Is there a link between sleep and anxiety? Can more sleep, or better sleep, help to reduce your day-to-day experience of anxiety?
The answer is yes!
The power of sleep has always been known to be significant, but now there’s more and more evidence demonstrating just how important it is for those who experience anxiety.
According researchers from Manchester University, people who sleep for shorter periods of time and go to bed later will often experience more repetitive negative thoughts than those who get more sleep. And after an interesting study out of the US there is also significant evidence that suggest that being sleep deprived produces a higher anxiety response to external cues.
Meaning less sleep is going to make you more anxious. Participants were then also assessed based on their existing anxiety levels, and the study suggested that those who have existing anxiety may be likely to experience worse anxiety after sleep deprivation.
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What’s more, sleep is integral to maintaining healthy emotional and social functioning. Studies have shown that almost every system of the body is affected by the quality and quantity of sleep a person gets, especially the brain.
The amount of sleep you get each night also determines how well you can deal with stress and anxiety, highlighting that sleep deprivation creates an imbalance in hormone levels that drive anxiety levels higher, and exacerbates existing anxiety issues.
Is it all bad news?
No! Now that you understand how important sleep is to your mental health, you can start making it a priority. Give some thought to your current bedtime routine and sleep practices. Do you get enough sleep? Do you even have a routine?
Here are a few simple tips that can help you protect yourself from sleep deprivation induced anxiety.
Step 1: Make a plan
The first thing to know is that 7-8 hours is a healthy amount of sleep for most adults. So start making a plan to get that amount. Work out what time you need to get up, and work back from that. And don’t just set an alarm for getting up – set one for going to bed too so that you always know when it’s time start your night time routine.
Step 2: Start a night time routine
This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You don’t have to start drinking chamomile tea if you don’t want to (although you can if you like) and you don’t have to lie in bed counting sheep. This is just about setting up a little routine that signals to your brain and body that it’s nearly sleep time. So choose what you’d like – maybe it’s just brushing your teeth and reading a book for ten minutes, or maybe it’s a particular piece of music or meditation.
Step 3: Avoid screen time for an hour before your bedtime
This includes phones, tablets, the works. Making a commitment to avoid unhelpful lights from screens will help you in succeeding with your new plan.
Step 4: It’s not just night: think about how you spend your day
Some of the basics include avoiding caffeine in the afternoons, reducing cigarettes and alcohol (they can affect your REM sleep). Beyond that, do your best to get some exercise – it contributes to getting a good night’s sleep and it’s also good for anxiety levels anyway as it releases all-important endorphins.
If anxiety is bothering you, it’s a good idea to examine your sleep patterns. After all, we know that getting quality sleep puts you in a better position to ward off day to day anxiety.
Try these things, and don’t forget to reach out to a professional if you need support; if you find yourself feeling anxious about sleep itself and think you might be suffering from symptoms of insomnia it’s a good idea to touch base with a professional health carer who can talk with you about what you’re experiencing and how to get the best help.
Don’t forget, there’s lots of support available for a wide range of sleep and mental health issues, so don’t put off getting the help you need.