Chronic Insomnia Can Lead to Anxiety Disorders

– Posted in: Anxiety

Everybody has a night of bad sleep once in a while.

For most people, insomnia lasts only a few days and goes away without treatment. 

But factors such as stress can cause a higher level of insomnia that may last for several weeks.

This kind of insomnia may not go away on its own, and can lead to both short- and long-term health problems if left untreated.

A large 11-year study of 25,130 adults in Norway found that chronic insomnia is a risk factor for developing Anxiety Disorders but not for developing depression, although often Anxiety Disorders and depression are present with insomnia.

The study, led by Dag Neckelmann, MD, from Haukeland University Hospital, in Bergen, Norway, was published in the July, 2007 issue of Sleep.

What is insomnia?

Difficulties going to sleep or staying asleep

The researchers write that insomnia is the subjective feeling of having difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep (DIMS) or having nonrestorative sleep. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) notes that insomnia is the most commonly reported sleep disorder. About 30 percent of adults have insomnia symptoms, but less than 10 percent of adults are likely to have chronic insomnia. Insomnia is more common among elderly people and women.

The first study to link insomnia specifically with Anxiety Disorders

Other, older studies have investigated the link between insomnia and depression specifically, while noting a link between insomnia and Anxiety Disorders. However, these studies either researched a cross-section of people or had at most a 1 to 2 year followup.

Chronic insomnia a risk factor for Anxiety

Donna Arand, PhD, from the Sleep Disorders Center at Kettering Hospital, in Dayton, Ohio, who was not involved in the study, said, “[T]his is the first study to clearly show that chronic insomnia is a risk factor for the development of Anxiety Disorders.” 

If your doctor examines you for insomnia, you should be checked for Anxiety Disorders, too

Dr. Neckelmann said that their results imply that:

… individuals reporting difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep, in addition to receiving adequate treatment for their sleep disturbance, should be carefully examined for the presence of Anxiety Disorder as well as depression.

Focus on difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep as a symptom of both Anxiety and depression may facilitate the early detection of a mental disorder as well as the detection of comorbidity [simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases]. Though not demonstrated, alleviating difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep may reduce the risk of developing Anxiety Disorders.”

Evaluation for Anxiety is important

Dr. Arand added that the clinical implications of this study are that individuals with chronic insomnia will likely also have Anxiety Disorders and depression. Thus, they will need to be evaluated for these disorders and, if present, treated for them. She said,

Since chronic insomnia often appears as the first problem, it needs to be recognized as a strong risk factor for Anxiety, and consequently, chronic insomnia patients need to be followed long term and evaluated for these other conditions.

What do you think?

If you think you might have insomnia or another sleep disorder, you are urged to discuss your problem with your primary care physician, who will issue a referral to a sleep specialist. You should make sure that your physician follows up the referral with a test for Anxiety Disorder or a referral to a mental health professional, as well. 

  • Do you have chronic insomnia?
  • If you have an Anxiety Disorder, do you also have insomnia?

As always, your comments are welcome!

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Resources used in this post:

Busko, Marlene. (2007, July 13). Chronic Insomnia Predicts Anxiety, Often Coexists with Depression and Anxiety. Retrieved July 28, 2008 from Medscape Medical News Web site:

Neckelmann, Dag; Mykletun, Amstein, Dahl, Alv A. (2007, July 1). Chronic Insomnia as a Risk Factor for Developing Anxiety and Depression. Retrieved July 28, 2008 from PubMed Central Web site:

Science Daily. (2007, July 6). Chronic Insomnia Can Lead to Anxiety and Depression, Study Suggests. Retrieved June 27, 2008 from Science Daily Web site:

Last updated January 1, 2009

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4 comments… add one
Thaly September 15, 2009, 1:04 am

Great article – thanks for putting this together. I have to say that I am not surprised that there is a study linking chronic insomnia and anxiety disorders, but am quite surprised that this is the first. The impact of tiredness (especially chronic tiredness of the sort experienced with insomnia can really mess with your emotional and mental state – surprising that it has taken this long to find a link to anxiety…..
.-= Thaly´s last blog ..Hypnosis : Cure for Stress? =-.

Katie June 22, 2011, 6:55 am

This would explain why I had postpartum anxiety with some of my kids and not others. Some of them slept a lot better, which meant I slept better.

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