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How Anxiety Causes Drowsiness

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

How Anxiety Causes Drowsiness

Many people find they can manage some of the mental symptoms of anxiety, like their worries and stress. But where they really struggle is with the physical symptoms, because even when they're not feeling too anxious the physical symptoms can make it harder for them to live their lives.

Drowsiness is a common symptom of anxiety, and unfortunately it's the type of symptom that just doesn't seem to go away very easily - at least not while you're still suffering from anxiety.

Degrees of Drowsiness and Anxiety

Some people experience drowsiness while they're feeling anxious. Others feel wide awake while they're anxious, but feel drowsy after extreme anxiety or an anxiety attack.

The Causes of Drowsiness From Anxiety

Some of the causes of drowsiness and fatigue from anxiety are well known. Others are actually still being studied even today. Below, we'll look at some of the most common reasons to explain why you may find yourself feeling drowsy from anxiety:

  • Sleepiness Anxiety and stress can make it very hard to get a good and restful night's sleep. Some people have trouble falling asleep, while others wake up during the night or fail to reach the deeper stages of sleep. This may cause sleepiness and sleep debt during the day, and of course that sleeplessness is expressed as drowsiness. Furthermore, missing out on sleep can further exacerbate your anxiety symptoms, making it harder for you to cope throughout the day.
  • Physical Exhaustion Anxiety is also physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Anxiety itself is linked to the activation of your fight or flight system, which is your body's automatic reflex that activates when you sense danger. For example, your body is expecting to be running away from a predator, and essentially treats you like you're in danger all day, flooding you with adrenaline. That's exhausting to your muscles and organs, and the fact that your body and mind are constantly being taxed in this way can lead to feelings of drowsiness,
  • Chronic Stress Your body experiences physiological damage from chronic stress and the associated stress-hormone (cortisol). Your body generally tries to repair damage when you're asleep, so your drowsiness may amount to a signal from your body telling you to get more sleep so that you can recover from and reduce the physiological impact of stress.
  • Hormone/Neurotransmitter Imbalances Your entire body is run by hormones and brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Anxiety is linked to imbalances in these brain chemicals. It's likely that the chemical dysregulation that happens during anxiety is at least partly linked to the feelings of drowsiness that may accompany anxiety disorders.

Drowsiness and fatigue can be a very real problem. They can make it harder for you to complete daily activities, which unfortunately increases the likelihood of more stress. They can also make it harder for you to muster up the necessary energy you need to exercise or spend time out, which are both important tools for coping with stress.

How to Overcome Stress-Related Drowsiness

Drowsiness is something that can be overcome if you get enough sleep. Caffeine can provide temporary relief from drowsiness; however, many people find that caffeine increases their anxiety symptoms. You should also avoid sugary foods/drinks and drugs or medications with stimulant properties (unless prescribed). These can exacerbate your anxiety and they also tend to cause a huge “energy crash” afterwards, which makes drowsiness more likely.

Some solutions to consider are:

  • Journal Writing at Night If you are drowsy because you can't sleep as a result of stress, anxiety or recurring thoughts, journal writing may be a great coping tool for you. Writing down any and all persistent thoughts in a journal appears to have a strong stress reduction effect.
  • Exercise Exercise can actually cause drowsiness at first, but over time it has a very powerful effect on energy. Exercise gives the body more natural energy, and also has a very strong stress reduction quality that makes it ideal for combatting anxiety.
  • Healthy Eating Healthy eating is unlikely to have a drastic impact on anxiety. But it does affect your energy levels. In order to eat in a way that helps prevent drowsiness, try to eat regular meals so that you don't experience blood-sugar dips (which can cause anxiety and drowsiness). As mentioned, avoid foods that are high in sugar and try to eat a healthy balance of vegetables, complex carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats.
  • Light Therapy The body is actually programmed to stay awake when you’re exposed to light. You may want to look at light therapy tools, and spend as much time in sunny outdoors as possible.When you get out in the sunshine, your brain inhibits (or lessens) the production of melatonin - a brain chemical that is linked to drowsiness.

These are all tools you can use to control your anxiety as well as your drowsiness, and they should have a noticeable effect if you stick with them for at least a few weeks. If you find that these tools aren’t sufficient, however, there’s no shame in looking for further support from a therapist or anxiety-treatment program.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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