How To Stop Anxiety Ruining Your Sleep According To A Psychologist
ByClaire Davies16 March 2021
Anxious thoughts keeping you awake? This Sleep Awareness Week, a psychologist helps you learn how to curb them.
At times life can be fun, brilliant and filled with joy, but other times it can be sad, challenging, or just plain disappointing. Thats life, right? But for those of us with anxiety, every day is worrisome. And anxiety cares little for our sleep too even though we know why sleep is important for our physical and mental wellbeing. So if this rings true with you and youve been wondering how to stop anxiety ruining your sleep, you are in the right place for answers.
Even before the pandemic, many of us were dealing with anxiety at night. Its a desperate thing to experience, but there are ways to stop anxious thoughts from ruining your sleep and hijacking your brain. You could listen to soothing sounds on a meditation app or practice some in-bed breathing exercises, sure, but there are other steps you can take outside of the bedroom.
Johanna Scheutzow, MSc in Organizational Psychiatry and Psychology, King’s College London, and a psychologist for mental health app Thrive, has some effective techniques for how to stop anxiety ruining your sleep. In short, how to curb those anxious thoughts when youre lying awake in the dark. Some of these techniques take place in the day and in other parts of your home or garden. Why? So that they dont enter the bedroom with you when its time to snooze.
What Is The Difference Between Somniphobia And Insomnia
The two issues are similar, but not interchangeable. Somniphobia is an anxiety disorder and a sense of fear that keeps people from sleeping even when they are tired. Common fears that fuel this problem are connected to health problems, the idea of dying, worrying about nightmares or nighttime behaviors.
Insomnia, on the other hand, is a chronic sleep disorder that makes it difficult for people to fall asleep or stay asleep. Insomniacs tend to stay awake late, or wake up early, no longer feeling sleepy.
Whats Causing Your Insomnia
- Are you under a lot of stress?
- Are you depressed? Do you feel emotionally flat or hopeless?
- Do you struggle with chronic feelings of anxiety or worry?
- Have you recently gone through a traumatic experience?
- Are you taking any medications that might be affecting your sleep?
- Do you have any health problems that may be interfering with sleep?
- Is your bedroom quiet and comfortable?
- Do you try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day?
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What Is Anxiety What Are Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is a feeling of worry and unease. Its normal to experience anxiety occasionally in response to fearful or stressful situations.
In anxiety disorders, this distress becomes excessive. Fears are not proportional to the situation, and worrying interferes with everyday life. These feelings become persistent, occurring most days for a period of six months or more.
Find Relaxing Sleep With Weighted Blankets
You don’t have to suffer from poor sleep night after night. By following sound medical advice and practicing mindfulness before bed, you can fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. In turn, when you feel better rested in the morning, it will be easier to keep feelings of anxiety in check during the day.
Hush Blankets are a great way to help reduce nighttime anxiety. By using deep touch pressure therapy, our blankets provide a soothing, calming effect when you get in bed. You will feel at peace as you drift off to sleep in what feels like a soft hug.
Order your own weighted blanket or weighted throw today and feel the difference for yourself. We’re so sure that our blankets will help you get your best sleep that each of our blankets is backed by a 100-night guarantee.
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Download Your Thoughts To Allow You To Fall Asleep
Bedtime can turn into a time when you start to think about all the things you need to do tomorrow, creating a never-ending list of tasks swirling around in your brain. Stop the thought tornado by writing down all the things youre trying to remember. With them safely recorded, your mind can be more at ease and you can deal with them upon waking.
How To Stop Feeling Anxious Right Now
While itâs normal to get nervous about an important event or life change, about 40 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder, which is more than the occasional worry or fear. Anxiety disorders can range from a generalized anxiety disorder , which is intense worrying that you canât control, to panic disorder — sudden episodes of fear, along with heart palpitations, trembling, shaking, or sweating.
For those with an anxiety disorder, itâs important to look into strategies that can help manage or reduce anxiety in the long term, like talk therapy or medication. But everyone can benefit from other ways to reduce stress and anxiety with lifestyle changes such as eating a well-balanced diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and taking time for yourself.
Plus, there are steps you can take the moment when anxiety starts to take hold. Try these 10 expert-backed suggestions to relax your mind and help you regain control of your thoughts.
