Anxiety & Sleep: 8 Tips To Achieve Better Sleep with Anxiety

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Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

Anxiety & Sleep: How To Sleep Better With Anxiety

Instead of winding down for a good night’s sleep, are the thoughts in your head racing? As you switch off the lights and adjust yourself in bed, your brain might just be the one refusing to switch off. Staring wide-eyed at the ceiling anticipating tomorrow’s wave of worries won’t miraculously dissolve your fears. 

For many, mental health is a serious barrier to achieving a good night’s sleep. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. and affect a staggering 40 million adults in the U.S alone. 

Anxiety disrupts sleep, and sleep problems cause anxiety – so how can we address this vicious cycle? This article looks at the association between the two and ways to help you sleep better if you have an anxiety disorder.

8 Tips To Achieve Better Sleep With Anxiety

Sleep, as we all know, is essential for general good health. Sleep deprivation affects us physically, emotionally, and mentally, contributing to mood and behavioral problems, irritability, and even depression. Studies show that a lack of sleep increases anxiety, and anxiety causes sleep disruptions, presenting a vicious cycle. 

Unfortunately, everyone gets worried or anxious at some point in their lives, whether it’s moving to a new place, welcoming home a new family member or starting a new job. But for those with anxiety disorders, falling asleep and getting at least six core hours of sleep each night is a rare occurrence and one difficult to achieve. 

However, some steps help you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep for longer:

  1. Keep to a regular routine
  2. Get natural daylight
  3. Stay active during the day
  4. Find ways to relax before bed
  5. Keep the bedroom dark, cool and quiet
  6. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants 
  7. Avoid electronic devices before bed
  8. Don’t prolong your stay in bed if you are awake

Maintain the Body’s Internal Clock

A regular daily routine keeps us focused and helps sustain our body’s internal clock, keeping our circadian rhythm in sync. Try to maintain some control of your sleep-wake cycle by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, particularly on weekends and holidays. Eating meals and exercising at the same time each day keeps us in check and helps us to prepare the body to sleep better. 

From time to time, we all experience a night of poor sleep and may try to compensate by staying in bed longer the following morning or going to sleep earlier that evening. 

But studies show that lying awake in bed for prolonged periods psychologically affects the brain resulting in even worse sleep on subsequent nights. Break this cycle by getting out of bed when you can’t sleep and doing something to help you switch off and relax, only returning to bed when you feel sufficiently sleepy. 

Getting natural light can positively impact mental and physical wellbeing. Spending time outside during daylight hours, such as going for a quiet walk, works wonders for our bodies and helps set our sleep patterns. 

Sometimes simply placing yourself next to an open window breathing in the fresh air can reset your internal body clock, making you more alert during the day and more relaxed in the evening when it’s darker. 

Create a Calm Environment

Simple measures such as keeping the bedroom free from clutter and in a cool, dark and calm environment are vital in getting a good night’s sleep. Consider using blackout blinds that block out light from the outside, particularly if you are an early riser and have difficulty getting back to sleep again. 

Bedding, mattresses and pillows should be supportive and comfortable, and good sleepwear regulating body heat can affect how well you sleep. 

Allowing time to relax and wind down at the end of the day can be beneficial when you’re feeling stressed and anxious. Listening to soothing music, reading or having a hot bath can help your body wind down before bed. 

Some find light meditation, deep breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques make it easier to settle into bed. Do whatever relaxes you and makes you feel good before going to bed.

Although reading is relaxing, eReaders and other electronic devices that emit blue light (televisions, computers, tablets) keep us awake and more alert, affecting our circadian timing, making it challenging to adjust to sleeping. 

Tire Out The Body

Regular exercise uses up energy stored in the body, sufficiently tiring it for the end of the day, improving sleep. You don’t need to go to the gym; build in physical activity in your daily routine by dancing to music, taking a quick stroll outside or doing extra chores around the house.

Not only does exercise release endorphins which are feel-good hormones that help to alleviate mood; it also improves cardiac and muscle strength, lowers blood pressure and helps relieve stress and anxiety.

However, try to avoid exercising too close to bedtime and avoid napping during the day.

Watch What You Consume

We are a coffee-loving nation, and we drink to keep us awake and increase our mental performance. However, stimulants, such as caffeine found in coffee, tea, chocolate and some soft drinks, may negatively affect subsequent sleep, resulting instead in daytime sleepiness.

Eating or drinking large amounts immediately before bed can induce heartburn. Heartburn is a burning-like sensation radiating upwards between the rib cage caused by upward travel of stomach acid, which can be worse in the evening when lying down to sleep.

While an occasional glass of wine may initially help you fall asleep quicker, too much alcohol negatively affects sleep quality, making you feel insufficiently rested upon waking the following morning. 

Some medicines may have side effects that cause insomnia or other sleep disruptions. Check these with your doctor or pharmacist and switch to alternatives where possible.

Anxiety Disorders

Our busy lives never stop, with new situations that bring their fears and worries, affecting our mental wellbeing. Minor stresses are inevitable and a part of daily life, but excessive, persistent worrying may progress into an anxiety disorder. 

Those with anxiety disorders fear everyday situations with such intense and excessive panic that maintains the brain in persistent ‘fight or flight’ mode for no particular reasons other than daily life stresses. 

When we are anxious, adrenaline levels rise higher than usual, tensing up our muscles and increasing our heart rate. This makes it difficult for us to fall asleep and stay asleep and can cause us to wake up too early. 

When To Seek Professional Help

Stress and anxiety may not go away independently; it may be necessary to seek medical help before anxiety gets worse over time.

Seek help if you feel:

  • Your worry or fear is overwhelming and becoming increasingly difficult to control.
  • Anxiety is causing you to feel hopeless, and you have suicidal thoughts or behaviours. 
  • your lack of sleep is severely affecting your mental and physical body to function normally in everyday life.

Whilst there are many different methods to improve both sleep quality and quantity, what works for one individual may not work for another. Taking your time to try different strategies – finding the correct one might be just what your brain needs to switch off at night. 

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Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

Christina Cheung holds a Master’s of Pharmacy from the University of Bath (UK) and is a freelance writer specializing in medicine and science. With over a decade of experience as a community and hospital pharmacist both in the UK and abroad, she has dealt first-hand with patients facing medical difficulties and decisions. She now writes to promote medical health and wellness to better the community. Christina also has a published science blog with a passion for inspiring and encouraging medicine and science for kids and students. While not writing, she can be found strolling through the country parks with her family and pet dog.

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

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