up properly, or arranged correctly. These obsessions are unwanted, and the people who have them are unable to ignore or shake them. This typically compels them to repeat an action over and over again in a ritualistic manner in efforts to resolve or eliminate the obsession. As a result, they may compulsively clean, divide things into even numbers, or organize and arrange items.

Signs of compulsion include raw hands from repeated washings, returning repeatedly to ensure that a door is locked, arranging items in even numbers, or folding things in a specific way. The compulsion is the mind’s way of relieving the anxiety that the obsession causes. When a person has OCD, they are unable to stop performing this action, although they realize that it is not normal behavior. For a majority of individuals with OCD, it is defined by the presence of both obsession and compulsions; however, there are some sufferers who may have one or the other.

OCD affects 2.3% of the population and can impact nightly sleep
OCD affects 2.3% of the population and can impact nightly sleep

OCD falls under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, and it can affect adults and children, men and women. Onset usually begins between the ages of 18 and 20; however, it may also start as early as age 7. The disorder is often one that affects a person in their day-to-day actions and can interfere with work, school, and relationships. Although there is no definite answer when it comes to the cause of OCD, research suggests that it may be related to an imbalance in serotonin levels in one’s brain.

To diagnose OCD, a person will likely undergo lab testing, a psychological evaluation, and a physical examination. A therapist must look for obsessions, compulsive behavior, or both. They will also look for an interruption in the individual’s normal activities as a result of these two conditions. Exposure and response prevention, or ERP, is a form of cognitive behavior therapy that is considered one of the most effective ways to treat the condition. This method of treatment exposes the individual to what is causing their obsession. When a person begins to respond in a compulsive way, they are asked to actively resist until the feeling of anxiousness or anxiety begins to naturally fade. Medication may or may not be used in conjunction with ERP.

Panic Disorders

For some people, there are times when they become overwhelmed by extreme feelings of panic or terror, seemingly out of nowhere. This terror is so immense that it causes trembling, pain in the chest, and a racing heart. It can also make it difficult to breathe, and the sufferer may feel dizzy or faint. This sudden rush of intense terror can occur at any time or in any place and is called a panic attack. When panic attacks reoccur frequently, a person has a panic disorder. This is a type of anxiety disorder that can lead to other problems, such as not leaving one’s home for fear of having a panic attack. Panic disorders occur more frequently in women than men and most often begin when a person is in their early 20s. It is a condition that runs in families, but there is no definitive cause for the condition. Typically, diagnosis involves a thorough examination, reviewing one’s medical history, and an interview and evaluation by a mental health professional. With professional assistance, the condition may be treated with the use of psychotherapy, relaxation techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy, and/or medication.


Some people experience feeling of true fear when they encounter certain objects, creatures, or situations, such as dogs or small spaces. Some people may even have a fear of being alone. This type of specific fear is known as a phobia, and it affects millions of Americans yearly. Onset can occur at any age and may be caused by a frightening first experience with the object of the fear or by genetics. Symptoms of phobias include a rapidly beating heart, profuse sweating, an overwhelming sense of anxiety, panic attacks, or an inability to control one’s muscles. Different phobias affect people in different ways, both professionally and personally. A phobia can stop someone from pursuing a certain career or prevent them from enjoying certain activities with family and friends. While there are no lab tests that can diagnose a phobia, a person must meet the DSM-5 criteria for this condition. Treatment may involve exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Often referred to as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that occurs after a person has experienced a life-threatening or extremely traumatic event. Common causes of PTSD include rape or sexual assault, war or military combat, abuse, severe accidents, natural disasters, or terrorist attacks. It isn’t abnormal for a person to suffer some form of emotional trauma following these extreme events, but the impact should lessen with time. Some people, however, are unable to overcome the trauma and may suffer from symptoms such as flashbacks or vivid dreams of the traumatic event, extreme anxiety, or reactions such as aggression, shame, guilt, or always being on edge. Other symptoms include feelings of emotional numbness, hopelessness, and difficulty with close relationships. The onset of PTSD is varied and can develop at any age.

To diagnose the condition, mental health providers perform a complete psychological evaluation and review the symptoms. Sufferers must also meet the DSM-5 criteria for the condition, which includes having been exposed to a traumatic event either by experiencing it personally or having witnessed it. Meeting the criteria also includes having one or more specific symptoms, some of which must be experienced a month or more after the event occurs. Treatment may involve exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EDMR), cognitive therapy, or medication.

7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives
7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives

Social Phobia / Social Anxiety

When a person is excessively and abnormally frightened, distressed, or anxious about social gatherings or situations, they may suffer from a type of anxiety disorder known as social anxiety disorder or social phobia. It can first manifest in the early teens and may be caused by a negative social experience, a fear of being embarrassed in front of others, or poor social skills. Genetics or a malfunctioning of the fight-or-flight response may also cause the condition. Despite being aware of the existing problem, the person is unable to overcome the anxiety, and it may even cause them to avoid social activities entirely, which is one of the symptoms of the condition. Other symptoms include tensing of muscles, sweating, tremors or shaking, stomach upset, diarrhea, and even confusion.

Diagnosing social anxiety typically involves a physical examination, an interview with a mental health professional to discuss symptoms, and the completion of a psychological questionnaire. There are several potential methods of treating the disorder, including cognitive behavioral therapy and medications. In some cases, treatment may involve a combination of these options.

Anxiety and Sleep

Lack of sleep and anxiety are often associated with one another in a number of ways. An inability to sleep is one of the common side effects experienced by people with an anxiety disorder. Yet because sleep deprivation can affect one’s mental functions, it may also trigger anxiety or exacerbate it in some individuals. Sleeplessness can also cause problems with one’s ability to function at work or at school and may even be dangerous when driving. To treat sleeping problems caused by basic anxiety, a person can take steps to reduce that anxiety such as exercising regularly, playing soft and relaxing music, or meditating. If the lack of sleep is caused by an anxiety disorder, seek medical intervention for treatment of the specific disorder.

To prevent anxiety that is caused by a lack of sleep, a person can explore ways to improve their sleeping habits. This includes removing televisions and computers from the bedroom and turning it into a place only used for sleeping. Going to bed at regular hours, sleeping in a darkened and quiet room, and covering or removing clocks while trying to sleep can also help. When buying a new bed, try reading mattress reviews in order to get the best mattress possible. A comfortable mattress can improve one’s chances of getting a good night’s sleep and may also help prevent insomnia-induced anxiety.

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Logan Block

Logan is the content director of Sleepopolis, which means he not only reviews new mattresses every week, but also curates all the comparisons, best of pages, and video guides on the site. He takes a straightforward, honest approach to his reviews and endeavors to give viewers an objective look at each new product he tries out. Logan has perfected his method by personally testing over 200 different mattresses, so he’s not only able to discern the overall vibe of a specific bed, but to contextualize its feel within the bed-in-a-box market as a whole.

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