Anxiety can be a debilitating illness, causing a multitude of problems. Some believe that anxiety is just the feeling of extreme nervousness – but for those with severe anxiety or related disorders, it can come with a range of other symptoms and side-effects that make it hard to get through each day.
If you’ve ever experienced anxiety, you’ll know many of these symptoms: rapid heart rate, sweating, and a general feeling of being ‘on edge. If it progresses into a full-blown attack, you might notice symptoms like chest pains, numbness, tingling, nausea, and headaches.
Naturally, it can be difficult to sleep if you’re in the grip of anxiety. Sleep requires the body to be relaxed, and when you’re anxious, your body is anything but. Ironically, anxiety levels are worse when you don’t get a good night’s sleep. Sleeplessness as a result of anxiety can lead to a vicious cycle of poor sleep and heightened anxiety that can be hard to break out of.
In this guide, we’re going to look at ways to end sleeplessness due to anxiousness. These will involve planning a sleep routine, creating the ideal sleep environment, and managing the situation with breathing techniques. If you’ve ever been unable to sleep because of your anxiety or panic, these tips will prove very helpful to you.
What is Anxiety?
Table of Contents:
- 1 What is Anxiety?
- 1.1 What Is The Importance Of Sleep?
- 1.2 Ways to Deal with Sleeplessness Due to Anxiety
- 1.2.1 Create An Evening Routine
- 1.2.2 Avoid Backlit Devices
- 1.2.3 Use a White Noise Machine
- 1.2.4 Meditate Before Bed
- 1.2.5 Create a Conducive Sleeping Environment
- 1.2.6 Exercise During the Day
- 1.2.7 Keep a Journal
- 1.2.8 Use the Bedroom for Sleep Only
- 1.2.9 Don’t Force Yourself To Sleep
- 1.2.10 Natural Sleep Aids
- 1.3 Fighting Anxiety-Related Sleeplessness
Anxiety is a general term for a range of disorders that cause fear, worry, and panic. Everyone experiences anxious feelings at some point. For example, before a job interview or another stressful situation. But those suffering from anxiety disorders often find that the feelings of anxiousness are almost constant.
Anxiety comes in many forms. It can be a symptom of a panic disorder or the result of a phobia. PTSD can trigger fear, and social anxiety is also becoming more prevalent in this modern age. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is another condition where sufferers feel anxious around-the-clock – often for no particular reason.
Everyone experiences anxiety in different ways. Not everyone will see the same symptoms arise, and everyone manages it differently. However, insomnia and constant waking during the night are very common side-effects.
What Is The Importance Of Sleep?
Sleep is essential to our health. It’s the time of day when the body recharges and repairs itself – and if you’re not getting enough, it can have a range of knock-on effects. Poor sleep has been linked to the following health issues:
- Weight gain
- Greater appetite
- Reduced concentration and productivity
- Higher risk of heart attack or stroke
- Increased risk of pre-diabetes
- Impaired immune function
- Diminished ability to function socially
Ways to Deal with Sleeplessness Due to Anxiety
So now we know why sleep is so crucial to our bodies. Let’s take a look at the top ten ways to end your anxiety-related sleeplessness:
Create An Evening Routine
Experts now believe that creating a ‘sleep routine is a great way to prepare the body for rest. It can take a couple of weeks to get used to, but if you stick to the routine, you’re sending messages to your body that it’s time to ‘power down.
Your pre-sleep ritual can include anything you want, and it can be as long or as short as you like. The focus should be on moving away from activities or environments that stimulate your mind.
Here are some tips for creating your own sleep routine:
- Set a specific bedtime for yourself, and stick to it. Your natural body clock will eventually fall into a rhythm that will help it to relax when it knows your scheduled ‘bedtime is approaching.
- Stay away from backlit screens for an hour before bed. These screens can stimulate the brain and make it harder to shut down – more on this later. Instead of watching TV or scrolling through your phone in bed, consider reading a book or writing in a journal.