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When To See A Doctor
If you suspect an underlying condition is affecting your sleep quality, schedule an appointment to address your sleep concerns with your primary care physician, says Breus, noting that habitually sleeping 9.5 hours or more is nothing to shrug off.
In the days or weeks leading up to your appointment, keep a sleep journal to track:
- what time you go to bed each night and what time you wake up
- how fast you fall asleep
- how well-rested you feel in the morning
Also note the factors that could be affecting your sleep such as mental or emotional stressors, physical activity levels, or any medication usage and describe your quality of your sleep. You might notice yourself logging extra hours after, or during, nights when you wake up frequently.
This journal will give you and your physician a great place to start in determining whats going on and your next best steps for restorative sleep.
Visualize The Good Things In Your Life
The power of your imagination can help get you to a place of ease when youre fretting.
Visualization of positive events and relationships in your life will help you increase your connection to positive emotions that are also lying around within you, but you have to work at accessing them when the anxious feelings or thoughts have already shown up, says Cummins.
Calming your body is integral to calming your mind.
Joy Rains, a certified life coach and the author of “Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind”, recommends a progressive relaxation exercise you can do in bed.
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Using Quick Anxiety Relieving Techniques
Keep The Bedroom Chilled And Completely Dark
We may want to consider keeping our bedroom just a tad cooler than we like, and leaving any nightstand lights off.
Ensure your bedroom is quiet, comfortable, ventilated, dark and cool, says Elaine Slater, a psychologist and psychotherapeutic counselor. Even a small amount of light in your bedroom can disrupt the production of melatonin and overall sleep.
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Write Out Your Worries
The number-one thing that keeps me awake at night? My own thoughts.Sometimes they’re anxious thoughts, sometimes they’re negative thoughts, and other times it’s a rapid stream of consciousness that I can’t turn off.When this happens, I force myself to write down every single thing I’m thinking in a physical notebook. Not a computer or phone, but old-fashioned pen and paper.I simply write down any thoughts that come to mind, especially the negative ones. As soon as I put just one to paper, they all seem to come pouring out of me. Don’t hold back no one has to see what you’re writing.But the result is like draining grease out of a pan. I often marvel at how this simple, five-minute exercise makes me feel instantly sleepy, as if I spent the day taking care of all my problems while running a marathon. I feel lighter, and once I’m in bed, my mind is gloriously quiet.
Seeking Professional Support For Sleep Anxiety
If you are experiencing sleep anxiety, and it is continuing to have a dramatic impact on your life despite all attempts to improve it, it is highly recommended that you seek professional support to get access to specific coping mechanisms to help you manage your symptoms.
Firstly, you may want to go to your GP to talk through your problem. They will be able to listen and offer advice on the next steps available to you, which may include accessing a private healthcare service like Priory Group for an assessment, diagnosis and specialist treatment. You can also come directly to the Priory Group team, where our psychiatrists and therapists regularly work with people with anxiety disorders as well as sleep disorders such as insomnia.
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Set Yourself Up For Healthy Sleep When Stressed And Anxious
If you try all of these steps and still struggle to sleep soundly, consider reaching out to your doctor or a sleep expert for support. Treatments for a generalized anxiety disorder or a sleep disorder can vary significantly.
One mental health treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia , is an evidence-based therapeutic technique that looks at the interplay of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can impact sleep.
Your sleep and anxiety are interconnected. Finding ways to better manage one will ultimately help you find relief with the other.
How Can I Tell If Its Anxiety Or A Sleep Disorder
Sleep disorders are very common in anxious people. Anxiety makes it difficult to quiet your mind and body to go to sleep. Not long ago, we believed that if the sleep problem was caused by another medical or mental health condition like anxiety, you would treat the cause and the sleep problem would go away. We now know this isnt true. If the anxiety is treated, the sleep problem may remain. The current belief is that you must treat both problems.
