It’s the end of a tiring day. You’re looking forward to getting some sleep. But as soon as you lay down and close your eyes, your mind starts to fill with racing thoughts. You might worry about waking up in time to get to work in the morning, or you might fret about an upcoming event this month. Sometimes, it seems like there are a million things to worry about, and that makes it almost impossible to sleep.
If you suffer from anxiety, it’s likely you’ve experienced this at least once in your life. In fact, 54% of people say anxiety makes it harder to fall asleep at night. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders have a hard time getting to sleep at night. Lack of sleep can have some serious impacts on your health, and can even worsen your anxiety.
Continue reading to learn why anxiety makes it hard to sleep, how lack of sleep and increased anxiety perpetuate a never ending cycle, and what you can do to improve your sleep habits.
Why Anxiety Messes With Sleep
Sleep problems and anxiety tend to go hand in hand. 56-75% of people with anxiety disorders have problems sleeping. Understanding how anxiety works, and what sleep physiology looks like can go a long ways towards helping you understand why the two don’t interact well.
When you’re anxious, there are a few things going on in your body. Persistent worry makes it difficult for your brain to shut off. Your body also holds a lot of tension in your muscles, which can cause pain and make it difficult to get comfortable.
When you’re feeling anxious, your body is activating your stress response. When your brain perceives potential threats, it sends an alarm to your amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions. The amygdala then sends that alert to the hypothalamus, which then activates your sympathetic nervous system. When this is active, your body enters fight or flight mode, because it believes there is a threat that needs to be deal with. And when this system is active, your body won’t rest because it believes it needs to be ready to deal with danger.
However, our brain hasn’t yet adapted to modern life. It can’t tell the difference between being chased by a bear and worrying about performance on a test or interview. When you’re always worrying about what will happen, your brain is constantly sending alarm signals to the rest of your body, producing ever present anxiety.
One study on sleep and anxiety disorders shows that when the body’s stress response is active, it isn’t able to enter a restful state. Whether you only suffer from occasional worries, or have to deal with a severe panic disorder, any state of anxiety can have a negative impact on your sleep.
But why does this come up when you’re trying to sleep? When you lay down to rest, the distractions of the day don’t come with you. Instead, you’re left alone with your thoughts. If you’ve been putting off your worries or trying not to think about them, they will pop up when you are trying to get to sleep. Worries about finances, job performance, or relationships will plague your mind and make it difficult to rest. This can even lead to stressing about falling asleep, making it even harder for you to sleep.
The Cycle of Sleep Deprivation and Anxiety
It’s hard to know if anxiety causes sleep disturbance, or if sleep deprivation causes anxiety. If you’re already stressed out, it’s hard to get to sleep at night. On the other hand, if you’re not sleeping, you’ll feel anxious about not getting enough rest.
Medical studies have shown that some kind of sleep disturbance happens with nearly every kind of psychiatric disorder. In fact, 50-80% of psych patients struggle with sleep in some way. Brain imaging has found that good sleep is crucial for mental and emotional stability. Chronic sleep problems often lead to emotional vulnerability and negative thinking common in many mental illnesses.
There are more than 80 different kinds of sleep disorders that can interfere with your rest each night. Insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy are some of the most common. Others include movement related disorders, like restless leg syndrome and sleep walking Those who have sleep problems are also very likely to develop an anxiety disorder.
Sleep deprivation also tends to heighten anxiety. When you don’t sleep, your mind isn’t working at top performance. Things that didn’t bother you before can become a big nuisance when your brain isn’t able to rest.
Lack of sleep can cause a lot of health problems. You may have noticed these problems in your life, and you might be feeling anxious about how they will affect you.
- Compromised Immune System
- Higher Risk of Heart Disease
- Impaired Coordination and Judgement
- Memory Problems
- Weight Gain
How to Break the Cycle
The good news is that you don’t just have to put up with the downward spiral of sleep loss and worsening anxiety.
If you’re able to treat your anxiety, your sleep will improve. Your anxiety will also lessen if you can treat your sleep disturbances.
Here are some things you can try to help you deal with nighttime anxiety and sleep issues.
Try Relaxation Techniques
Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness are great ways to deal with your anxiety. Many of these practices are designed to help you quiet your mind and look at your anxiety in a productive way. Research shows that meditation grows grey matter in the parts of the brain connected with compassion and empathy. Not only does this help you become a nicer person, but it helps improve your mental health overall.
Schedule Down Time Before Bed
If you’re busy all day everyday, your brain doesn’t have any time to process what is going on. Your body also needs time to wind down before it is ready to go to sleep. Take this time to read or meditate to sort through your thoughts that you’ve been putting off all day. You can also try relaxing activities like journaling or going on a relaxing walk to get your mind ready to sleep.
Keep Screens Out of the Bedroom
There are a number of ways that electronics keep you from sleeping. One of the biggest ones is that the blue light from your LED screens makes it difficult for your brain to develop melatonin. This hormone controls your sleep/wake cycle, and helps you fall and stay asleep. The noises that come from texts and notifications can also alert your brain and cause you to wake up before you’re ready. Instead of letting your phone disturb your sleep, try charging it in another room while you rest.
Limit Alcohol and Caffeine
Research shows that alcohol and caffeine can have a serious impact on your sleep. Even normal blood alcohol levels can result in a decrease in REM sleep, and waking up more frequently. Caffeine, on the other hand, works by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals and increasing adrenaline. This forces our brain to be more alert and aware of what is going on around you. Limiting, or even removing these substances from your diet can help you get better sleep at night by allowing your brain to function unaltered.
Exercise During the Day
There are several studies which show that regular exercise makes it easier for you to sleep at night. One study found that exercising on a regular basis improves the quality and length of sleep, as well as the ability to function during the day. Most people in this study slept an hour more than they had before, and decreased the frequency with which people had a hard time falling asleep. Along with these research results, exercising is a great way for you to burn off anxious energy that would otherwise build up in a sedentary lifestyle.
Anxiety and sleep disturbance can interfere with your quality of life and make you feel worse overall. However, you don’t have to just deal with the effects that come from the cycle of anxiety and sleep debt. Spire can help you control your breathing and increase your mindfulness to help you get a hold of your anxiety and get a better night’s sleep. Check out the science behind our wearable devices today!