Why Does Anxiety Keep Us Awake All Night?

Why has sleep become one of the hardest things we can do? Millions of people suffer from insomnia, waking up every hour, or falling asleep to wake up and then to only stay up. In my case, I suffer from what's called, "myoclonic hypnic jerks and seizures." This is purely from anxiety. I have been a couple of sleep studies to show that nothing medically is wrong with me. In a strange way, I wish they did find something wrong with me so that I can at least address it. The thing is, with this unknown "mystery diagnosis" that stems from anxiety, it is the hardest thing to fix. It's like a doctor telling you "it's just a spider bite." They basically just labeled "anxiety" onto my chart and sent me off with a prescription of Klonopin that I never filled out. I don't have sleep apnea, nor any other type of sleeping disorders. So why is it so hard for us to fall asleep or to even stay asleep? Whether people admit to this or not, anxiety has been one of the biggest reasons for our lack of slumber. We're over thinkers, or worry warts that run around fussing about every little thing in our lives. Someone asked me, "Deb, whatever you're worrying about, will this matter next week? A month from now? A year from now?" It made sense. No answer was needed to make her point.

I read an article from AWA that explained why some people have trouble sleeping, as well as why many suffer from what I have: hypnic jerks or what's called sleep starts. In a way, it's sort of comical, as well as fascinating that our own genetic code still has somewhat of a memory.

Despite our predominantly urban existence we still feel great connectedness and strong emotional bonds towards trees. It has been suggested that this positive emotional response is, in part, hard-wired. Millions of years of evolution have left us with a partly genetic predisposition to respond positively to trees. Interestingly, this connection to our arboreal origins can still be demonstrated today, as we fall asleep, in what is termed ‘hypnic jerks’. Hypnic jerks are phenomenon most of us have experienced at least a few times, often when very tired or exhausted. As we lay down to sleep, a part of the brain called the reticular formation sends a signal down the spine that causes muscles to relax, and we quickly fall into a deep slumber – only to be suddenly awoken with a jump and slight muscle twitch – often immediately preceded by a brief sensation of falling. They are a common and generally harmless experience, occurring in all sexes and ages to about 70% of the population.

What has this got to do with our relationship with trees? Well, hypnic jerks have been explained as an ancient reflex to the relaxation of muscles during the onset of sleep for tree dwelling primates – the brain essentially misinterprets the sudden relaxation as a sign that the sleeping primate is falling out of a tree and so causes the muscles to quickly react and to awaken. The hypnic jerk reflex is likely to have had selective value by having the sleeper readjust their sleeping position in a nest or on a branch, in order to assure that a fall did not occur. Chimpanzees and bonobos, our nearest relatives, sleep in trees, and it’s easy to see why falling too deeply into slumber when in a tree may not be wise.

Our early human ancestors also probably slept in trees. All the early hominids were bipedal, but all also retained features of a climbing anatomy (robust fore limbs and long arms relative to femur length). This climbing anatomy is linked to living and sleeping in trees, and there is no evidence to suggest that our early ancestors had given up on this sleeping arrangement. The switch from arboreal to ground sleep, what’s termed the ‘tree-to-ground sleep transition‘, did not begin until the arrival of Homo erectus, about two million years ago. Falling out of a tree was an event that our early ancestors did not easily forget, and we still haven’t. Without being consciously aware of it, as we doze too deeply, in the safety of our modern beds, hypnic jerks provide us with a sudden reminder of our earlier, more ape-like way of life. ---read more here.

Here's a good example of how our genetics can actually "remember" our past fears... My dog Lola has an issue with food. (Many dogs do.) And what I mean is -- she will pretend to bury her food, as if she is digging up dirt with her nose and plopping it onto her bowl as if she's hiding it. She has become a "dog in the wild" as she feasts on some good grub in a comfortable home safely. Why does she still think she's in the wild and why would she think that there is dirt on the floor? (Minus my lack of cleaning skills.) Even though there is NO dirt, she is making as if there IS dirt, and "pretending" to cover it. This is a form of genetic memory.

