Most people have experienced a random night here or there where they toss and turn but cannot sleep. This is certainly not unusual. But some people have trouble ever getting a good night’s sleep. Over and over again they fight to fall asleep or stay asleep. And the effects of lost sleep due to chronic insomnia can be devastating on physical, emotional, and mental health.
While lack of sleep can cause anxiety, it has also been determined that stress and anxiety are certainly able to contribute to an inability to sleep well. The two are deeply interconnected. If a person already has sleeping problems, anxiety and stress are often contributing factors, and have a tendency to make insomnia worse.
Insomnia Due to Anxiety
Studies have shown that almost all psychiatric disorders and problems with mental illness are connected with sleep disruption of some kind. Anxiety is no different. Insomnia and anxiety are inextricably linked.
One difficult struggle about the cycle of anxiety and insomnia is that people who can’t sleep at night often become anxious around bedtime. They know that they need to sleep. They worry about all of the things they have to do the next day and how difficult it will be if they don’t get enough sleep. Their minds begin to circle around the dread of their to-do list, wondering how they’ll even be able to function. Anxiety raises the blood pressure, releases cortisone into the body, causes an alertness reaction, and ultimately makes it impossible to sleep.
By the time this person gets to sleep hours later, they don’t have enough time to stay asleep long enough and their day is exhausting and stressful—just as expected. This heightens their anxiety and the vicious cycle continues. If you’ve ever experienced this type of downward spiral, then you know how it can easily begin to take over every aspect of your life!
How to Deal with Insomnia from Anxiety
When anxiety is the cause of chronic insomnia, then the solution should be easy, right? Just stop being stressed! But anyone who has anxiety knows that it’s just not that simple. Gaining control over stress and anxiety takes time and may require the help of a medical professional.
The good news is that many options for natural, non-medical interventions exist that can help reduce anxiety and promote healthy sleeping patterns. Try instilling several of these tips into your daily routine to minimize the power stress has over your life by making you lose sleep:
Exercise. For some people who are exhausted due to chronic sleep deprivation, the idea of exercising seems impossible. But it may be the very thing that you need to get to sleep better at night. In our age of sedentary lives and inactivity, we need to make sure that our bodies are burning off physical energy so that we can rest well at night. Exercise can also help to reduce anxiety. Start with something small like going for a brisk walk. Begin incorporating physical exercise into your everyday routine. Just be sure to exercise well before bedtime (at least 3-4 hours) so that you can fall asleep well at night.
Create Sleep Habits. Instilling proper sleep hygiene habits can change everything about the stress of going to sleep at night. Aim to start your sleeping preparations about an hour before you actually need to be asleep. This allows you ample time to relax and retrain your brain and body to become tired at this time of the night. Keep the lights low in the evening. Take a warm, relaxing bath. Read a boring book (not a riveting page-turner because that could keep you up even later). Diffuse lavender into the room or place some on your pillow.
Turn Off Electronics Early. Electronic devices have blue lights in the screens that can negatively impact our anxiety levels and our ability to go to sleep. The lights cause activity in our brains and can keep us awake long into the night. Choose to turn off your electronic devices such as televisions, laptops, tablets, and smart phones at least two hours before bedtime. This will allow your brain time to calm down from the intense activity that blue lights create.
Meditate. One way to take your life back from stress and insomnia is to spend time in a mindful and meditative state. Meditation helps our brains to stop the whirring of the world around us and focus on the present moment. It can help us to re-calibrate our worries and feel more in control of our circumstances. In addition, meditation is physically healthy in that it reduces blood pressure and increases serotonin and melatonin levels. These responses automatically help to increase a feeling of well-being, promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and help you to sleep well at night.
Talk to a Counselor. Sometimes just sharing problems with another person helps to make them feel less heavy. Anxiety can often be relieved by dealing with the emotional problems that keep us awake at night. Talking to a therapist, counselor or religious leaders can help you to keep your worries in perspective and gain control over your anxious feelings.
Melatonin. Some people find that their minds are too active at night and this keeps them from sleeping. Melatonin is the substance that your body releases at night to tell you it’s time to go to sleep. Adequate exposure to light during the day helps your body to release melatonin at night. Some people’s bodies do not naturally produce enough of this substance and taking it in pill form is useful. People who live in places that are very dark during the winter may find that the use of a light therapy box helps with regulating sleep cycles and the natural release of melatonin.
Avoid Certain Substances. Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine all have a detrimental effect on REM sleep cycles. Many people who struggle to sleep think that having a glass of wine before bed is helpful, but it has the opposite effect. Although at first it may help with relaxation and the process of falling asleep, alcohol interrupts the sleep cycle and often causes wakefulness in the middle of the night.
As stimulants, caffeine and nicotine should be avoided between four and eight hours before you are planning to go to sleep. Removing them from your life completely is the ideal goal.
Talk to Your Doctor. If you have problems with sleep and anxiety, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about ways that you can get help. Certain medications for anxiety might be an option. Counseling and therapy may also be recommended. In addition, your doctor may suggest you participate in a sleep study to rule out any other types of sleep disorders that are causing insomnia.
Anxiety and insomnia often go hand in hand. Anxiety can cause insomnia, and conversely insomnia can cause anxiety. In either case, you don’t have to continue to suffer. Many options for care and treatment exist that can reduce your anxiety, promotion healthier sleep patterns, and get you back on track to increase your quality of life!