3:00 am. Again. You know you’re not supposed to check the time but you keep watching the clock anyway.
The urge to know how long you’ve been tossing and turning trumps your logic. You start calculating how many hours of sleep you’ve had, how many you still need, and how tired you’re going to be as you move throughout your day tomorrow. You find yourself doing this math often.
It’s exhausting. The anxiety and insomnia make for a destructive combination. But what causes them to be so problematic? And what can you do about it?
Unpacking The Relationship Between Anxiety And Insomnia
Research shows that our sleep and mental health are closely connected. 10-18% of American adults struggle with sleep. However, sleep issues affect anywhere between 50%-80% of clients in a typical psychiatric practice. Additionally, sleep problems affect more than 50% of adult patients with anxiety disorders.
When we sleep, our bodies cycle through two categories. During quiet sleep, we transition through four stages of deep sleep. In these stages, we experience physiological changes. Our muscles relax, our heart rate and breathing slow, and our body temperature drops and our brain gets an opportunity to relax and revise itself. During REM sleep, we dream. Our body temperature, heart rate, and breathing levels are similar to the levels we have when we are awake.
Unfortunately, when you experience sleep disruption it impacts neurological functioning. This impact can make people more susceptible to mental health symptoms like anxiety.
Additionally, anxiety affects your ability to relax - which, of course, affects your ability to fall or stay asleep. You probably know this typical scenario. Your head hits the pillow, your mind starts racing with a million thoughts, and you suddenly feel wide awake. You begin to feel anxious about your inability to fall asleep!
Strategies For Improving Your Sleep
Healthy sleep is essential for healthy functioning. Obtaining quality sleep isn’t as simple as wanting it. You’ll need to put in some practical work to make sustainable changes. Keep in mind that sleep patterns can take time to develop and strengthen. In other words, don’t give up if it doesn’t work the first night.
Create An Optimal Environment
Sleep should feel luxurious, and your sleep space needs to feel calm and inviting. If your bedroom feels like a sanctuary, you’re more likely to feel relaxed as you get ready for sleep.
An ideal bedroom should include:
A comfortable bed, clean sheets, and pillows to your liking
Darkness (consider investing in blackout curtains for shutting out light)
The appropriate temperature (around 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit)
Clean, uncluttered space
White noise or a fan
Make A Routine
We thrive with routines. Just like we usually follow a bedtime routine for babies and children, adults benefit from consistency as well. Your bedtime routine signals that you’re slowing down for the night. Over time, your body acclimates to these relaxing cues.
The routine doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective. It just needs to be as consistent as possible. For example, a simple routine may consist of brushing your teeth, showering, moisturizing, and spending a few minutes reading.
Build A Meditation Habit
Meditation is a free, convenient, and potentially life-changing tool. Research on meditation continues to highlight its numerous benefits in treating anxiety and insomnia.
Meditation helps calm the mind and relax the body. Meditating before sleep can prime you to unwind for the night.
Consider listening to a meditation app or engaging in a few minutes of deep breathing exercises when you get into bed.
Avoid Emotionally-Charged Activities Before Bed
No checking your bank account balances. No heated conversations with your spouse about household chores. No late-night evening news.
If you struggle with anxiety or insomnia (or both), overstimulating yourself could have disastrous consequences. It’s so easy to obsess over the state of the world or what you need to do tomorrow. Unfortunately, this mental clutter may keep you up all night.
Avoid Sleep Traps During The Day
What do caffeine, naps, large meals, and electronic devices all have in common? When taken too closely to bed, they can wreak havoc on your sleep.
Common sleep traps include:
Caffeine (if you drink tea in the evening, check to see if there is caffeine)
Medications that impact drowsiness
Late-afternoon or evening naps
Using electronics before bed
Heavy meals or excess sugar
Living with anxiety and insomnia can feel like a never-ending battle. You’re tired of feeling tired, and you’re anxious over feeling anxious! It’s frustrating, but it is possible to find relief.
Therapy can help you understand the root of your symptoms. Together, we can work on developing new coping skills to manage your distress.