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Anxiety linked to sleep disturbances

WESTCHESTER, Ill. People who suffer from anxiety from stressful life situations may be more likely to experience sleep disturbances for at least the first six months after the event, according to a study published in the November 1 issue of the journal SLEEP.

The study, authored by Jussi Vahtera, MD, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, Finland, focused on a population sample of 16,627 men and women with undisturbed sleep and 2,572 with disturbed sleep, all of whom participated in a five-year longitudinal observational cohort study.

A measurement of each persons liability to anxiety, as determined by a general feeling of stressfulness and symptoms of hyperactivity, was assessed at the onset. The occurrence of post-onset life events (i.e., death or illness in the family, divorce, financial difficulty and violence) and sleep disturbances was measured at follow-up five years later.

According to the results, both liability to anxiety and exposure to negative life events were strongly associated with sleep disturbances. Among the men liable to anxiety, the odds of sleep disturbances were 3.11 times higher for those who had experienced a severe life event within six months than for the others. The men not liable to anxiety had odds of only 1.13 for sleep disturbances. For the men and women liable to anxiety, the odds ratio for sleep disturbance zero to six months after divorce was 2.05, with the corresponding ratio being 1.47 for those not liable to anxiety.

This five-year follow-up showed that exposure to severe stressful events can trigger sleep disturbances in people with undisturbed sleep before the event. Those liable to anxiety before the event seemed to be at a higher risk of post-event sleep disturbances compared with those not liable to anxiety. The strength of this study is a study design that allowed the timing of pre-event predisposing traits and the occurrence of specific stressful events precipitating the onset of sleep disturbances. Control for a large number of potential confounding factors suggest that the observed associations were not explained by socioeconomic position, obesity, high alcohol intake or chronic medical conditions at study entry, said Dr. Vahtera.

Experts recommend that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep each night for good health and optimum performance. Adolescents should sleep about nine hours a night, school-aged children between 10-11 hours a night and children in pre-school between 11-13 hours a night.

Those who think they might have a sleep disorder are urged to discuss their problem with their primary care physician or a sleep specialist.


Contact: Jim Arcuri
American Academy of Sleep Medicine

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