The Dysfunctional Relationship Between Sleep and Anxiety
Wednesday, December 11 2013 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
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!