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When Worries Surface at Night: Sleep and Anxiety


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Summary & Participants

Anxiety and worry can appear at any time; day or night. Sometimes you know why, sometimes it can appear out of the blue. Learn how these problems can impact a restful night.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2009

Webcast Transcript


WOMAN: Anxiety is a tremendous part of people's mind set in America.

ANNOUNCER: Stressed out. Feeling anxious. Welcome to life in the 21st century. And you're not alone. Studies show that almost 19 million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety.

MAN: When I am anxious I know I stay up late.

WOMAN: I will fall asleep, I will then wake up several hours later, think about all the things I should be doing.

DAVID P. WHITE, MD: Anxiety is probably the single major underlying component of most of what we call primary insomnia.

ANNOUNCER: While we have lots of daylight in which to worry, it seems bedtime is when anxiety really takes over.

DAVID P. WHITE, MD: People wake up, their mind starts racing, they start dealing with the anxieties, they can't fall back asleep, and this thing can build on itself.

ANNOUNCER: Often anxiety can result from stress.

DAVID P. WHITE, MD: There are a lot of people that can sleep just fine, no matter how much stress they're under, and other people's stress has a huge effect and it causes them to have inability to sleep.

ANNOUNCER: So while some people breeze through troubles, for others, stress actually broadcasts a no-sleep signal to the body.

RICHARD ROSS, MD: Certain neurochemicals are released in our brain, so that stress can in fact lead to heightened vigilance, heightened arousal and everything that counters the tendency to sleep.

ANNOUNCER: While the stress often results from the appearance of the usual suspects -- problems with work, loved ones, worries about health -- some forms of anxiety can appear with no apparent cause. And the feeling is constant.

RICHARD ROSS, MD: Anxiety disorders are perhaps the most prevalent mental disorder in the United States, including phobias and generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder.

DAVID P. WHITE, MD: General anxiety disorder is a condition with people that just have heightened anxiety at all times, and these people are, almost universally, going to have a certain amount of difficult sleeping.

RICHARD ROSS, MD: Panic disorder is characterized most specifically by unanticipated, spontaneous attacks of quite severe anxiety. A person feels heart rate going up, sweating.

ANNOUNCER: If the panic attack happens well before bedtime, sleep may not suffer. But troubled sleep does ensue when attacks happen near bedtime or even during sleep.

RICHARD ROSS, MD: A person typically awakens from what's called a nocturnal panic attack feeling quite anxious, may have some recall of the event the next morning, and it can actually be quite disturbing to the person.

ANNOUNCER: But you don't have to have an anxiety disorder to suffer from the kind of anxiety that makes for a fretful night.

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