In this modern age of anxiety, it’s almost a given that you’ll have some anxiety over certain things, such as financial, health, relationship, or academic concerns. If you have a sleep-breathing disorder, it’s likely your stress and anxiety levels will be much higher. Any degree of sleep deprivation or inefficient sleep can heighten your nervous system, and make you over-react to situations that normally wouldn’t stress you out.
Looking back, I distinctly remember two episodes in my life, where I had some major panic attacks, beyond the typical life stresses or anxiety provoking states, such as death, relationship issues, or even job interviews.
I’ve always considered myself an introvert, but not shy. In high school, I was active in music (orchestra, symphonic band, and the jazz band), was captain of the track team, and was active in science research. I don’t remember having any problems giving presentations and speaking in public, but that changed once I got to medical school.
In the second year of medical school, I was sitting in a small psychiatry class, where each student had to interpret and critique an interview that was just observed. For some reason, as my turn came near, I could feel my heart pounding away, and broke out in a cold sweat. My heart was beating so fast and intensely, I though I was going to have a heart attack and die. Even my kidneys hurt. Fortunately, I said a few words about the interview, and didn’t die. This type of panic and anxiety persisted to some degree for the rest of the year. Fortunately, by my my third year clinical rotations, it problem went away completely.
The other situation that I remember was after a major highway car accident during residency. I was driving along with Henry Hudson Parkway at night in the express lane, and saw from the rear view mirror that there was a car that was zig-zagging from lane to lane. Within an instant, I saw that he was high beaming me on and off, and then he rammed into me while speeding over 100 miles per hour. My car got pushed onto the divider, turning almost 90 degrees, and I though I was going to flip over and die. Fortunately, my car slid back down and slid along the right side of the elevated highway for another few hundred feet. My car was totaled, and I was taken on a backboard to the ER at Columbia. I came away with only the shock of the experience, but for about a few months after this incident, whenever I saw a car change lanes into my lane behind me, I would have mild panic attacks.
Looking back at both incidents, I was in a period of time when I was majorly sleep deprived. During second year medical school, I was not getting enough sleep due to the various demands of all the courses. During residency, I was still taking first call, working about 100 to 120 hours per week. This is like having a short bout of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The point I wish to make here is that if you don’t sleep long enough, or if your sleep is inefficient (like with sleep apnea), then you’re more likely to suffer from anxiety or pain attacks. My examples are the more extreme conditions that can arise, but most people just get upset a bit quicker or over-react inappropriately in certain situations. This is why good, quality sleep should always be a top priority in your life.
Do you have any experiences where major sleep deprivation caused you to have increased anxiety or pain attacks?