Turn Down The Noise In Your Head For A More Restful Night
As you tuck into bed at night, do the thoughts in your brain refuse to slow down when you turn off the lights? Instead of winding down, its a wave of worries about everything from paying your credit card bill on time to an upcoming meeting with your boss. That non-stop chatter about what might occur tomorrow is a sign of anxiety and, for many, its a serious roadblock to getting a good nights sleep.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the number of people struggling with anxiety is staggering. Anxiety has become the number one mental health issue in North America, affecting approximately 40 million Americans . Some estimates put this number higher at around 30% since many people with anxiety dont know they have it or dont seek treatment.
Simply put, its a national epidemic.
When it comes to sleep, anxiety is a key part of a toxic cycle because it makes getting to sleep and staying asleep difficult. Whats more, it becomes a source of worry itself, worsening the original anxiety a chicken-and-egg problem. Did the anxiety cause poor sleep or did poor sleep cause anxiety? One feeds the other, experts say.
The bad news is that even as you manage to nod off, your anxiety is still active. While we sleep, our mind is still active and maybe processing information, she says. If we dont take time throughout the day to process information and to unwind, then stress/anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like
The symptoms of anxiety disorders can affect people both emotionally and physically.
People with anxiety may feel extremely nervous and on-edge. This can affect their concentration and mood, leading to irritability and restlessness. Their fear or sense of impending doom can feel overwhelming and out-of-control.
Physically, anxiety disorders can provoke tense muscles, rapid breathing and heartbeat, sweating, trembling, gastrointestinal distress, and fatigue.
Many people with anxiety disorders attempt to avoid situations that could trigger heightened worry however, this does not resolve their underlying fear and can interrupt both professional and personal activities. Over time, a person with anxiety disorder may get used to being worried such that a state of distress or fear seems normal.
Anxiety disorders can occur alongside other mental health problems like depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America , nearly 50% of people with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
How To Beat Back Night
Whatever the case may be, trying to fall asleep when your mind wont quit is nothing short of maddening.
Why do anxious thoughts flare up at night and how can we combat them?
During the day, we have dozens of tasks occupying our energy. Bedtime brings a halt in activity that can be a difficult transition for our brains.
You May Like: How To Know You Have Social Anxiety
Meditation For Inner Peace
When people feel emotionally stressed, they often ruminate about the past or start imagining future scenarios. In this situation, mindfulness meditation has proven to be an effective method that can help you deal with stress, counteract the fight or flight response, and even boost your heart health over the long term. Youll learn to consciously arrive in the here and now and observe your thoughts like imagery instead of spiraling down with them.
Heres how it works: As soon as you feel your mind going into overdrive, just say stop. Take a few deep breaths to benefit from that relaxation response and quiet your thoughts by imagining that you are turning down the volume. You dont need a special cushion or a yoga guru, but if youd rather meditate with some structure, theres tons of meditation products available like apps, podcasts, and online courses.
What Is The Purpose Of Stress
Before we can dive into the purpose that stress serves, we first need to understand what it is. Waiting for medical test results can be stressful, planning a wedding can be stressful, and living amid a world disaster can be stressful. If I were to ask you what stress feels like, your response would likely be different from my or anyone elses.
According to the American Institute of Stress, the term was coined by scientist Hans Selye in 1936 and was defined as the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change. Selye began conducting animal experiments and noticed that animals subjected to stressful situations developed short term symptoms like stomach ulcers, enlarged adrenals , and shrinkage of lymphoid tissue . Even more startling, he discovered that the stressed animals went on to develop various diseases, including arthritis, heart attacks, stroke, and kidney disease.
The term stressor was also introduced to help people understand the difference between a stimulus and the response. But is all stress bad? Dictionaries began defining it as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. The original definition said it was a nonspecific response, not necessarily a negative one.
Read Also: Is Depression And Anxiety A Mental Illness
Anxiety Depression And The Brain Detox
So why is there such a strong connection between insomnia, anxiety and depression?
