7 Little-Known Ways Anxiety Can Manifest Physically While You're Sleeping
Jerking awake, night sweats, and even recurring dreams may feel more like occasional sleep disturbances, rather than any serious signs worth paying attention to. In reality, all of these symptoms and more can be a sign that your anxiety is beginning to affect your sleep. While falling asleep may feel like a respite from anxiety, it actually turns out that anxiety and sleep are strongly connected, and your feelings manifest even when you're in your deepest sleep.
If you aren't connecting the dots on how anxiety might be affecting your sleep, or if you don't have a roommate or partner to witness what goes on with you at night, then you might be totally in the dark when it comes to understanding your nighttime anxiety symptoms.
Dealing with anxiety likely means you're quite familiar with all sorts of symptoms, including things like insomnia from anxiety. But once you fall asleep, unfortunately, your body isn't able to turn off its response to distress. "Anxiety definitely does not go away while you are sleeping," Katrina Pointer, licensed psychotherapist and owner of Love Therapy, tells Bustle. "Your anxiety actually increases when your body is idle at night. People do things daily to attempt to hide from or push their anxiety to the side. Therefore, when your body is calm and silent your anxiety sees that as a time to activate." So even though you're most likely pinpointing and paying attention to the symptoms you experience during the day, it's still worthwhile to understand what's going on with your anxiety at night.
Here are seven physical ways anxiety can manifest when you're sleeping, according to experts.
1. Jolting Awake
You may be aware that your nightmares spike when you have anxiety. And when they get bad enough, nightmares can cause your body to jolt awake. This is one of many examples of anxiety affecting your body at night.
"It is possible to be anxious while sleeping, which then causes nightmares that wake you out of your sleep," Pointer says. Finding ways to reduce your anxiety during the day may lower the chances of these terrifying awakenings recurring.
2. Sleep Talking
You may or may not know you sleep talk, depending on whether anyone sleeps with you at night. But what is more surprising is that sleep talking can actually stem from anxiety.
"One might experience sleep talking as their mind continues to be anxious and reacts to that anxiety," Pointer says. If your sleep talking bothers you or your partner, or if you notice that it's a sign you should be paying more attention to your daily stress, then finding help for anxiety might help you find some relief.
3. Night Sweats
Night sweats can be caused by a variety of health problems, so anxiety is far from the only culprit, but if you already know that you deal with anxiety during the day, then it's possible it's causing this symptom at night.
"Sweating is a side effect of anxiety and does not stop just because you're asleep," Pointer says. Regulating your room temperature, and managing your anxiety with therapy or medication, may help you control this issue.
4. Not Being Able To Stay Asleep
Anxiety is well-known to cause difficulty falling asleep, but another physical reaction your body may have to stress is to also be unable to stay asleep for more than a few hours.
"Anxiety can make it more difficult to stay asleep," licensed clinical social worker Arlene B. Englander, MBA, tells Bustle. "Once asleep, many people who are anxious may wake after three or four hours [...] and lie in bed ruminating." While sleeping medication may be a quick fix, the best way to deal with this issue is finding the right kind of therapy for your anxiety.
5. Your Brain Acts Out A "Script"
If you have a particular stress dream that recurs throughout your life, like getting up on stage and not knowing the lines, or sitting down for a test when you didn't take the course, you may not only be experiencing the emotional effects of anxiety, but also potentially the more neurological effects. Basically, your brain acts out a "script:" a repetitive narrative triggered by stress.
"Anxiety can influence our dreams," Englander says. "[...] Recognizing the situation that’s upsetting and planning a time to work on it — alone, with a friend, or even a therapist — can be important in getting past these painful dreams." Although you may not be able to overcome these recurring dreams completely, it is possible to manage them with a bit of effort.
6. Nocturnal Panic Attacks
If you've ever had a panic attack during the day, you know how upsetting it can be. What you may not realize, however, is that something really similar can happen to your body at night: a nocturnal panic attack.
"If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night shaking, experiencing heart palpitations or shortness of breath, you might be suffering from a nocturnal panic attack," therapist Adina Mahalli, MSW, tells Bustle. "Nocturnal panic attacks result in the same symptoms as panic attacks that you have during the day, except that they build while you sleep." If you experience any of these physical symptoms at night, it may be worth discussing with your doctor.
7. Uncontrollable Movements
Night terrors are more than just nightmares; they're physical episodes that can involve the whole body. And while they may seem anomalous, night terrors can be caused by anxiety.
"[Night terrors] involve thrashing movements, screaming, and crying," Mahalli says. "These symptoms often subside once the person wakes up, so you might not even know that you suffer from them unless you harm yourself or someone is there while you sleep to inform you of your actions." If you do suspect that you're experiencing night terrors, you can talk to your doctor, who may be able to help you adjust your lifestyle and cope with your stress levels to reduce the number of episodes you experience.
If you are someone who deals with high levels of stress or anxiety, chances are you'll experience the nighttime symptoms of anxiety at one point or another. Most of these physical symptoms happen occasionally when you're dealing with particularly distressing circumstances, and can be mitigated by any treatment that can reduce symptoms of anxiety in general. If, however, any of these issues becomes particularly severe or disruptive, then it's worth it to see a doctor who can help you in a more direct way. Making sure you get the rest you need is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.