Lack of Sleep and Anxiety
There’s a chicken and egg relationship between anxiety and lack of sleep. Both impact the other. It may be difficult to tell which came first, but they create a cycle and downward spiral.
Many people who have experienced anxiety will tell you that their sleep is disturbed by a mind that won’t shut down. Some have trouble falling asleep, some wake up and can’t go back to sleep, some suffer both sleep disturbances.
But it isn’t just that the anxiety makes it more difficult to sleep, the difficulty sleeping also potentially makes anxiety worse.
Recent research suggests that brain chemical and functional changes associated with sleep deprivation create an increase in anxiety.
So here’s the challenge:
- a lack of sleep can cause anxiety, and
- anxiety can cause a lack of sleep.
Here’s the good news:
- getting sufficient sleep can help reduce your anxiety.
How much sleep is enough?
There’s been a lot of research about sleep lately. It’s been exposing connections between less than optimal sleep and all sorts of problems both emotional and physical.
I have been surprised at the recommended number of hours of sleep that is coming out of these studies. It’s quite a bit higher than what I had previously believed was ideal and it’s made me reexamine my own sleep goals.
Studies show that adults do best with 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day.
How can you get enough sleep?
If you aren’t getting enough sleep now—either because anxiety is keeping you awake or for other reasons—there may be a number of lifestyle changes that can help you get more rejuvenating sleep.
You may be doing things during your day that you didn’t realize were contributing to your mind and/or body not being able to slow down for sleep.
And/or there may be things that you can do to improve your chances of a good night’s sleep.
If you are going to work toward getting more sleep, you may want to slowly back up your sleep time table so that your aim is to get a little more sleep each night until you get to your new sleeping-hours goal.
10 Tips for How to Fall Asleep and Sleep Better
1. Plan for a winding down period before bed.
Figure out how much time is needed for winding down and calculate backwards what time you need to start the winding down process so that you can get to sleep on time.
2. Be mindful of what you expose your mind to before bed.
What you expose your mind to shortly before bed can stay with you when you are trying to relax for sleep. It’s probably best to avoid the news or media that rev up anxious thoughts.
3. Don’t take your electronic devices to bed.
Aside from the potential of stimulating instead of relaxing your mind in preparation for sleep, the blue light emitted by most electronic devices has been shown to decrease Melatonin. (Melatonin is a natural chemical that tells your body it’s time to sleep.)
4. Stop caffeine by 3 pm or earlier.
For most people, even if they call fall asleep OK, caffeine intake late in the day results in a more disturbed sleep. Most people can eliminate caffeine's impact on their sleep by stopping intake by 3 pm, but that isn't early enough for some. A cup of coffee consumed at 10 am might get in the way of a good nights sleep. How you react to caffeine depends on your body and current conditions.
Different people can be more or less sensitive to caffeine and an individual may be more sensitive at different times in their life and under different circumstances. Stress may up your reaction to caffeine.
Even if you get to sleep without trouble, caffeine can still ruin your sleep.
• make it difficult to fall asleep,
• make you restless during sleep,
• keep you stuck in a light stage of sleep,
• interrupt your sleep, and/or
• shorten the length of sleep by waking you up early.
The half-life for caffeine is around five hours. That means that it takes five hours for half of the caffeine consumed to be eliminated on average. Notice that it’s only half gone in five hours. Caffeine that you consumed ten hours ago can be wrecking your sleep. It’s also noteworthy that some things can extend caffeine’s half-life, such as: older age, smoking, pregnancy, and particular illnesses and medications. So—you might react differently to caffeine at different times in your life.
5. Don’t drink alcohol before bed.
This goes against conventional wisdom, but while alcohol may relax you to fall asleep it creates a less refreshing sleep. (I write more about the negative relationship between alcohol and anxiety in How Alcohol and Anxiety Are a Bad Mix.)
6. Don’t eat a big meal before bed.
Eating before bed sends your body the signal that it needs to rev up for the digestion process. This is counterproductive when you want to wind down for sleep.
7. Get enough exercise.
Exercise keeps your body working at its optimum and that includes sleeping well. It may not be wise to exercise just before bed as that could make you too energized for sleep.
8. Keep a note pad and pen by the bed.
If you keep a note pad and pen by your bed, you can use it to write down thoughts that are keeping you awake. Often writing them down releases your mind from having to remind you about the thoughts and you are able to fall asleep.
9. Drink herbal teas to relax.
There are a number of herbal teas that are thought to have relaxing properties. You may want to try chamomile, valerian, or a herbal tea mixture such as Sleepy Time tea.
One of my client’s swears by a supplement called “Doc Parsley’s Sleep Cocktail.”
(Check with your doctor to see if you are on any medications that would clash with herbs etc.)
10. Listen to something relaxing.
My hypnosis recordings
My hypnosis recordings are designed to be used during the day when you have time to relax or as you are going to sleep. Many people who use my hypnosis recordings at bedtime say that they get the best night’s sleep they’ve had in years. (Several people have even reported that when they listen to my hypnosis recordings out loud when they are going to sleep, not only do they sleep better, but, their dogs even sleep better!)
- Tags: anxiety
- Ann Silvers