Part of the answer to that question became clearer in 2013 when it was discovered that during deep sleep, our brain goes into a literal rinse-cycle or a deep clean. This miraculous event is able to happen because as we sleep brain cells shrink by up to 60%, creating space between the cells to literally flush away debris in the cerebrospinal fluid and out of the brain. OUR BRAINS DETOXIFY AS WE SLEEP. We are simply not going to feel refreshed and ready to take on the new challenges of a new day in the same way if we do not sleep well.
We feel fatigued when we dont sleep and a feeling of fatigue can lead to a low mood. We may feel more anxious too because we feel less able to face the challenges ahead of us. We may feel more anxious and low because we feel alone in the vulnerability caused by lack of sleep. We need to feel strong in order to not feel helpless.
Take A Tip From Your Kids With A Strict Bedtime Routine
We know how important it is for children to have a nighttime routine as it creates a sensed of structure and security, well the same goes for adults especially if you suffer from anxiety, says Bianca L. Rodriguez, a psychotherapist and spiritual coach. A bedtime routine can help you self soothe and act as a container for your anxiety. I recommend taking a warm bath or shower before bed to relax your muscles as the state of your body impacts the activity in your mind. Imagining frustrations, negative energy or worries flowing down the drain can help you approach sleep feeling more clear and calm.
Don’t Miss: How To Stop Chronic Anxiety
Sleepless Nights Try Stress Relief Techniques
In a recent national survey, 44 percent of adults said stress had causedsleepless nights at least once in the previous month. All that tossing,turning and staring at the ceiling can leave you feeling tired andmore stressed the next day. If youre caught in this vicious cycle ofanxiety and insomnia, theres good news: Simple stress relief techniquescan help you sleep better and feel calmer.
How Can I Teach My Child To Get Over Their Fears
Teach your child skills to get over their fears. For example:
- discuss ways to respond to nighttime fears, such as by being brave and thinking positive thoughts
- tell your child how you deal with something that frightens you
You can also try reading stories about children who are afraid and conquer their fears.
For example, for younger kids:
- David and the worry beast: Helping children cope with anxiety by Anne Marie Guanci
- The huge bag of worries by Virginia Ironside
For older kids:
Recommended Reading: How To Sleep Better When Traveling
Read Also: How To Improve Social Anxiety
How Anxiety Can Affect Sleep
Lack of sleep can lead to increased chances of anxiety, but anxiety can also cause a lack of sleep. Unfortunately, the two can intertwine quite a bit, causing one to exacerbate the other.
Anxiety can have a negative effect on your bodys ability to fall asleep as your brain is in fight or flight mode, thinking of all potential outcomes for whatever is causing the anxiety. Furthermore, anticipatory anxiety and specific anxiety about sleep can lead to sleep disturbance and insomnia, which then creates a feedback loop that can make both conditions worsen. Insomnia can also make you more irritable and more worried, as your brain is not getting all the sleep it needs in order to function at normal levels.
However, its not uncommon to experience anxiety related to sleep. As Winnie Yu, a writer for WebMD noted in her article Scared to Sleep, sleep anxiety is a form of performance anxiety. Many people may stress about not getting enough sleep to function, but the stress alone of trying to sleep can cause people to sit awake for hours. Additionally, other fears such as recurring nightmares, fear of sleep apnea , and more can all lead to disturbed sleep.
How To Sleep When Youre Stressed And Anxious
Most of us have been there before.
A stressful day at work, an argument with a partner, or an event during the day can leave your head spinning. Learning how to sleep when stressed and anxious is important for a variety of reasons.
It doesnt take long before sleep quality drops and you start to develop a sleep problem. This stops you from getting a good nights rest because youre too stressed to sleep.
With anxiety driving your mind into overdrive, it can be hard to stop ruminating and relax at the end of the day. Your mind loops around the same track, keeps going over the same conversation, or worries the same unanswerable questions. Often, sleep becomes unattainable.
