Anxiety Medication and Sleep
I’ve shared before that I’ve struggled with sleep since childhood. In addition to insomnia, I’ve also managed the symptoms of anxiety and depression since high school.
For a long time, I tried every pharmacological option to manage my mental health (and related symptoms) - including exercise, talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, getting enough sunlight/vitamin D, etc. - but there was one that I could never pin down - sleep.
I couldn’t improve the amount or quality of sleep I got due to living with a sleep disorder, so I wasn’t able to utilize the potential benefits to optimize my mental health either.
Treating my depression but still unable to sleep
In 2009, shortly after graduating from college, I started my first medication for depression. It was a low dose, but after having “unmanaged” symptoms waxing and waning for years, I was grateful to each advantage I noticed. Mentally, I was feeling more grounded and stable, and physically I was experiencing more energy and desire for movement. In short, I felt better than I had in a while.
When I felt more optimistic, it was easier to forget that I was still unable to sleep. Years of insomnia blurred the lines between my sleep disorder and the anxiety that might’ve been propelling it, and I was able to function better even without an improvement in rest.
Focusing on my anxiety
My depression medication dosage was adjusted over the years, sometimes in small increments and sometimes rather significantly based on the way my body changed, my other health conditions were managed, and the seasons in which I dealt with increased grief and/or stress. While my mood continued to be evened out, it became clear that the medication was missing something significant for me - my anxiety.
When I began a PRN (as needed) anxiety medication after suffering from some medical-related trauma in 2017, I was shocked at two things in particular.
First - it honestly worked for me. It stopped panic attacks, reduced my uneasiness, and made the hard things easier to think about, process, and face head-on.
Second - it significantly supported my sleep.
Taking advantage of the good days
The medication I was prescribed can sometimes make people drowsy as part of its chemical makeup, and I do agree that at times shortly after I take it, I think about how a nap would be nice. But, I also found that as a result of taking it during the day, I actually fell asleep faster and slept more consistently through the night.
In turn, these better nights of quality rest offered me an increase in mood and optimism, focus and stability in my mental health - things I was incredibly grateful for. I do have to be honest, though, I wondered for a minute what life would be like if I could sleep like that every night, if I didn't struggle with insomnia, but quickly came to terms with the fact that just isn't how my story was written.
Instead, I took advantage of days that felt clearer and easier to navigate, fulfilling my productivity and my heart in ways that were more difficult with sleep deprivation.
Current events and a change in my strategy
More recently, I've struggled more with anxiety in the evenings. Some of this is related to my physical health, some to quarantine and a year of COVID-19 restrictions, and some of it just in general as the daylight fades to darkness. After talking to my psychiatrist, I've changed my strategy, and instead of taking the medication in the afternoon or early evening when needed, I instead take it about 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.
Coupling my body's sometimes natural rhythm with the side effects of my anxiety medication enables me to fall asleep rather quickly, and to experience at least a few hours of solid, restful, uninterrupted sleep. Even if the second half of my night is less than ideal, the first half allows me to reset and prevents my anxiety from spiraling out of control.
If you use or have used anxiety medication, has it impacted your sleep disorder or symptoms? I'd love to hear your stories below.
Do you have any other health conditions besides insomnia?