- Avoid foods and drinks that will give you a rush of energy. Caffeinated or sugary drinks can cause a blood sugar spike that will make it hard for you to relax. They may cause your heart rate to rise, and this can cause the onset of an anxiety attack. Warm milk or plain water are good options to keep you hydrated and calm before bed.
Avoid Backlit Devices
The blue light emitted from devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops can trick your body into thinking it’s still daytime. This can send your body’s internal clock (known as the circadian rhythm) haywire. Naturally, this makes it much more difficult to fall asleep when you want to.
When lights from electronic devices (including alarm clock displays) are present as were trying to sleep, it makes it harder for the body to produce melatonin. Known as ‘the hormone of darkness, melatonin is responsible for regulating our body clock, but it can only be produced by the body when it’s completely dark.
Melatonin production occurs naturally in the evening, as darkness falls. Production then drops as the sun rises. But if there are light-emitting electronics in your bedroom, it can interrupt the production of this vital hormone. This makes it harder for you to fall asleep during the hours of darkness (the traditional rest time for your body) and may even make you feel more tired during the hours of daylight.
You can take a melatonin supplement to help. If you’re suffering from anxiety-related sleeplessness, it’s in your best interests to ensure your bedroom is a totally dark environment. This will help your body naturally relax.
Use a White Noise Machine
Creating a quiet environment is crucial if you’re trying to overcome anxiety-related sleeplessness. But what if you live in an urban area where noise is inevitable? What if you live next to a busy road, or in the path of an airport?
At the other end of the spectrum, some people can’t sleep in total silence. They need some background noise to lull them into relaxation. But leaving a television on can cause issues with melatonin production, as we’ve covered, and sleeping to music can be distracting.
Fortunately, there’s a solution to both of these issues. Whether you need to block out background noise or create a little background buzz, a white noise machine is a great solution. White noise machines create a static sound barrier which can be very helpful if you’re trying to get to sleep.
White noise machines are available at all price points. The budget options come with a single white noise option, and the ability to adjust the volume. They may also come with a timer option, so it isn’t necessarily left on throughout the night.
The white noise machines at the more expensive end of the spectrum come with a vast number of carefully engineered acoustic sounds which can be enormously relaxing. If you don’t want to fall asleep to white noise, you can fall asleep to the sounds of the jungle, waves crashing, rain falling, gentle wind, or even generic nighttime forest sounds.
Meditate Before Bed
Meditation is a fantastic and proven way to help you relax and get rid of any anxieties before bed. A study by the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that 58% of participants (who had insomnia) showed significant improvement when they began meditation practice regularly. 91% of them were able to reduce the dosages of sleep aids and other medications. More than half reported they experienced a better sleep cycle as a result.
The best thing about meditation is that it can be whatever you want it to be. Whether it’s just a few minutes of taking deep breaths or a solid half-hour of guided meditation with a narrator, it’s up to you how you use this practice.
If you’re totally new to meditation, it’s best to complete a guided practice. These usually feature a narrator with a soothing voice guiding you through some relaxing breathing exercises and encouraging you to free your mind. As you become more experienced at meditating, you can guide your own practice. You may choose to listen to some music or do some gentle stretching while you meditate. Find what works for you, and use it as a powerful tool to reduce your anxiety before bed.
Create a Conducive Sleeping Environment
The environment you sleep in plays a crucial role in the quality of your sleep. Many people with anxiety suffer due to poor quality sleep. This, in turn, can make their anxiety levels worse during the day, causing them to fall into that tricky cycle of sleeplessness. Here are a few ways you can create a better sleeping environment:
- Choose high-quality sheets for your bed. Cotton and silk are good choices. Consider investing in a good mattress, or a comfortable mattress topper.
- Wear comfortable pajamas – or sleep in nothing at all, if you feel comfortable with that. Sleeping naked has been proven to reduce stress levels. Interestingly enough, there are also benefits from sleeping without a bra.
- Use blackout curtains to prevent external light from disrupting your sleep cycle.
- Try to keep the room tidy, and get rid of any unpleasant smells. If your laundry basket is giving off a stench, move it into another room while you try to sleep. Keep your bed free of anything other than pillows and blankets.