So what comes first, lack of sleep or anxiety?
Its not so clear cut, one might bring about the other.
Lets break down both to gain some more insight into how these two issues are related.
Go To Bed When You’re Sleepy
If you are not sleepy when you lie down, you are almost guaranteed to have trouble falling asleep. Leibowitz says that he has fixed many patients’ sleep issues by simply suggesting that they go to bed later.
He says, “We all have a clock in our brain that controls when sleep and wake should happen. That is a trait. People who are night owls are night owls. People who are morning people are morning people. And, contrary to popular belief, we can not train ourselves to be morning people by going to bed early and getting up early.”
Many problems with sleep come simply because we tell ourselves that we have to be a morning person when we aren’t, and we try to be a morning person by going to bed early when we aren’t sleepy.
Here’s an example: If you are someone who needs seven hours of sleep and you go to bed at 10 p.m. and set your alarm for 7 a.m., you’re giving yourself a nine-hour window for sleep. Those extra two hours are going to show up somewhereeither at the beginning of the night, in the middle of the night or in the early morning. So if you go to bed at midnight and wake up at 7 a.m. and you feel refreshed, you may be a night owl who is a seven-hour sleeper, and that’s OK!
By setting your wake time and knowing the number of hours of sleep you generally need each night, you’ll be able to better know the time to go to bed when you will actually be sleepy.
Why Anxiety Causes Sleep Problems
Anxiety can affect sleep in a variety of ways. Nearly every symptom of anxiety has the potential to disrupt your ability to sleep since sleep is only possible when your body and mind are relaxed.
Sleep problems may be caused by any number of factors. These include:
Often those with severe anxiety also have negative thoughts which may make relaxation, a key part of falling asleep, difficult to attain.
The Holistic Approach To Anxiety At Night
Alternative approaches, however, can offer a much more comprehensive and effective strategy, which can be especially helpful for issues like this.
Here are the main components to a more big-picture approach to anxiety at night & sleep issues:
These are the steps that I choose to focus on long before I wind up resorting to pharmaceutical meds. For the record Im not against using pharmaceuticals altogether. I just dont think they should be our first step in addressing most issues. Sometimes theyre necessary, and sometimes they can be used to relieve an acute issue while you work on the slower root cause healing process.
Side note that has to be said: Im a huge advocate of taking charge of your health and educating yourself from a range of experts . That being said, everyones situation is unique, so be sure to consult with a trusted healthcare provider before doing anything considered medical for your anxiety at night, like supplements or herbs.
Tinnitus And Sleep Issues
Tinnitus can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety. Taken together, tinnitus and anxiety can lead to a host of sleep issues, and getting enough sleep may seem impossible. The experience of tinnitus during the night can make it very hard to fall asleep, and make you feel more stressed. Tinnitus often seems louder when the room is quiet, so the silence of your bedroom may make tinnitus even more intrusive.
As your anxiety levels rise, it becomes more and more difficult to fall asleep and get the rest you need. When you arent sleeping enough, youll feel even more anxious, and your tinnitus will be even more noticeable.
The Effects Of Sleep Deprivation
A sleep debt can have serious ramifications on your anxiety levels. One study shows that severe sleep deprivation increases one’s state of anxiety, depression, and general distress relative to those who had a normal night of sleep. Another study shows that sleep deprived individuals reported a greater increase in anxiety during tasks and rated the likelihood of potential catastrophes as higher when sleep deprived, relative to when rested.
How much you sleep each night also determineshow well you can deal with anxiety and stress. When a person gets too little sleep, the deprivation acts as a chronic stressor that impairs brain functions and contributes to an overload on the body’s systems. This overload contributes to memory loss, brain fog, confusion, and depression, making it more difficult for a person to deal with stress. Furthermore, sleep deprivation creates an imbalance in hormone levels that drive anxiety levels higher. Too little sleep also boosts adrenaline levels that can exacerbate existing anxiety issues.