Anyone desperately trying to catch some zzz's knows that stress and anxiety affect sleep, and vice versa.

A poor night's rest heightens anxieties and makes ordinarily manageable issues seem insurmountable. Meanwhile, anxiety makes getting quality rest a challenge, keeping some up for hours ruminating about people, events and situations out of their control.

They may not always be able to explain whether sleep problems cause anxiety or the other way around, but experts are certain the two are interrelated.

What the Research Says

Research has shown that an inadequate amount of nightly rest affects job and school performance, personal relationships, and one's ability to face new situations.

In one study, college students who slept regularly and for enough hours per night maintained higher GPA's than their counterparts. But that's not all. Experts believe that students who struggle with anxiety and depression often suffer from a sleep disorder as well.

"When you find depression, even when you find anxiety, when you scratch the surface 80 to 90% of the time you find a sleep problem as well," said University of Delaware psychologist Brad Wolgast.

Consequently, many colleges throughout the country are now welcoming students back to campus with a new message: Get more sleep. But university officials face a tough challenge.

With college-age students embracing communications technologies that enable them to be in contact 24 hours a day, there is great temptation to stay awake. Going to bed is far more complicated than simply hitting a light switch.

Making the matter worse is young adults' tendency to pull all-nighters and to be stressed by exams. In fact, many students compete and are proud of their lack of sleep, believing it is part of the college experience.

How Much Sleep is Enough?

Regular, consistent sleep increases mental and health functioning, with most experts agreeing that seven to nine hours a night is optimal for adults.

The range varies further for children; with scientists suggest the following guidelines to determine recommended daily sleep by age:

  • Newborns: 12 to 18 hours
  • Infants: 14 to 15 hours
  • Toddlers: 12 to 14 hours
  • Preschoolers: 11 to 13 hours
  • School-age children: 10 to 11 hours
  • Teens: 8.5 to 9.25 hours

Children who do not sleep sufficiently are likely to have problems learning and difficulty concentrating in school; they may also experience physical and behavioral issues. Research has also shown that napping can help.

“Too Much Sleep?"

Sleeping too much may also signal a problem, according to sleep experts and psychologists. A 2004 study of 1.1 million American adults found that sleeping more than eight hours per night was associated with higher mortality risks.

Excess sleep is also a frequent symptom of depression, with 80% of affected patients experiencing sleep problems. Like anxiety, the two are frequently interrelated, with a lack of sleep contributing to the mood disorder, exacerbating it or both. And while depressed people may oversleep to avoid facing the day, they often do not feel refreshed and rested.

Other conditions may also be affecting sleep, with ongoing problems warranting a visit to a healthcare provider.

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Nancy De Andrade, Ph.D, OM
Nancy A. Pachana, Ph.D., FAPS, FASSA
Katherine J. Gold, M.D., M.S.W., M.S.
Liz Matheis, Ph.D.


Date of original publication:

Updated: January 12, 2017