By Corinne Lederhouse
Sleep and Anxiety
The relationship between sleep and mental health is complex. However, one commonality found in patients with a variety of mental health problems is poor sleep. Difficulty falling asleep is especially common in people with anxiety disorders.
Anxiety can be physically and mentally draining but getting good sleep can make it easier to manage. Healthy sleep helps you to balance your mood and emotions. Without healthy sleep, you are more likely to struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression.
According to a study from UC Berkeley, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, deep sleep helps reduce anxiety. Participants’ brain waves were measured after a full night of sleep, and the results show their anxiety levels declined significantly, especially for those who experienced more slow-wave sleep. Study results also show that the duration and quality of sleep the participants got from one night to the next predicted how anxious they would feel the following day.
Your behaviors during the day, and especially before bedtime, can have a major impact on your sleep. They can promote healthy sleep or contribute to sleeplessness. Healthy sleep improves your quality of life in a variety of ways, so try these tips for a more restful night:
1. Be consistent with your sleep habits
Healthy sleep habits work best when practiced consistently. Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get a full night of sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adults should sleep 7 or more hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
Ideally, you should wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends. Keeping consistent bedtimes and wake times will help you form and maintain healthy sleep habits. Remember, healthy sleep means your sleep is both of good quantity and quality, and the timing of your sleep is consistent.
Don’t go to bed unless you’re sleepy, or you might begin to associate your bed with being awake. If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. Try reading or performing a mundane task and return to bed when you are tired.
2. Create a relaxing environment
Make your bedroom a quiet and relaxing place. It should be somewhere you feel safe and calm. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature. Establish a comforting bedtime routine to follow every night.
Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings and try a soothing activity like taking a bath or reading a book to wind down. Save your nail-biting thriller novel for another time, and instead read something dull or predictable. The goal is to associate your bedroom with sleep and relaxation, not distractions or stress from the day.
3. Limit electronic use at night
Electronic usage before bed is the culprit behind many sleep problems and anxiety triggers. Turn off your electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This includes television! Falling asleep while watching TV is not going to make for a restful night. Turn your phone on silent, or do-not-disturb mode, so your sleep isn’t interrupted.
Computers, smartphones, televisions, and tablets emit blue light, which can affect your circadian clock and make your body think that it should be awake. If you can’t stop scrolling through Instagram in bed, keep your phone in a different room. There’s no shame in using a traditional alarm clock instead of a cell phone app to wake up!
4. Be mindful when eating and drinking
Maintaining a healthy diet is essential to mental and physical well-being, plus it can have a major effect on your sleep. Be mindful of your eating and drinking habits at night and avoid consuming alcohol and caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. If you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine, you may want to avoid eating chocolate at night as well — I’ve found that it keeps me from sleeping!
It might seem like a no-brainer, but reduce your fluid intake before bedtime; that way you aren’t waking up for nighttime trips to the bathroom.
Don’t eat a large meal right before bedtime. If you’re hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack. Foods high in fat and sugar can disrupt your sleep.
5. Get some exercise
Exercise can relieve stress and help you sleep better, so be active regularly. Even small amounts of routine physical activity may improve your sleep and overall well-being. Regular exercise can boost your energy and improve your mood. Exercise can also help slow or prevent health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Exercising right before bedtime may keep you up at night, so aim for a morning or afternoon workout instead. I like to work out three hours before bedtime, so my body isn’t amped up, and I don’t have difficulty relaxing.
6. Seek help
If you have difficulty sleeping or want to improve your sleep, try following these healthy sleep habits. Talk to your doctor if your sleep problem persists and affects you during the day. Be sure to mention any existing health conditions or medications you may take. You can seek help from the sleep team at an AASM-accredited sleep center and learn more about common sleep disorders on SleepEducation.org.
Corinne Lederhouse is a communications coordinator at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). The AASM is a membership organization for medical professionals in the sleep field. Corinne manages media relations for the AASM. She enjoys writing about trends in sleep medicine and taking naps with her dog. For more sleep tips, visit SleepEducation.org.