Have you ever felt anxious and stressed out that you struggle to fall or stay asleep at night? Sleep anxiety and insomnia can severely affect your body, but the condition is treatable.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, discomfort, or unease. It’s normal to feel anxious occasionally in stressful or fearful situations. However, in anxiety disorders, this feeling of anxiousness becomes excessive. This may stop your brain from calming down, leading to the disruption of sleep.
Distress from sleeping can further complicate things. You may develop sleep anxiety, which can strengthen your fear of going to bed and create difficulties in healthy sleeping.
Therefore, understanding the relationship between anxiety and sleep is essential to treat the condition and improve physical and emotional well-being.
What is the Connection Between Anxiety and Sleep?
Someone who suffers from anxiety disorders might be worried or fearful all the time until it negatively impacts their lives. The emphasis on their worry might be disproportional to the amount of attention it deserves. In other words, blowing things out of proportion or making a mountain out of a molehill. These anxious feelings will continue almost every day for six months or more.
Sleep disturbances, including insomnia, have been regarded as a symptom of anxiety disorders. For example, people who worry excessively will continue thinking about their worries in bed, preventing them from falling asleep. Even if they fall asleep, they might wake up in the middle of the night feeling anxious.
“The person may keep on thinking, ‘Will I have insomnia tonight?’ which in the end leads to a vicious cycle of insomnia. From a TCM point of view, chronic insomnia can result in a deficiency of kidney yin, loss of vitality of liver yang, and qi and blood deficiency,” says Luke Yau Wai, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician for Eu Yan Sang. “In Traditional Chinese Medicine, anxiety disorders belong to the category of ‘stagnation syndrome’, caused by a dysfunction in liver dispersion. Overthinking or worrying could hurt the spleen, which could easily lead to stagnation of qi, blood stasis, phlegm, heat accumulation, and so on.”
In addition, a person with an anxiety disorder, who regularly has trouble falling asleep, might develop distress about falling asleep, creating sleep anxiety that further adds to their feelings of unease and preoccupation.
What are the Health Risks?
Sleep deprivation can make anxiety worst, starting a vicious cycle of anxiety and insomnia that feeds itself. Moreover, sleep deprivation will lead to adverse effects on health. They might lack concentration and be in an anxious or gloomy mood, be easily irritated and restless.
Anxiety disorders and prolonged sleep deprivation can have physical effects, such as tense muscles, sweating, trembling, fatigue, stomach discomfort, and rapid breathing and heartbeat.
The risks associated with chronic lack of sleep is more than just tiredness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, long term sleep deprivation can lead to poor performance at work or school, increasing the risk of injury and health problems. The association also stated that there is also an increased risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, stroke, heart disease, heart failure, irregular heartbeat and heart attack.
How to Ease Anxiety and Get a Better Night’s Sleep
You should address chronic sleep loss and sleep anxiety. Although the health consequences can be substantial, they are treatable.
Here are 5 tips for managing your anxiety and getting better sleep.
1. Build a healthy sleep habit
An effective way to combat sleep anxiety and improve your sleep quality is to create a routine. By sleeping and waking up at the same time every day, your body will naturally adjust your internal clock or circadian rhythm.
Besides that, you can create some bedtime rituals, such as taking a warm bath, listening to relaxing music, and doing some light reading before going to sleep. The body will know it is time to relax and wind down for the night.
In addition, you can control the light, sound, and temperature in the bedroom. Dim the lights before sleeping, keep the room quiet or only have soft or soothing sounds. You can also set the temperature in your room to cool using air conditioning.
Lastly, limit screen time before sleeping. This includes your mobile phones and television. Form the habit of not looking at any screens or devices an hour before bedtime.
2. Learn how to calm your mind
Meditation can help to calm your mind and slow down your heartbeat before going to bed. During meditation, you can also use a diffuser with lavender or bergamot essential oils to help you relax.
A 2015 study by JAMA Internal Medicine finds that people who do mindful awareness practices (MAPs) have better sleep quality compared to people who just improved their sleeping habits. MAPs focus on being fully present in the moment while working to identify and be aware of your own feelings, sensations, and emotions. Some of the examples are mindful breathing and yoga exercise.
Soft music can also help you calm down and unwind. International Journal of Nursing Studies indicates that music can improve someone’s sleep quality with acute and chronic sleep disorders.
3. Consume herbal drinks to improve sleep
Some drinks can help you sleep better — for example, chamomile tea, peppermint tea, and turmeric milk. A 2017 study by the Journal of Education and Health Promotion finds that consuming chamomile extract has sedative properties in the sleep quality of hospitalized elderly patients in nursing homes. Therefore, it can be used in similar cases and nursing care.
Alternatively, a herbal supplement could also improve your sleep quality for a restful night.
4. Talk to someone
Sometimes it’s good to talk to a friend, family member, healthcare professional, or therapist. Do not keep all your worries and problems to yourself. Talking about it can help you feel better, and the person listening might be able to provide valuable suggestions on how to solve your problems too.
By talking to someone, you will stop bottling up your frustrations and fears. It helps you to destress too. You will feel better afterwards. This is a much better strategy at handling problems than keeping everything a secret and telling everybody you are all right.
5. Move your body
Regular exercise can help you to relax and improve sleep quality. Advances in Preventive Medicine reports regular exercise will help improve sleep quality and duration in middle-aged and elderly adults. So, if you’re not in the habit of exercising, perhaps it is time for you to start. You don’t need to sign up for a gym membership or invest in expensive workout equipment. The goal is just to move, and you can achieve this by going for walks. If you feel more energetic, you can go jogging, swimming, or cycling. If you like games, you can play badminton or tennis with a friend. The most important thing is finding a type of exercise or activity that you enjoy and keep on doing it regularly.
When to Ask for Professional Help
If you experienced sleep anxiety, insomnia, or another sleep disorder for more than three months, visit a doctor, mental health professional, or sleep disorder clinic.
Treatment options may include prescription medication, relaxation techniques and cognitive-behaviour therapy, where you’re taught how to identify and modify behaviours that contribute to sleeping problems.
Psychiatrists may prescribe you psychoactive drugs. You can also add a supplement with herbal extracts that promote restful sleep and enhances sleep quality.
TCM physicians and practitioners may also be able to provide some help. “Sleep anxiety and insomnia are mental symptoms, which can be relieved to a certain extent by taking some calming TCM medications, but they cannot be completely cured. You also need to cooperate with psychological counselling to eliminate your anxiety and to solve it from the root cause to improve insomnia,” physician Luke says.
“TCM treatment for both conditions usually start with differentiating the signs and symptoms, with the principle of soothing the liver, relieving depression, and calming the mind and nerves. We may also use acupuncture and facial massage or Tui Na. The conditioning and treatment time varies from person to person.”
Sleep anxiety and insomnia are treatable conditions. So, don’t be afraid if you can’t sleep – try to explore the different tips listed above to get rid of your anxiety and make it easier to have a peaceful sleep.
- Advances in Preventive Medicine. 2017. Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. [Accessed 1 June 2021]
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. N.d. Sleep Disorders. [Accessed 1 June 2021]
- International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2014. Music therapy improves sleep quality in acute and chronic sleep disorders: A meta-analysis of 10 randomized studies. [Accessed 1 June 2021]
- JAMA Internal Medicine. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances. [Accessed 1 June 2021]
- Journal of Education and Health Promotion. 2017. Investigation effect of oral chamomilla on sleep quality in elderly people in Isfahan: A randomized control trial. [Accessed 1 June 2021]