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Monday, 31 December 2018 13:37

How Anxiety Can Affect Your Sleep

Can you recall a time when worrying has kept you awake? Maybe you couldn't stop thinking about problems with work or relationships, and the hours ticked away before your eyes. If worrisome thoughts and anxiety regularly prevent you from sleeping, it's understandable if you feel helpless or frustrated. Not being able to sleep can make anxiety worse, and soon, you might feel stuck in an endless cycle.

Anxiety and sleep issues often go together. If you can't sleep due to anxiety, you are far from alone. Millions do not get the sleep they need due to anxiety and stress, and for some, it becomes a chronic problem. However, even if you feel like the cycle will never end, there are ways to manage anxiety and get a good night's sleep. Here we will explore what you need to know about anxiety and sleeplessness, and we'll help you find ways to reduce anxiety, sleep soundly throughout the night and wake up feeling refreshed and energized.

Millions suffer sleep deprivation due to anxiety

What Is the Difference Between Anxiety and Stress?

Before we get started, it helps to consider the difference between anxiety and stress. Everyone experiences stress and anxiety occasionally. Both conditions may create feelings of unease or lead to sleeplessness. The difference is, stress goes away once the stressor is gone, but anxiety lingers long after a stressful event.

For example, it is normal to feel stressed over an external factor such as getting stuck in traffic when you're running late. Anxiety, on the contrary, occurs internally, even when there is nothing to worry about. Anxiety may cause you to feel dread or fear that a stressful situation will happen.

Imagine you argued with a co-worker. You may have felt high levels of stress during the argument. Now imagine that several weeks have passed since the disagreement, and you have since made up with the co-worker. If you are afraid to eat lunch with the co-worker, or if you dread going to work due to the past stressful event, you might say you're experiencing anxiety.

GAD affects twice as many women as men

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

If you worry excessively for months, and anxiety interferes with your life and sleep habits, you may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Although GAD is less common than experiencing anxiety once in a while, it affects twice as many women as men. GAD can lead to insomnia or persistent restless sleep. Other symptoms of GAD include:

  • Frequently imagining the worst-case scenario
  • Indecisiveness due to the fear of making the wrong choice
  • The inability to relax and let go of troubling thoughts
  • Continuous and excessive worrying

Physical symptoms of GAD may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Trembling or twitching
  • Muscle tension

How to Tell Whether It's Stress or Anxiety

It can be difficult to determine if you are experiencing a temporary period of stress or if you have an anxiety disorder. Here are a few ways to tell the difference.

  • Worrying is persistent: If you have been worrying almost every day for at least six months, you may have GAD. If your worry goes away after a short amount of time, it is probably regular stress.
  • Worrying is excessive or intrusive: If you feel unable to control your worries even when there is no obvious reason to worry, you may have GAD. However, if you can control your worrying, it is likely just stress.
  • Worrying is disruptive: If you worry about ordinary things such as job security, health, finances or household chores and it interferes with daily activities, you may have GAD. If your worries do not interfere with your life, it may be regular stress.

Sometimes it's best to speak with a mental health professional to help you determine if you're experiencing an anxiety disorder, or if your stress will pass. Either way, a professional can help you find the best treatment for your situation and help you learn coping strategies.

Professional treatment for anxiety

The Relationship Between Anxiety and Sleep Deprivation

GAD often causes insomnia, which is one of the most common sleep disorders. Insomnia means you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Sleep issues also commonly occur with other anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many times when we intend to go to sleep and are free from the distractions of daily activities, our fears and concerns rise to the surface. If you have anxiety, you might ruminate about your worries and hope to find a solution by doing so. You might also worry about not being able to sleep and having to face the morning without rest. Many women know exactly what you're going through.

To get an idea of how anxiety prevents sleep on a scientific level, imagine anxiety as an internal alarm system that goes off to warn you of potential danger. In some cases, this can be useful. However, women who have an anxiety disorder receive false alarms. In other words, they feel anxiety when no real danger is near. This alarm system can go off all night, causing you to remain somewhat awake and alert even while you sleep. The result is interrupted sleep or unrestful sleep.

Alarm when there is no real danger

To benefit from the effects of sleep, you need to sleep continuously. For example, someone who sleeps normally cycles between two main categories of sleep every 90 minutes throughout eight hours. A person moves through four stages of sleep before they reach deep sleep. As the body sinks into deep sleep, body temperature drops, muscles relax and breathing and heart rate slow down. This time is also when the immune system gets a boost and body tissues regrow. Once a person enters the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, their body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure go back to normal waking levels. This stage is also when dreams occur. REM is useful for "cleaning" your brain and promotes emotional health, learning and memory.

When any of these stages get disrupted, your brain does not reap the full benefits of sleep. As a result, insomnia may amplify the effects of anxiety and make it more challenging to regulate emotions.

Overall, studies show good sleep promotes emotional and mental resilience. It's helpful to know you can alleviate anxiety symptoms by treating sleep problems.

What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety-Related Sleep Issues?

