Sleep deprivation and anxiety can go hand-in-hand, as they’re often times bidirectional; meaning lack of sleep causes anxiety, and anxiety (according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America) causes lack of sleep. So how to cure sleep anxiety in adults?
Everything from Controlled Breathing, Sensory Awareness, Restful Routine, Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Changes in Lifestyle and Environment – Your daytime routine can significantly impact your sleep anxiety, as well as the environment you create for yourself in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Mindful Meditation – Substantial evidence has shown that breathing practices, grouping, meditation, and changing your perspective on sleep are beneficial to curing yourself, as well as improving your overall health.
Anxiety is a regular human emotion, sometimes even healthy. However, it escalates when our feelings of worry and nervousness reach an excessive level, which then can become a medical disorder.
Anxiety disorders can be caused by many things, notably stress that stems from school, work, and environmental changes. Most times, it goes away on its own. However, if it lingers for longer than a few weeks, it may be time to see your doctor.
Sleeplessness, also known as insomnia, is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep due to psychiatric or medical conditions, as well as various biological factors; stress and anxiety falling into these contributing causes.
As you can see, sleeplessness and anxiety are often times caused by one another.
First and foremost, the most important step to take in overcoming sleep anxiety is attacking both sleep deprivation and anxiety together. If you try to work on your sleeping problems without treating your anxiety at the same time, the results will be minimal at best.
Changes in Lifestyle and Environment
Most of us fall into such a routine that we don’t realize how it’s affecting our sleep at night—in addition to contributing to anxiety—and making key changes to our daily lives and environment has been proven to help overcome sleep anxiety.
Before seeking professional help, let’s take a look at the changes in lifestyle and environment you can take to reduce nighttime anxiety and, in turn, start getting a good night’s sleep again.
Change Your Perspective
If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, anticipating bedtime can trigger your anxiety. Having the mindset that you’re probably in for another night of tossing and turning subconsciously decides for you ahead of time that you’re not going to fall asleep.
Changing this perspective can lower anxiety, by telling yourself that it’s perfectly normal to have occasional insomnia and not to stress about it if it happens. By making yourself psychologically comfortable with the possibility of either outcome (in terms of getting rest or having a sleepless night), you can eliminate premeditated anxiety about falling asleep.
Take Up a New Hobby or Project
Some studies show that if you take on a new hobby or project—like painting, yoga, or redecorating a room for example—you can shift the nighttime thoughts about your insomnia to thinking of your new project instead. Anxiety can then change to a positive channel, which will distract your brain in bed from stressing over sleeplessness.
Create a Daily To-Do List
If thoughts of everything you have to get done the next day are causing you anxiety at night, writing out a to-do list is a great way to let that energy escape.
Personally, this has been life-changing for me; a lot of my sleep anxiety was caused by lying in bed trying to make a mental note of all the things I needed to get done. Writing them down ahead of bedtime gave me one less thing to riddle my brain with.
Physically expending a bit more energy during the day can release chemicals in your brain that put you in a more relaxed state of mind in the evening. Also proven to lower anxiety, going for a walk on your lunch break or light jog after work can be beneficial for bedtime.
Pro tip: Don’t work out too close to bedtime, as it can trigger your brain to believe it’s still time to be awake. Incorporate your exercise into your routine at least 4-5 hours before sleep.
Follow a Sleep Schedule
By waking up at the same time every morning and falling asleep at the same time every night, you’re training your brain to biologically become aware of when it’s time to shut down for the day and allow itself to fall asleep. This will alleviate anxiety by not having to convince your brain a new time everyday to fall asleep.
Environment is Everything
Right after dinner, make your house and—especially—your bedroom darker and quieter, to send the message to your mind that it’s time to wind down, which will give your body the signal that the day is over.
Temperature is important as well. Keep your house cool enough to lower your body temperature so it’s in a state of comfort ability and relaxation.
Limit your screen time in the evening. Avoid your phone, laptop, and television in the 2-3 hours before you need to fall asleep. These devices radiate light that keeps your brain alert, and doing work before bed (i.e. sending emails or working on your laptop) can trigger anxiety which makes it impossible to relax your mind.
Mindfulness meditation is directly linked to activating your relaxation response. There are several techniques that, with practice and continuity, can ease your nighttime anxiety and relax your brain. In turn, your brain will calm your body and internal system, which will make it easier to fall asleep.
Yoga involves breathing exercises, breathing controls hyperventilation during panic attacks, and “take a deep breath” is an age-old expression; there’s a reason why. Studies have proven that controlled breathing is imperative to calming the mind, both psychologically and biologically.
This makes sense, as one of the symptoms of anxiety is shortness of breath. When your brain reaches an excess level of stress, it tries to get more oxygen to your muscles as a normal “fight-or-flight” response in a moment of panic.
By focusing on your breathing, you can get this reaction back under control, telling your brain to relax again.
Also known as “grouping”, sensory awareness focuses on mindfulness and bringing you back to the present moment. As the root cause of sleep anxiety is often times thinking about tomorrow, or future worries, grouping involves bringing you back to the current day and time by physically touching or saying things out loud.
For example, recite the current date and time aloud, or everything you see in front of you. Pick up or touch a nearby object, and focus on how it feels in your hand.
Sensory awareness goes together with sense meditation, an easy way to practice meditating that is also shown to relieve anxiety. Sense meditation is clearing your mind by focusing on your five senses and what each of them are currently experiencing in that moment.
Create a Restful Routine
Creating a restful routine will create a biological pattern in your subconscious of what time of the day means relaxation. Whatever you choose to wind down with, do it at the exact same time every night.
Some popular restful routines include reading a book, taking a bath, putting on music that allows you to meditate, and yoga.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
If you are experiencing chronic sleep anxiety, in which you’re still suffering from it after weeks of trying lifestyle changes and meditation techniques, it may be best to seek professional help. This help comes in the form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.
As mentioned, CBT is where a specialist designs a plan for you to improve your mood, behavior, and anxiety by changing your thought patterns. Behavioral specialists work with you in finding the root cause of your anxiety and explore different mental exercises to break the block in your mind that’s causing it.
CBT may combine sleep or anti-anxiety medications, therapy, and mindfulness meditation. It has been backed by extensive psychological research and studies, with results showing after 12-16 weeks on average.
Like any form of therapy, CBT takes time and dedication. However, if practiced consistently, you are likely to overcome your sleep anxiety and restore your physical, mental, and emotional health.
If sleep anxiety is taking a toll on your daily life, it’s time to seek CBT. Chronic insomnia can lead to many health conditions—such as heart attacks, stroke, and hypertension—and should not be taken likely.
Overcoming both anxiety and insomnia is a necessity for your overall quality of life; especially when the two are results of each other. Sleep anxiety becomes the norm for those who don’t take the proper steps in overcoming it, which becomes dangerous in the long run.
If you suffer from sleep anxiety, it is important to try all methods and techniques to see what personally works for you in overcoming it. You may surprise yourself and discover that changing the littlest part of your routine has allowed you to return to restful nights!