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The Vicious Cycle of Social Anxiety and Sleep
mental health / lifestyle
The Vicious Cycle of Social Anxiety and Sleep
by BetterSleep
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If you struggle with social anxiety, this may sound familiar: you can’t fall asleep because your mind is racing through all your interactions from the day, thinking you embarrassed yourself or said something stupid. Or, you’re worrying about the impending social engagement you have tomorrow. You can’t sleep, so the next day you feel even worse and more anxious. Before you know it, you’ve entered into a cycle of anxiety and sleepless nights that are damaging to your mental health and well-being. This may be your reality, but you can take steps to stop it.

What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?

It’s not unusual to be nervous or anxious when meeting new people or going to a party. But when those feelings of discomfort, anxiety, and shyness are extreme and lead to the avoidance of others or interfere with work, school, and other activities, it may be social anxiety disorder, or SAD. Some of the symptoms of SAD include:

  • Fear of interacting with strangers
  • Fear that others will notice your anxiety and nervousness, including physical signs like blushing or shaking
  • Fear of being judged by others, and avoiding such situations
  • Intense worry about embarrassing yourself
  • Avoiding social situations and interactions with people
  • Experiencing intense anxiety leading up to social situations

How Social Anxiety Can Disrupt Your Sleep

Any type of anxiety can be disruptive to good sleep. If you’re worrying about the future, analyzing recent events, and imagining worst-case scenarios, it’s hard to get to sleep. With social anxiety you may struggle to sleep at night or you may wake up in the night and have a hard time getting back to sleep. You may even have diagnosable insomnia.

Studies have confirmed that there is a definite link between social anxiety and poor sleep. For instance, one group of researchers looked at the social anxiety symptoms and sleep issues of 176 undergraduate students. They found that those with social anxiety were more likely to have poor sleep satisfaction, to be impaired during the day because of poor sleep, and to be distressed about difficulty sleeping.

How Poor Sleep Triggers Social Anxiety

What has not always been obvious in the relationship between social anxiety and sleep is that it likely goes both ways. Lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep, can worsen social anxiety in those with the disorder and even trigger similar feelings in others.

One study from the University of California, Berkeley found that people deprived of sleep are more isolated, lonelier, and less likely to engage with people in social situations. The researchers even found that people who are sleep deprived are less socially appealing to others.

According to brain scans from that same study, people who have had inadequate sleep actually find other people more threatening. The scans also showed that these individuals had less activity in the part of the brain that leads to social interactions. This reduced activity means that they are reticent about engaging with other people and more inclined to remain isolated.

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Stopping the Anxiety-Insomnia Cycle

There is evidence that it’s important to address both social anxiety and poor sleep at the same time. Both of these issues perpetuate each other. So for instance, managing anxiety will help you sleep better and getting higher quality sleep can reduce anxiety. In a study of people who struggle with SAD and insomnia, researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy helped to reduce the symptoms and the severity of SAD. It did not, however, relieve insomnia.

Leave the treatment of your anxiety disorder to the professionals, but consider taking steps on your own to combat sleep issues. Meditation, for example, can help you relax before bed and take your focus away from what triggers anxiety. BetterSleep has several different meditation programs you can choose from to make it a habit at any time of day.

Getting some exercise in throughout the day will also help you eliminate some excess nervous energy and settle your mind and body for sleep. Try creating a bedtime routine, too. For instance, going to bed at the same time every night, reading a book, or meditating for a few minutes, if done every night, will train your mind to get sleepy.

Social anxiety disorder is a serious mental health issue. Insomnia can be serious too. Self-care can make a big difference. But if you’re trying strategies to sleep better, to relax, and to manage anxiety with little success, see your doctor or a mental health professional.

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