How Anxiety Affects Sleep
It’s 1 am. You’re staring at the ceiling, brain on full alert. Did I lock the door? What am I going to wear tomorrow? Will I get that promotion? It feels as though you just can’t switch off.
When you’re suffering with anxiety, your adrenaline levels run higher than normal. It’s almost as if you’re in constant ‘fight or flight’ mode. The constant worry, stress and uneasy feelings which cloud your mind make it hard for your body and mind to shut off and get the rest you need.
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is a general term for a range of disorders that can cause fear, worry, apprehension and nervousness. Anxiety can be mild and unsettling and range all the way up to severe anxiety which often has a huge effect on day-to-day living.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone. According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), anxiety affects 40 million people in the United States. In fact, it’s the most common group of mental illnesses in the country.
Anxiety and other mental health issues have a strong link with insomnia and other sleep disturbances. Many sufferers report difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep regularly. And that’s bad news. Extended sleep problems have been scientifically proven to increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and developing diabetes.
WHICH COMES FIRST?
It’s a terribly frustrating circle. You’re tired and in need of a good night’s rest – but your mind starts racing as soon as you hit the sack. Then you catch a glimpse of the time and realise you’re going to be exhausted tomorrow and start worrying even more.
It becomes hard to distinguish whether you can’t sleep because you’re anxious, or you’re anxious because you’re not getting enough sleep.
So what’s the answer? Research has shown that the relationship between sleep issues and anxiety is ‘bidirectional’. That means that anxiety can cause sleep disturbance or sleep problems can cause anxiety.
“It’s really like a circular pattern — emotional problems can affect sleep, and lack of sleep can affect people’s emotions,” said David Neubauer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine, “There is quite a bit of overlap between symptoms of insomnia and anxiety and other mood disorders.”
The great news about the close link between anxiety and insomnia is that if you work on solving one problem, you’ll likely help other. For example, finding a solution to an anxiety disorder is likely to have the indirect effect of improving your sleep, and if you find a way to get regular shut-eye, your anxiety is likely to ease.
TIPS FOR SLEEPING WITH ANXIETY
GET UP – Okay, we get it. You’re trying to get to sleep, so you want to stay in bed. But if you’ve been trying for over an hour and you’re not feeling tired, get up – you don’t want your brain to begin to associate your bed with things that aren’t sleep. Take a walk, sit in another room and then return to your bed when you’re feeling sleepy.
DISTRACT YOURSELF – Even better, when you’re struggling to sleep, distract yourself from the situation. Have a read of a book, drink some warm milk or look out the window and relax. Simply getting your mind off the worry of not being able to fall asleep can work wonders.
TRY A WEIGHTED BLANKET – Weighted blankets work by the theory of deep pressure stimulation. The blankets put pressure upon the body, almost mimicking the feeling of being hugged. This helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while increasing levels of serotonin and melatonin, promoting relaxation and decreasing anxiety. A study found that when using a weighted blanket for anxiety, 63% of people reported lower anxiety levels – impressive, right?
TRY TO RELAX – It sounds easier said than done, but the key to getting to sleep with anxiety is trying to relax. A great way to do this is to try a deep breathing exercise which naturally clears the body of stresses or tension. Take a series of slow, even breaths and try to focus only on your breathing.
STOP CLOCK WATCHING – It can be tempting to look at the clock every ten minutes when you’re struggling to get to sleep – but it’s actually making the situation worse. Looking at the clock wakes your brain up and makes you feel more stressed about the sleep you’re not getting. So keep away from that clock.
If you’re struggling with anxiety and it’s affecting your ability to get a good night’s rest, it’s important to address the issue and find a solution that’s suitable for you. Take some time to try out our techniques and be sure to let us know if they work. For more information, check out our blog about weighted blankets and their effect on anxiety.