The way anxiety and sleep are linked often feels like a vicious cycle: it’s difficult to achieve deep sleep when you’re feeling anxious and it’s normal to feel anxious if you aren’t getting enough sleep. And the later you fall asleep or the more you wake up during the night, the more anxious you get knowing you have to get up in a few hours. So it’s not really a surprise that a recent neuroscience study showed that brain activity following periods of sleep deprivation mirrors the activity linked with anxiety disorders.
Sleep deprivation doesn’t have to reach the extreme of chronic insomnia to create health problems. It can be the slow depletion of sleep over time. Either way, it’s important to understand sleep patterns, what they mean, and how to improve them to get better sleep. A good way to track and monitor your sleep is with a smart bed like the Eight Sleep Pod. It has the ability to adjust the surface temperature throughout the night to continually improve your sleep (consider it a personal trainer who gets you sleep-fit while you rest). It’s also necessary to recognize symptoms of anxiety and ways to alleviate it.
Experiencing situational anxiety is normal. When feelings become frequent and persistent, it can make things feel difficult to control. Symptoms of anxiety include rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and weakness. An anxiety disorder can also make you feel panicky and make it difficult to concentrate. It’s often triggered by certain situations like stress at work or at home or it can be brought on unexpectedly due to a build- up of concerns or unresolved problems. In turn, this affects the amount — and quality — of sleep you get.
However you experience anxiety, it can feel overwhelming and unsettling. It can become tough just to walk down the street, much less get a good night’s sleep. The first step is to identify the core causes and eliminate these factors as much as possible from your day-to-day life. The second step is to use the tools available to help reduce the amount of anxiety or give you what you need to work through it in a healthy way.
Among the top recommendations to help ease anxiety is to improve your sleep patterns. Ask yourself, how much sleep do you currently get? Are you able to go to sleep right away or does it take you hours to drift off? Do you follow a set bedtime every night or does it vary throughout the week? Answer these questions and make changes on any of these factors that you’re able to control (like your bedtime).
Anxiety pops up at random times and can be triggered by a number of factors. Many who experience anxiety feel it most often when they’re trying to go to sleep. Racing thoughts and restless feelings are commonly associated with anxiety, which makes the process of going to sleep a burden and the goal of staying asleep a challenge. Fortunately, there are several ways to help reduce anxiety levels and improve sleep.
What once was looked to as a spiritual practice has been in the mainstream for years as a practical way to calm the mind. Sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and start inhaling and exhaling slowly. Inhale for a count of three, hold it for a count of three, and exhale for a count of three. Repeat this pattern until your breath has slowed and you’ve centered the mind.
Breathwork is the most important part of meditation, but there are many ways to meditate. If the silence feels too deafening, consider a guided meditation where a soothing voice takes you through visualization of a peaceful setting or repeats a positive mantra. The goal is to maintain a serene environment where you can still the mind and replace competing thoughts with calm ones.
Regular exercise helps to reduce stress levels by releasing endorphins. Yoga is both a gentle and strengthening exercise that works well with meditation. Or, if you want a high-intensity workout, kickboxing or running will get the heart pumping and fresh air flowing through your lungs. If you don’t have time for an actual workout every day, take time for a 10-minute walk or stretching session three times a day.
Some people opt to exercise in the evening since it raises the body temperature and feels relaxing once you enter the cool-down period. Schedule activity a few hours before bed to prevent too much stimulation and give your body time to relax. This often leads to better sleep. Whether evening or morning is convenient, choose a time and workout that you enjoy to make it easier to be consistent.
A short nap works as a revitalizing method to perk up your mood and get you through an afternoon slump. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or lethargic, taking a break to rest allows you to reset and start anew. Limit your naps to 20-30 minutes in the early afternoon so as not to disrupt your nighttime sleeping routine.
If you find you’re napping often for longer periods of time, it can have the opposite effect and make you feel fatigued. Being constantly tired throughout the day may be a sign of illness or inconsistent sleep.
Everyone experiences anxiety at different levels. When it becomes consuming, one method to help alleviate it is to write it out. Give yourself time to document what you’re feeling and why. Having a creative outlet like journaling gives your anxiety somewhere to go and can serve as a guide to what may be the triggering causes.
This activity may feel better suited for you than talking with someone face to face. It depends on the level of anxiety you’re feeling and what you have access to in the moment. Reflect back on what you’ve written and how it’s linked with your sleep patterns.
Self-care is just as it sounds: taking time for yourself to feel better. What are the intentional actions you take as part of regular self-care? Maybe it’s working out or spending time with friends. It could be treating yourself to a movie or relaxing with a good book.
Being purposeful about your sleep patterns is a valuable part of practicing self-care. At one point or another, we’ve all felt there aren’t enough hours in the day. But regardless of those hours, it’s important to factor in your sleep to stay on a steady schedule. Whether it’s a nap during the day or one hour less of watching TV at night to go to bed earlier, how much are your prioritizing your sleep as part of a self-care plan?
Each of these tools are meant to alleviate anxiety and promote healthy sleep. By incorporating any of them into your daily lifestyle, you are making a move toward achieving optimal sleep health. You can also read 8 simple ways to improve your sleep for additional helpful tricks.
Reducing anxiety levels using specific tools and methods is one way to combat problems with sleep, but there may be certain sleep disorders standing in the way of progress. For example, sleep apnea is a disorder that’s been linked to anxiety and depression. It occurs when there isn’t proper airflow, which prevents you from breathing for short bursts of time throughout the night.
This leaves people feeling exhausted in the morning due to lack of sleep. This type of sleep disorder can result in lack of focus, fatigue, and memory loss due to sleep deprivation. At-home remedies include weight loss and avoiding alcohol since obesity and excessive drinking are frequently associated with sleep apnea.
Also, sleep apnea may be improved by switching the position you sleep in. Falling asleep on your side is recommended to prevent your tongue from resting against the back of the throat and blocking the airway passage. In extreme cases, solutions like using a CPAP machine or undergoing surgery may be deemed necessary by a doctor.
Another common sleep disorder is restless leg syndrome, which intensifies at night. While it can be relieved by shaking the leg or getting up and walking around, these disturbances aren’t helpful when it comes to getting a good night’s rest.
Start treatment as soon as possible if you suffer from any type of sleep disorder. Talk with your doctor about the best route of care and get back to a better way of sleeping. Many times, it calls for a lifestyle change rather than medical intervention.
As anxiety rises, sleep tends to decline, but you have the ability to focus on reversing both and feeling better overall.
When tapping in to how anxiety affects your sleep, you’ll become aware of what triggers your anxious feelings and start to better understand your sleep habits. You’ll uncover areas that need attention or that are currently missing from your daily routine. With the technology and access to information we have available to us today, it’s easier than ever to customize solutions for how we sleep, and keep a consistent sleep schedule. Just a small, consistent change can make a big difference in your anxiety, sleep — and overall health.
Sources: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/neuronarrative/201812/understanding-the-connection-between-sleep-and-anxiety; https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sleep-apnea/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20377636;