Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan and Physician Luke Yau Wai
Sleep Anxiety and Insomnia: How to Get a Better Night’s Rest
Published | 8 min read
Anxiety is often connected to sleep problems. Find out the different types of sleep anxiety and what you can do to improve your quality of sleep.
Racing thoughts and rapid heartbeat seem to occur whenever you’re trying to fall asleep. Sounds familiar? These are several factors of sleep anxiety that affect many individuals. You may not be aware that your sleeping difficulty is due to anxiety.
What is anxiety? It’s this persistent worry or discomfort that mainly comes up during stressful or fearful situations. While it’s normal to feel anxious occasionally, it can develop into a more serious disorder that leads to excessive anxiety. This will trigger the body to release hormones that make you more alert but unable to fall into a deep slumber.
Sleep distress 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.
The Connection Between Anxiety and Sleep
People who have anxiety disorders cannot help but feel nervous, even when all is well. Restlessness and fear overcome their other emotions, making it harder to see things from a clear perspective. Simply put, they tend to overreact and blow things out of proportion. Sadly, these tense and anxious feelings will last up to six months or more.
Sleeping disturbances, including insomnia, are known as the symptoms of anxiety disorders. The most common issue is when people get worried about not falling asleep, thus preventing them further from fully resting. Once they fall asleep, they might wake up in the middle of the night because of anxiety-inducing nightmares.
“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 (passive energy), loss of vitality of liver yang (active energy), and qi (vital life energy) 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.
Health Risks Connected to Sleep Anxiety
Sleep deprivation can make anxiety worse, 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 are 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 problems, kidney disease, and sexual dysfunction.
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. Set the Mood for a Peaceful Sleep
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 at 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 exercises.
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 tonic containing spine date seed, poria, and Chinese licorice root could improve your sleep quality for a restful night.
4. Open Up to Someone
Sometimes it is 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 can avoid bottling up your frustrations and fears. It helps with destressing and feeling better after. This is a much better strategy at handling problems than keeping everything a secret and telling everybody you are all right.
5. Stay Active During the Day
Regular exercise can help you to relax and improve sleep quality. Advances in Preventive Medicine report 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, it might be time 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 to keep doing it regularly. In addition, take lingzhi extract to help improve your bodily functions and calm the mind
When to Ask for Professional Help
If you have been experiencing sleep anxiety, insomnia, or another sleep disorder for more than three months, visit a doctor, mental health professional, or sleep disorder clinic. The conditioning and treatment time varies from person to person.
Sleep anxiety treatment options may include prescription medication, relaxation techniques, and cognitive-behavior therapy, where you’re taught how to identify and modify behaviors 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 enhance 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 counseling to eliminate your anxiety and to solve it from the root cause to improve insomnia,” physician Luke says.
“TCM treatment for both conditions usually starts with differentiating the signs and symptoms, with the principle of soothing the liver and the heart, tonify (increase the available energy) or regulate spleen qi, and kidney yin, relieving depression and calming the mind and nerves,” he notes. TCM practitioners may also use acupuncture, acupressure, facial massage, or tuina massage to relieve tension, stimulate melatonin production and induce sleep.
Better sleep will enable you to navigate stressful times in the short term, lower your chance of developing persistent sleep problems in the long run, and give your immune system a boost. So, next time you have trouble sleeping, you can follow the different steps listed above to help keep your anxiety at bay.
- Advances in Preventive Medicine. 2017. Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. [Accessed 24 October 2021]
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. N.d. Sleep Disorders. [Accessed 24 October 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 24 October 2021]
- JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances. [Accessed 24 October 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 24 October 2021]
- Sleep Science. 2018. Sleep quality and its association with psychological distress and sleep hygiene: a cross-sectional study among pre-clinical medical students. [Accessed 24 October 2021]
- Plos One. 2016. The Effectiveness of Daily Mindful Breathing Practices on Test Anxiety of Students. [Accessed 24 October 2021]
- Epidemiology and Health. 2018. Sleep quality and associated factors among the elderly living in rural Chiang Rai, northern Thailand. [Accessed 24 October 2021]
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Eye opener for me. And ideas for me to get some sleep. Hopefully thanks 🙂
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