It is hard to say which comes first — insomnia or anxiety. Insomnia may increase the risk of developing GAD or another anxiety disorder, and anxiety can cause insomnia. Regardless of the cause, you may experience the following sleep anxiety symptoms:

  • Trouble falling asleep due to worrying about past or future events
  • Difficulties staying asleep or waking up too early due to worrying
  • Feeling overwhelmed about work, school or other responsibilities at bedtime
  • Experiencing a sense of overstimulation
  • Experiencing dread or panic about the inability to fall asleep

The Effects of Anxiety and Sleep Issues

Have you ever woken up feeling tired? If anxiety is preventing sleep, it can be frustrating and can make it hard to get through the day. If you have anxiety, you might feel even more anxious after a night of sleeplessness. Here are other ways anxiety and sleep issues impact life:

  • Lack of sleep and anxiety can affect work or school performance.
  • It may be hard to remember information or concentrate on tasks.
  • Sleep issues increase the risk of a delayed reaction, which could lead to an injury.
  • Sleep problems increase the risk of unhealthy behaviors such as eating sugary foods for energy or using alcohol to fall asleep.
  • Poor sleep can lead to severe health conditions and weaken the immune system.
  • You may feel more irritable when you have anxiety and can't sleep, which can impact relationships.
  • You may feel unable to cope with excessive worrying due to lack of sleep.
  • You may experience worse muscle tension.
  • Sleep issues and anxiety can make it feel more difficult to manage daily responsibilities.

Tips for Managing Anxiety-Related Sleep Issues

It's true anxiety-related sleep issues make an impact on mental, emotional and physical well-being. However, there are many ways to manage anxiety and get restful sleep. Once you experience a night of continuous sleep, you'll wake up feeling refreshed and strong. Here are some tips for reducing anxiety so you can feel relaxed when it's time for bed:

  • Exercise: Exercise is beneficial for your physical and emotional health. It helps you release energy and provides a surge of relaxing, mood-boosting endorphins. Do something you enjoy, like going for a scenic walk or dancing to uplifting music.
  • Breathe: Sometimes taking slow, deep breaths can help you feel instantly calm. There are many simple breathing exercises you can do anywhere, at any time of day.
  • Focus on your true priorities: If you have a seemingly endless to-do list, you may feel anxious and overwhelmed. Spend your time on the tasks that are truly meaningful and important to you, and save other tasks for later or eliminate them from the list. Break large tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces.
  • Listen to relaxing music: Listen to calming, soothing music to slow down your heart rate and feel more relaxed.
  • Redirect anxiety and stress: You do not have to keep anxious feelings inside — you can direct them outward in a positive way. You might do volunteer work to take your mind off your worries, or consider expressing your anxiety through art, writing or playing an instrument.
  • Talk about it: Sometimes, talking to someone you trust feels like taking a massive weight off your shoulders. Talk to a close friend or family member about your stress or anxiety. Consider speaking with a therapist to help you gain insight into your worries and see things in a new way.
  • Get adequate sleep: Getting enough sleep allows your brain to recharge. You'll experience an improved mood and be able to cope with life's stressors better when you get good sleep.

To get better sleep, try these steps:

  • Prioritize sleep: If you have anxiety, you may feel your worries need immediate attention. However, sleep is just as vital as eating and breathing. Make it a priority to get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
  • Develop a sleep schedule: Getting into a sleep routine will help you beat insomnia. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. You might be tempted to catch up on sleep on your days off, but catching up does not eliminate the effects of sleep deprivation you experienced during the week. It's more important to get into a regular sleep schedule.
  • Establish a bedtime routine: Aim to enter a state of relaxation before going to bed. That means turning off the computer or TV and saving emails for the next day. To prepare for sleep, you might read a book, take a hot bath or listen to peaceful music.
  • Turn your bedroom into a cave: Design your bedroom to promote restful sleep. Keep it cool, dark and quiet. The best temperature for sleeping is generally between 60 and 67 degrees. If it's noisy outside your bedroom, consider using a fan or white noise machine to mask unwanted sounds. Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable, and if possible, use your bedroom only for sleeping.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise is great for reducing anxiety and helping you sleep at night. Aim to exercise in the morning or afternoon for the most positive effects on sleep.
  • Avoid the clock: It is normal to want to check the clock every hour when it's hard to sleep. However, doing so will add to anxiety and can keep you awake even longer. Turn the clock away from you before bed, and avoid checking the time on your phone.
  • Go to bed only when you're sleepy: Avoid spending time in bed until you are ready for sleep. If you do not fall asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed, get up, go to a different room and do something relaxing until you feel tired.
  • Spend time outdoors: Spending time in daylight will help you set a sleep pattern. If possible, try to spend 30 minutes a day in daylight. For example, you might go for a brisk walk during your lunch break to get exercise and a healthy dose of daylight.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine: Try not to consume any stimulants such as coffee, chocolate or nicotine before bed. You might avoid caffeine altogether if you can, especially if you experience panic attacks. It can take as much as eight hours for caffeine to wear off.
  • Avoid eating or drinking a lot before bed: If possible, try to eat your last meal of the day at least three hours before going to bed, and try not to drink anything 90 minutes before bed. If you get thirsty, take a small sip of water. If you are worried hunger will keep you awake, aim to have a snack that is no more than 200 calories. You might have a small container of nonfat yogurt or a sliced apple with peanut butter.

Contact Brookhaven Retreat for Help

Using these and other strategies to manage anxiety and insomnia may help you develop a quality sleep routine. However, if you try the above tips and still find yourself lying awake worrying, try not to get discouraged. Great sleep and less anxiety are still within your reach. A mental health professional can help you to identify and cope with underlying issues.

Brookhaven Retreat is a women-only treatment center located in the peaceful foothills of the Smoky Mountains. At Brookhaven Retreat, we offer The Lily Program®, which is a customized mental health program for women. The Lily Program® begins with an individualized treatment plan designed to address your unique mental health needs. Our compassionate staff will help you gain insight and work through underlying problems.

As part of The Lily Program®, you may partake in individual therapy, group therapy and more for comprehensive treatment. We aim to help you grow and develop life-changing coping skills, so you can embrace who you are, no matter what has held you back before. To learn more about our treatment programs, reach out to us today.

Contact Brookhaven Retreat for help with anxiety sleep issues

Published in Brookhaven Blog