Do you have an anxiety problem which is affecting your life? Do you overreact to everything or have pain attacks for no reason? Do you wake up in the middle of the night in a state of panic, in a cold sweat and with your heart racing out of control? Many people with panic disorders can be treated either conservatively with therapy of stress control and relaxation methods, but many people end up being placed on an anti-anxiety medications.
Any time I see patients in my practice with anxiety disorders, in almost every case, the person prefers not to sleep on his or her back. The reasons for this is that due to certain anatomic factors, if the person lays flat on his or her back, then due to gravity, the tongue falls back partially. If they have smaller than normal jaws, or any degree of dental crowding, the tongue falls back even further. Everything is fine until they go into deep sleep, when all the muscles (including the throat and tongue muscles) relax, and the tongue falls back and obstructs breathing.
At this point, one of three things can happen:
1. You can wake up immediately to light sleep or completely awake, wondering why they are suddenly awake,
2. You can stop breathing for 1-9 seconds and then wake up to light sleep or completely awake, choking, coughing or gasping for air, with your heart pounding, or
3. You can stop breathing for more than 10 to 40 seconds, and then wake up go back to sleep.
Depending on how sensitive your nervous system is, you will either wake up quickly every time you obstruct, or wake up after long breathing pauses. A pause for more than 10 seconds is called an apnea. More than 5-10 apneas every hour means you may have obstructive sleep apnea.
To compensate for breathing problems, most people with anxiety like to sleep on their sides or stomach, but whenever they roll onto their backs, this is when they are most likely to obstruct and wake up. Imagine if you kept waking up from deep to light sleep 5-10 times every hour. Think how you would feel during the day. Your nervous system, emotions and senses will be heightened, and you'll overreact to every little thing. Plus you'll be always tired, no matter how long you sleep.
So the next time you go to sleep, think about your sleep position, and which position you tend to wake up most often. If you developed a habit of sleeping on your back for whatever reason (your grandmother told you it was healthy, or your dermatologist told you to do so to reduce facial wrinkles), go back to sleeping on your stomach or side, or whichever is more comfortable.
If you continue to have anxiety issues and are tired more often than not, you may want to get evaluated for a sleep-breathing problem.
Steven Y. Park, M.D., author of Sleep, Interrupted: A physician reveals the #1 reason why so many of us are sick and tired. Endorsed by New York Times best-selling authors Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Mark Liponis, and Mary Shomon.