But not all sleep problems start with another condition like anxiety. Some people only have anxiety about sleep. Their anxiety is caused about worrying about sleep or how they will function after a night of bad sleep. If this struggle continues night after night, they start to dread the bed. During the day, they arent anxious, but once they start thinking about going to bed, their anxiety rises. Other people are anxious about sleep because of something that happens during sleep. It could be nightmares, fear of sleep walking or other behaviors that only occur when the person is asleep and unaware, or waking up gasping for air due to untreated sleep apnea. Sometimes its fear of the dark. Additionally, about 40 percent of people who have panic attacks will have nocturnal panic attacks. Essentially, they wake up from sleep in a panic. All these things make sleep something to be feared, and if you dread your bed, youll have problems sleeping.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Somniphobia
There are both psychological and physical symptoms that come with somniphobia. These include:
- Fear and anxiety at bedtime,
- Feeling distressed or dread as bedtime approaches,
- Choosing to stay up late and sleep procrastination,
- Sleep deprivation and related symptoms,
- Fatigue and lack of energy during the day,
- Nausea or lack of appetite.
Know When To Get Help For Anxiety And For Sleep
If your sleep continues to be affected by anxiety, its time to seek help. Sleep is the central pillar of health, says Scheutzow, and if you are struggling you should not hesitate to make an appointment.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, teletherapy is one way to seek faster professional mental health advice without having to leave home. Getting the help you need is an important part of nourishing your mental wellbeing, and there are free resources available to you.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a comprehensive guide to teletherapy for mental health treatment and support, including where to find a licensed therapist. It also lists support groups for free peer support from people who are currently living with anxiety, and who will understand what you are going through. Simply knowing youre not alone in this can help.
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Transform Your Room Into A Sanctuary For Sleep
Here are five tips for transforming your bedroom to promote better sleep:
What Causes Anxiety Before Sleep
According to clinical psychologist Emily Knott, Anxiety before bedtime often takes the form of a phenomenon referred to in psychology as pre-sleep arousal.
Knott says that pre-sleep arousal may cause the body and nervous system to enter a state of heightened awareness that may take the form of problem-solving, thinking about your own thoughts, focusing on stimuli in the environment such as noise and light, and ruminating about the consequences of not being able to sleep.
While there hasnt been extensive research conducted on sleep and anxiety, there are a few reasons why your anxiety may be worse at night. Here are possible causes.
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The Connection Between Anxiety And Sleep
People who have anxiety disorders cannot help but feel nervous, even when all is well. Restlessness and fear overcome their other emotions, making it harder to see things from a clear perspective. Simply put, they tend to overreact and blow things out of proportion. Sadly, these tense and anxious feelings will last up to six months or more.
Sleeping disturbances, including insomnia, are known as the symptoms of anxiety disorders. The most common issue is when people get worried about not falling asleep, thus preventing them further from fully resting. Once they fall asleep, they might wake up in the middle of the night because of anxiety-inducing nightmares.
The person may keep on thinking, Will I have insomnia tonight? which in the end leads to a vicious cycle of insomnia. From a TCM point of view, chronic insomnia can result in a deficiency of kidney yin , loss of vitality of liver yang , and qi and blood deficiency, says Luke Yau Wai, a Traditional Chinese Medicine physician for Eu Yan Sang.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, anxiety disorders belong to the category of stagnation syndrome, caused by a dysfunction in liver dispersion. Overthinking or worrying could hurt the spleen, which could easily lead to stagnation of qi, blood stasis, phlegm, heat accumulation, and so on.
Why Is It So Hard To Sleep When You Have Anxiety
Lets start with a little about how sleep works.
Sleep happens by balancing two forces that oppose each other. The first force is called sleep pressure. Basically, the longer you are up, the stronger this force becomes. If you are up for 16 hours, youll be tired. After 24 hours of being awake, sleep is more likely. And after 72 hours, it becomes difficult to stay awake.
The second force resists sleep pressure by pushing you awake. This force is an alerting signal that cycles based on an internal clock. It gets stronger as the day progresses and then is supposed to drop off at night. When this force drops in the evening, all the sleep pressure you built up during the day pushes you to sleep.
So how does anxiety affect this? The alerting signal force runs off many of the same neurochemicals anxiety uses. This is likely a great adaptive trait that aided our survival in the past. Imagine you were being chased by a pack of wolves. That would be a really bad time to go to sleep. Anytime you feel anxious, worried or threatened, the alerting signal gets stronger. Its your brains way of saying, If this is a threat, you should stay awake and deal with it.
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