If you suffer from sleep deprivation, you’re not alone. One in four Americans develops insomnia each year, and around 10% have chronic insomnia.
Lack of sleep is especially common for people who suffer from depression and anxiety. A hallmark symptom of depression is early-morning waking because depressive episodes make sleep patterns out of whack. That often means you wake up early or in the middle of the night with panic attacks. This can leave you feeling exhausted even when you’re able to fall asleep without any problems.
When you suffer from anxiety, your situation is similar because anxiety disorders can disrupt sleep. It’s impossible to sleep soundly when:
- Cortisol is pumping through your body and mind
- Your heart rate is sky high
- Your fight-or-flight mode is code red
Whether you deal with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety, or another anxiety condition, it’s probably affecting the amount and quality of sleep you get each night. This creates a vicious cycle. You’re anxious about not being able to sleep, which makes it harder to fall asleep, which leads to anxiety and exhaustion during the day, which leads to…being anxious about not being able to sleep—because you really need a good night’s rest!
You don’t have to suffer through anxiety and sleepless nights forever. Take these actions to improve your rest.
The National Sleep Foundation endorses sleep hygiene as a way to manage sleep disorders. They define it as “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.” These can help you sleep soundly without sleep medicine or anxiety medications like Xanax®, which can be habit-forming.
Choose a few sleep hygiene tips to incorporate into your bedtime routine, so you can manage anxiety and sleep soundly:
Turn Off Screens
Americans are addicted to their phones, tablets, and televisions. But they keep your brain awake and alert anytime you use them. That includes as you lay in bed, trying to wind down and wondering why you can’t fall asleep. Watching an exciting television show before bed triggers something similar to an anxiety response in your body and mind. Also, the blue light generated by screens confuses your pineal gland and tells it not to produce melatonin, which influences your circadian rhythm.
Turn off the screen; give your body and mind a chance to wind down to sleep.
Use a Blue Light-Blocker
If you can’t give up your late-night screen time, blue light blocker glasses are a good compromise. Wearing blue light-blocking glasses a few hours before bed overrides the message blue light sends to your brain and allow you to enjoy screen time without those negative consequences.
Cut Off the Caffeine
Many people love and depend on caffeine to get through the day. But if you have problems with anxiety, caffeine can make your symptoms worse. Choose a time in the afternoon or evening—four to six hours before bed—when you put a hard stop to this stimulant.
Avoid Watching TV, Eating, and Reading in Bed
You want your brain to make the association between the bed and sleep, so do non-bed activities somewhere else.
Implement the 15-Minute Rule
If you’re in bed for 15 minutes and can’t sleep, get up, go into another room, and do something relaxing like reading a book. (Remember: Reading stays out of the bed!) This can get you out of that stressful, anxiety-creating tossing-and-turning mode. You can reset your brain and try again for another 15 minutes.
Get Regular Exercise
Exercise is great for your mental health in general, but it’s especially helpful for sleep disorders. Moderate cardio exercise, strength training, and yoga can all help manage your anxiety and stress, so you fall asleep more easily. The physical symptoms of anxiety:
- Racing heart
are primitive brain reactions that tell your body, “We need to fight or run!” Exercise lets you to do just that! Moving your body provides an outlet for those physical sensations and gets them out of your system. If you’re sweating and exhausted after a good workout, sleep shouldn’t be a problem.
Make sure you get the exercise in a few hours before bed, so your heart rate returns to normal before you try to wind down.
Use a Mental Health App
There are many mindfulness and meditation apps with different methods for attacking anxiety, which can help you wind down before bed and/or address disrupted sleep.
- Headspace® teaches you mindfulness meditation, which over time trains your mind to be okay with whatever is happening in your life. This short-circuits the snowballing of anxiety.
- If you have trouble staying asleep, InsightTimer has lots of guided audio relaxation techniques that can help. This is not “meditation” in the traditional sense, but the audio recordings guide your body and mind in helpful ways that are great for relieving anxiety.
- Progressive muscle relaxation is a very effective method of releasing body tension caused by anxiety. You can find some guided recordings on YouTube and InsightTimer.
Addressing Medical Conditions
Sleep hygiene is an effective way to tackle chronic insomnia from the perspective of mental health. But there are also physical conditions that can cause discomfort in your body and create tension and anxiety at bedtime. Some common ones are:
- Restless leg syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
By addressing these medical issues properly with a health professional, you can treat them properly. A good night’s sleep should follow.
Investigate TMS for Depression and Sleep
When sleep disruption happens as a part of anxiety or depression, it’s often a medical issue that requires the proper treatment. The tips above can help, but getting to the root of your mental health disorder is the best way to straighten out your sleep patterns and get a good night’s sleep.
If antidepressants don’t help your anxiety or depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an excellent option. Some antidepressants can cause insomnia; TMS doesn’t. It’s a non-invasive treatment that works by bringing the activity of the neurons in your brain back to normal. (They become hyperactive when you have anxiety.) TMS is remarkably effective, safe, and provided under the care of a psychiatrist.
If TMS sounds right for you, HPR Treatment Centers is a national provider with locations across the country. They specialize in getting insurance approval set up quickly, so you can start treatment right away. Learn more at hprtc.com, or give them a call at 877-565-3753.
Sleep Anxiety: Highly Prevalent and Highly Treatable
If you have anxiety at bedtime, you’re not alone. Twenty-five percent of Americans have insomnia in any given year. Fortunately, this problem is highly treatable: Good sleep hygiene, vigorous exercise, and meditation/guided relaxation can all help tremendously. If it’s time to address the mental health issue at the root of your sleep anxiety, try a mental health treatment like TMS therapy. None of these require the pill or the side effects of many anxiety treatment.
Get to sleep!