- Keep a fresh glass of water by your bed. If you wake up thirsty in the night, a trip to the kitchen or bathroom to refill your glass could stimulate your body and make it hard for you to sleep again.
Exercise During the Day
Gentle exercise helps you sleep better at night – and it’s especially effective for those who suffer from anxiety. Not only does exercise tire you out because you’re expending energy, but it can also reduce stress levels.
Best of all, you don’t need to engage in a sweaty sixty-minute workout to reap the rewards of this tip. As little as 10 minutes of light exercise such as cycling, walking, dancing, or yoga can improve the quality of your sleep at night. It’s even more effective if you do it regularly.
Many people suffering from anxiety find that they have too much energy coursing through them when they try to sleep. Exercise is a great way to ‘burn off that excess energy, as well as bringing down stress levels and causing helpful fluctuations in body temperature that signal its time for bed.
Keep a Journal
Anxiety can often result in racing thoughts, and feelings of fear, concern, or panic. For many people, the simple act of writing these thoughts down can be very cathartic. Instead of keeping them bottled up and trying to push them aside, let your feelings out.
It can also be useful to keep a sleep journal. You should note the following:
- What time you went to bed
- How long it took you to fall asleep
- What time you woke up
- Whether you woke up during the night
- How you felt during the day
- What exercise you did during the day
- Whether you consumed any stimulants (sugar, caffeine) before bed
This can help you to discover if there are any ‘triggers for your evening anxiety. You can also use the nights where you had a particularly good sleep as a model for subsequent evenings.
Use the Bedroom for Sleep Only
Your bedroom should be used for sleep and sleep-related activities only. That way, when you enter the room, your body immediately associates it with sleep. If you use your bedroom for working, exercising, paying bills, or other stressful activities, it can act as a trigger for your anxiety when you enter.
Don’t Force Yourself To Sleep
If you’ve suffered from anxiety-related insomnia for a while, you may come to associate your bed with lying awake, worrying. If you’re in this situation, don’t feel that you have to force it. Lying rigidly in bed and trying to will yourself to sleep despite a racing heart or overactive mind is counterintuitive.
If, after thirty minutes of trying to sleep, you find you’re having no success, get up and go into a different room. Try an activity that doesn’t involve screens – folding laundry, watering plants, or some general tidying, for example.
Natural Sleep Aids
Rather than reaching straight for the medication to help you sleep, why not try a natural over-the-counter sleep aid?
Magnesium has been shown to help improve symptoms of fatigue and help you to relax. Chamomile and lavender are both known sedative herbs – try chamomile tea, or run lavender essential oil into your temples before you get into bed. Valerian is also great for restlessness, and it can reduce nighttime waking, resulting in better quality sleep.
Fighting Anxiety-Related Sleeplessness
When you fall into a cycle of sleeplessness caused by anxiety, it can be very difficult to break out. Your lack of sleep can cause a multitude of health problems and issues with your daily life, and it can also exacerbate your anxiety. That’s why it’s so important to address the problem and find a healthy sleep routine once more.
Fortunately, there are lots of different tips and techniques you can try when you’re anxious and finding it hard to sleep. From gentle meditation to investing in a Marpac Dohm DS Dual Speed Sound Conditioner, there are many different options you can pursue.
It’s vital to avoid backlit screens in the hours before you go to sleep – and creating a sleep routine will also prove very helpful. Both of these things will help your body regain its circadian rhythm, where the body rests during the hours of darkness and is awake when it’s light.
Regular exercise is also essential. Not only will it help reduce your anxiety and stress levels in general, but it’ll also help you use up some energy. When you get into bed after a day where you exercised, you’ll be more likely to fall asleep with much less effort than usual.
Of course, natural remedies for sleep are always an option to try out. From chamomile tea and lavender essential oil to magnesium supplementation, you should be able to find an option that works for you and your body. Not all of them will be effective, but if you hit on a solution that is helping you sleep, your issue will be quickly resolved.