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Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety Induced Insomnia

How to cure the self-sustaining cycle of the most common form of insomnia: psychophysiological insomnia.

The most common form of insomnia is psychophysiological insomnia. Put in simple terms, this is learned insomnia or insomnia caused by insomnia. Frustratingly, this is a self-sustaining cycle in which an individual experiences a night of insomnia and feels tired the next day. As bedtime approaches, the individual becomes increasingly anxious and stressed about being able to sleep that night. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, the individual does not sleep and the next day becomes more anxious and more stressed about being able to sleep. This can be an extremely stressful and difficult cycle to break, often requiring intervention. The bad news is it is often caused by only one night of anxiety induced insomnia, meaning it can happen to anyone and often strikes at the most stressful times in one’s life. The good news is although individuals might feel their insomnia is incurable or permanent, it is far from it. Here are some great ways to break the cycle and get back your full night’s rest. 

Woman writing

Log Your Thoughts

Write It Down

Lying awake, trying to sleep through your anxieties is a counter-productive and exhausting experience. Turning these thoughts over and over in your head will likely only keep you up further while tiring you out more. Instead, it’s better to do something about it.

Trying logging out your thoughts, take a few minutes to turn the lights on and write down everything you’re thinking about. Sometimes, observing your own thoughts is the only way to come to terms with them. Once you have all your thoughts down, think about the most logical answer; What am I worried about? How will this actually affect me? What power do I have over the situation. Write down your thoughts and attempt to work through them. Logging anxieties is often similar to budgeting your income, it’s rationing out how much time you give to your worries and figuring out what you can do about them.

While turning the lights on and spending fifteen minutes writing out and facing your anxieties seems like a great way to lose a good night of sleep, it often actually helps significantly. Taking the time to actually think about your anxieties is a better way to get rid of them than lying in bed awake all night trying not to think about what’s worrying you.

If you’re finding yourself worked up after this exercise, do some relaxation techniques to work yourself back into a calmer state of mind. Make yourself some warm milk, take melatonin, put on relaxing music, or give yourself a head massage. 

 CBD oil

Natural medicine

Cure to Calm

Don’t fight your insomnia by yourself when there’s plenty of resources at your disposal. There are many natural remedies that relieve anxiety and in-turn can grant you a better night sleep. There are countless studies showing the effectiveness of CBD on anxiety. One particularly compelling study showed that 80% of patients who struggled with anxiety and insomnia reported symptom improvement over a month long trial! One negative of CBD is it’s price, with 1000 mg vials often running upwards of $50. For those trying to sleep on a budget, there are various other options at your disposal such as L-theanine, an amino acid commonly found in tea leaves. It has the ability to modulate inhibitory neurotransmitters, reducing the panic and flight response to stressful situations. The compound does not affect regular insomnia much, but greatly improved anxiety induced insomnia and can help calm down after a stressful day. Another common anxiety and sleep treatment are essential oils. One of the best for reducing anxiety and inducing sleep is chamomile, with both the scent and ingestion inducing a strong calm. Chamomile is excellent for anxiety both in tea and essential oils, with the later providing a more concentrated version of the plant. 

Natural medicine doesn’t stop just at things you can ingest. It is actually a broad term relating to many forms of treatment including massage, aromatherapy, and light therapy. One highly regarded natural remedy is a weighted blanket. A weighted blanket is a blanket filled with glass beads, often weighing 25 pounds or more. The blanket is meant to induce the brain’s calming reaction to being squeezed or wrapped in a hug. While proven to be one of the more effective treatments for anxiety and stress, it is also a financial sink with blankets costing $100 or more. Light therapy is also an excellent natural treatment, using a dim orange light and hour before bedtime is an easy way to trigger the sleep response. The brain begins to produce more melatonin as light dims. Unfortunately, electric lighting often creates an “on/off” effect which is not conducive to sleep. Using a salt lamp or a dim night light is a great way to utilize the body’s natural melatonin producing circadian rhythm cycle. 

Flower growing from mud

Replace Your Anxious Thoughts With Neutral Ones

Remove Your Negativity

Studies have shown that anxiety is actually one of the most receptive to therapy mental illnesses. There's a good reason for this, counter to popular belief anxiety is rarely a chemical issue. It is also one of the most common mental illnesses, with 18% of the U.S. population suffering from a serious long-term anxiety disorder and 30% of adults suffering from it at some point in their lives. It’s also getting more common, the number of individuals suffering from anxiety rises every year. The reason for this is that anxiety is often a spiraling issue that can happen to even the most healthy individuals. Oftentimes an anxiety issue is caused by a single event or time-period, then the individual finds themselves struggling with it more and more often. Simply put, the brain becomes addicted to anxiety. Negative thought spirals become a regular pattern, and when issues arise the brain falls back into panic mode. 

Unfortunately, with the hustle and bustle of modern life more and more individuals are finding themselves in panic inducing scenarios which will set off the cycle. Fortunately, anxiety is often relieved by breaking the cycle through cognitive behavioral therapy. Simply put, observing one’s own mental and behavioral reactions to situations and finding more positive and productive ways of dealing with them. 

Undoing the spiral of anxiety takes time, but observe how you react to situations and consider “How can I observe this in a more positive light?”. For example, one of the most common ways anxiety is induced is change. While change is often scary and triggers our fear of the unknown, it is also more often than not a good thing. In fact, stagnation is often worse than change. Allow yourself to view events more positively.


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Abby Marsh

Abby is a Student at Pitt majoring in Communications.
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