We all know that sleep is an essential part of everyday life and health. When the day ends, the natural course of action is to wind down and sleep. While some have no problem falling asleep as soon as they go to bed, others struggle due to anxiety. Let’s delve deeper into the topic of what anxiety is, the relationship between anxiety and sleep, and how to sleep better with anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress. It is a feeling of extreme fear, worry, unease, or apprehension. For example, you might feel anxious when faced with a difficult problem at work, before taking a major test, or before making an important decision in life. If you frequently having trouble sleeping — like the 10% to 30% of the adult population — you might want to look more into how to sleep better with anxiety.
Sleep is closely connected to mental and emotional health and studies have demonstrated its link to anxiety. Sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety, spurring a vicious cycle involving insomnia and anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies show that the prevalence of anxiety disorder is about 24% to 36% in subjects with insomnia.
In anxiety disorders, distress emotions contribute to a state of hyperarousal wherein the mind is racing. Hyperarousal is a central contributor to insomnia. In addition, experiencing sleep problems may become an added source of worry, creating anticipatory anxiety during bedtime that makes it harder to fall asleep.
Trouble falling asleep and undisturbed sleep are quite common experiences. However, if you are wondering how to sleep better with anxiety due to persistent and recurring sleeping problems, you might want to seek professional help.
The symptoms of anxiety disorders can affect people both psychologically (i.e. release of the stress hormone cortisol, loneliness, pressure, irritability) and physiologically (i.e., tense muscles, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, gastrointestinal distress, fatigue, increased risk for heart disease and diabetes).
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), nearly 50% of people with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
If you suffer from anxiety, you will tend to feel extremely nervous and on edge all the time. Your fear or sense of impending doom can feel out of control. Its primary effect is sleep fragmentation which leads to excessive daytime drowsiness and fatigue. This may also lead to cognitive dysfunction, mood problems, and impaired work performance among others.
How to Sleep Better with Anxiety
Although the impacts of anxiety disorders are substantial, they are one of the most treatable mental health disorders. The good news is, there are many things you can do to beat insomnia associated with anxiety and finally enjoy a good night’s sleep. Below are some professional and sleep home remedies on how to sleep better with anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that works by reorienting negative thinking and how patients react to anxiety-provoking situations. During treatment, a trained CBT provider helps to identify thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that are contributing to the symptoms of insomnia. Studies show that CBT is an effective treatment for anxiety disorders including in patients with insomnia.
Once you consult physicians about how to sleep better with anxiety, they may recommend medications to help address the anxiety first. These medications are intended to mitigate symptoms rather than cure the underlying anxiety, which in turn may help pave the way for getting better sleep.
Several types of medications are approved to treat anxiety disorders including anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and beta-blockers. Alprazolam and diazepam are well-known drugs that are commonly prescribed to help treat anxiety and panic disorders.
Create a Sleep-Inducing Bedroom
Your sleep environment has a lot to do with how to sleep better with anxiety. Although this is common knowledge, it is often overlooked. A relaxing bedroom that maximises comfort and minimises distractions has a greater chance of calming your mind and making it easier to fall asleep.
Consider getting blackout curtains to keep your bedroom dark. Excessive light exposure can throw off your sleep and circadian rhythm (the body’s natural body clock). Sleeping in a cooler room with an 18°C temperature can also be the solution to how to sleep better with anxiety. Using a sleeping device like a white noise machine can also drown external noises that keep you awake and alert. Introducing soothing scents such as lavender can help ease you into sleep as well.
Lastly, choosing quality bedding and mattress may also be responsible for how to sleep better with anxiety. 93% of people recognize that a comfortable mattress is important for getting quality sleep, which may be because it supports the spine and pressure points. Bedding that helps maintain a cool temperature can also help you feel more comfortable during the night.
Optimize Your Sleep Schedule
Optimizing your daily sleep schedule is a powerful step toward knowing how to sleep better with anxiety. While this may prove to be challenging given the distress emotions you feel, adjusting your sleep schedule gradually can be beneficial. This allows your body to get used to the change and makes following your new schedule easier.
If you want to make sure you are getting the recommended amount of sleep each night (7 to 9 hours), then you need to allow time for it. Pick a wake-up time, work backward, identify your target bedtime, and try to commit to it (even on weeknights or times when you would otherwise sleep in). Whenever possible, keep naps to 20 minutes as napping too long can make it harder to get to sleep at night.
Develop a Pre-Bed Routine
If you are wondering how to sleep better with anxiety, it’s natural to think the problem stems from the moment you lie down in bed. In reality, the time leading up to bedtime plays a crucial role in helping you sleep better.
As much as possible, create a consistent routine to follow before sleep to reinforce healthy habits. This can include winding down for at least 30 minutes by doing low-impact activities (i.e., reading, listening to soothing music).
When it’s bedtime, be sure to put down your devices as well because blue light wavelengths have the most potent effect among the visible light spectrum, which increases your alertness and makes it difficult to fall asleep. Checking emails and other tasks right before bed can also trigger anxious thoughts and make it difficult to calm your brain.
Adjusting to these pre-bed habits can take time, but the effort can pay off if you want to know how to sleep better with anxiety.
Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine Consumption at Night
What you consume before bed plays a significant role in getting a good night’s sleep even when you don’t have anxiety. So, avoid drinking stimulants such as coffee and other caffeinated drinks (i.e., sodas, teas) that can be a barrier to falling asleep. Caffeine is a drug that acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist which keeps the body from falling asleep. It also stimulates your body’s “fight or flight” response and can make anxiety worse.
Avoiding alcohol consumption before bedtime is also recommended to get better sleep with anxiety. Even though alcohol induces drowsiness, it can also disrupt sleep quality. Alcohol consumption is associated with frequent awakenings, night sweats, nightmares, headaches, and restlessness.
Experts have agreed that it takes about an hour for caffeine to reach peak levels in your body and its effect can take from 4 to 6 hours. Thus, if you want to know how to sleep better with anxiety, it would be best to avoid alcohol and caffeine for at least 4 hours before bedtime.
Recent studies have shown that exercise and fewer sleep complaints are closely linked. In the same way, exercise can be a solution on how to sleep better with anxiety for the following reasons
- Diverts the brain from anxiety triggers
- Decreases muscle tension
- Lowers the body’s contribution to feeling anxious
- Gets the heart rate up to increase anti-anxiety neurochemicals (i.e., serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, endocannabinoids).
Consider Doing Relaxation Techniques
When it comes to knowing how to sleep better with anxiety, relaxation techniques can be a powerful solution. Having anxiety feels like your head keeps spinning and your fear or sense of impending doom can feel out-of-control. The key is to calm down your mind and body to fall asleep. Sounds simple, right? However, many people with anxiety find this near impossible to achieve.
You can try meditation as a relaxation technique to quiet your body and mind while enhancing inner peace and balance. This is especially effective when you start having worrisome thoughts at night, wherein you are not as distracted by other things as during the day. Yoga and breathing exercises can also trigger your relaxation response at night.
Learn More About How To Sleep Better With Anxiety From Sleep Science
Falling asleep comes easily for some people, but knowing how to sleep better with anxiety is much more challenging. By understanding anxiety and its relationship with sleep, you can figure out how to get a good night’s rest needed to keep your body healthy and happy.
To learn more tips on knowing how to sleep better with anxiety or getting better sleep in general, be sure to browse our guide at Sleep Science!
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