The Dysfunctional Relationship Between Sleep and Anxiety

Wednesday, December 11 2013 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Anxiety has a dysfunctional relationship with sleep. Here's why that happens and how you can repair the relationship between anxiety and sleep.

Deadlines to meet. Meals to plan. Shopping to do. Meetings to join. Classes to attend. Work to do. Children to taxi. Aging parents to help. Laundry to wash. Lawns to mow. Etc. Etc. Etc. What if you forget? What if you make a mistake? What if? What if? What if? Dire consequences. Dire consequences. Dire consequences. The anxiety is a constant companion. Day and night. Day and night. And night. And. Night. Anxiety is awful. When it robs us of sleep, it becomes torturous. Why is that, and what can be done about it?

 

It’s a Catch 22: Sleep is absolutely crucial for physical and mental health and well-being, so by default sleep is essential as a means of soothing anxiety; however, the very nature of anxiety chases away the Sand Man, making him escape into the night.

With an anxiety disorder (any type), the mind operates on overdrive. Fears are heightened, frequently causing a sense of looming doom. Our fearful thoughts contribute to excessive worry, and our brains, perceiving real threat, turn on our fight-or-flight response. Our bodies are flooded with the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine.

Unfortunately, now that these hormones are coursing through our veins like chemicals in tap water, anxiety is exacerbated further. Individual symptoms of anxiety vary, of course, but in general when we experience any type of anxiety, our thoughts race, we have difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly, and we feel physically ill.

When we’re experiencing anxiety, we need sleep to soothe our anxiety and its effects. However, anxiety makes us emotionally and physically uncomfortable, and sleep eludes us. I myself have spent many a sleepless night tossing and turning, focused on a headache and ruminating and lamenting over all of my mistakes, all of my imagined consequences of future mistakes. Then, in the morning, all of my anxious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are more intense than the day before. I needed sleep.

Things You Can Do to Soothe the Dysfunctional Relationship Between Anxiety and Sleep

Sleep experts advise that establishing a regular sleep routine is essential in training your brain to sleep. If you go to bed at a predicable time each night, your brain will respond to the regularity.

Relaxation is essential to manage anxiety and induce sleep. What relaxes you? How can you work it in regularly before bed?

Exercise during the day (not too close to bedtime) contributes to quality sleep at night.

Stay away from computers and television before going to sleep. The brightness and flashing images can be too stimulating for the brain.

Occasionally, sleep medication is used as a temporary aid. A discussion with your doctor is essential even for over-the-counter remedies.

These are but a few ideas. Have you found activities that help you sleep? Please share them! We can all benefit from finding new techniques to add to our sleep toolboxes!

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and four critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She speaks nationally about mental health, and she has a curriculum for middle and high schools. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

View all posts by Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC.

The Dysfunctional Relationship Between Sleep and Anxiety

Dr Musli Ferati
says:
December, 20 2013 at 9:30 am

That's point! Sleeping is crucial element that fighting anxiety. In addition, appropriate and quality sleeping indicates the main remedy for any anxiety disorder. The sense of freshness and relaxation in the morning is indicator of satisfying sleeping. Thus, we ought to be careful on the quality and longevity of sleeping, as vital necessity to any patient with anxious disorder. Your remark on relation between anxiety and sleeping is accurate one. By me, it should to practice so called "sleeping hygiene", which is consist from some mental relaxing exercise before to go to sleep. Beside these health mental activities, it ought to practice regular timing of sleeping regime. As extreme way, using anxiolytic and hypnotic remedies are welcomed.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

December, 21 2013 at 11:15 am

I agree with you about the importance of sleep, Dr Ferati. I love your concept of "sleeping hygiene." It reinforces the notion that sleep is something that can come under our control through the routine practice of helpful behaviors/rituals. Sleeping hygiene is a very helpful conceptualization. Thank you for sharing it!

Christina Rambo
says:
March, 9 2016 at 6:17 pm

Yes to all of this. The struggle is perfectly worded here. I have found great relief in a night time routine.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 10 2016 at 3:01 pm

Hi Christina,
It's amazing how beneficial routine is. I appreciate your comments!

Mary Jane
says:
September, 1 2017 at 12:55 am

I felt like I was reading one of free writing sessions when I read this. This is exactly what I go through every week or other week. I am lost in anxiety I had an issue before a car accident, and then after the collision I suffered a concussion and I have been just completely drowning in Anxiety. The only relief I have been able to find is by way of taking medical canna capsules. They help, but the dependency is terrible, at least I think it is the second I am off the pills the anxiety just blows up. Kre kre.... well I guess we just keep on trucking and keep going until one day we have enough and take our final breath..... some days I wish it was sooner then later.

John Webster
says:
May, 17 2018 at 3:59 am

Good to share on this subject. Thanks for the above info and here's a few things I do to help. I do 20 mins of yoga about two hours before sleep, (and I'm not really a meditation type person.) The yoga has made a difference, although it doesn't work every night, but since I started it 6 months ago things have improved. I also move to a different place than the bed if I haven't fallen asleep after an hour and sleep elsewhere, including on mats on the floor some nights. Lastly, I have been reading myself to sleep with a kindle paperwhite on a very low light setting. It seems to be better than a lamp, and doesn't bother me like TV or computers can, as mentioned in the article.

I have no idea if any of this would help others, but keep trying things. One never knows what may help. Here's to getting a grip on the awful insomnia.

May, 21 2018 at 4:41 pm

Hi John,
Thank you so much for sharing these great ideas. The more techniques everyone has available, the better. On behalf of readers, we all appreciate your insight!

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