So why do we really fear sleep? Let's face it -- that's what it is. Or is it the fear of dying in one's sleep? Our vulnerability while sleeping somehow puts us at a greater risk. We initially feared the dark. More predators were able to find us and we became extremely vulnerable to those dangers. In today's society, that's kinda malarky b.s. types of assumptions, because we sit in bed and overanalyze what our day's gonna be like, or even dread the next day to come. Sometimes we worry about an intruder (normal type of fear) and sometimes, we have no idea why we're having a panic attack after midnight. We can't pinpoint why we're freaking out over nothing. When the night becomes silent, our minds become louder. During the day, we're busy with people, work, focusing on other things besides TRYING to fall asleep. And the more you TRY to fall asleep, the more sleep eludes you. Some people are afraid they'll die in their sleep because of their hypnic jerks. I know I do sometimes. I'll be in the midst of 'falling' asleep, when all of the sudden, I jolt up and can't catch my breath, gasping for air and my heart racing 200 bpm. It's scary! After that kind of episode, I'm usually awake until 4am. My other half is snoring away, or she is concerned because I'm totally freaking out thinking that I just had some sort of stroke or heart attack.

I wrote an article over on this page, where I discuss my issues of sleeping, and even did revisions and edits at the bottom to show you which coping mechanisms worked for me. The only thing that works for me as of now is prayer. I meditate on the Word of God and His promises through biblical scriptures.

Here's a couple that have made me feel calm and safe...

"If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." ~Proverbs 3:24

"I lay down to sleep. I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me." -Psalm 3:5

Also be aware that God may be calling you to take some 'time out' from your slumber in order to talk with Him. When you do this, even if you get 3 hours of sleep, He will give you this unexplainable energy during the day -- as if you slept a full 8 hours. Whenever you are unable to sleep, go into another room and pray to God. Open your Bible and let Him guide you to certain passages that He may need you to read. The other night I couldn't sleep because my surgical scar seemed to have gotten infected and inflamed. So I went into the other room and did a healing prayer, as well as placed anointing oil on it, and within hours, the infection and inflammation was COMPLETELY gone. I even had to show Maddie, because she was going to take me to Urgent Care to have it checked out. She was shocked, but knew it could only be from God. Doctors tried to say it was a hernia and that it was probably my appendix -- but God said something differently, and I trusted Him instead of freaking out and getting an unnecessary surgery done.

A good friend of mine always says, "God wants us in peace, not in pieces!"

Anxiety is a tricky beast. Once you find some way to cope with the anxiety, it's as if the anxiety beast finds out and demolishes it altogether. So you have to constantly find new ways to cope with the anxiety. One of my favorite (besides prayer -- which is #1) -- is grounding techniques. Even though we may think we're not overthinking, sometimes we are, or fretting about the to-do list for the morning.


1. Sit upright with your bare feet flat on the floor. Connect with the earth as best as you can.
2. Name 5 objects in the room you are sitting in.
3. Name 5 things you can feel or touch.
4. Name 5 sounds whether inside your home or outside.
5. Name 5 scents that are available where you are, if not, just count as many as you can.

I have a go-to video on Youtube that I put on whenever I am in PANIC-MODE! I mean, this is when my heart is racing, my breath is shallow and I just cannot pull it together. Click here to listen to this amazing 30 minute affirmation video. Within 15 minutes, my anxiety is totally calm, so finishing the entire 30 minutes will leave me sleepy. Try it. What else are ya gonna do -- stare at the ceiling all night?

Here's a video on "grounding" also called, "earthing." Click here if you are not able to view the video below this text. The video has somewhat of a robotic voice, but the info on it is insane! You're not gonna believe how much lack of grounding affects us on a daily basis.

Feel free to let me know how things worked out for you. You can comment over on Facebook.com/DPasquella and explain how you coped with your insomnia or anxiety for that evening. Anxiety may never let up, but we can always use our coping skills! Good luck!

For more of Deb's articles, please visit: www.debrapasquella.com or join her on Facebook and Twitter. Check out her cooking blog for some of her famous recipes! Feel free to watch Deb's live broadcasts over on Periscope as well!