Healthy habits to help ease and overcome sleep anxiety
This post was written by hypnotherapist and anxiety expert, Chloe Brotheridge. Visit Chloe's website for more information.
Sinking your head into a fluffy pillow and immersing yourself in fresh bed sheets after a long day on your feet is supposed to be bliss. The feeling of the tension in your shoulders gradually dispersing as you drift off into a peaceful sleep… perfect.
Reality is, for one in three of us, sleep anxiety prevents that from being the case. No matter how early you get to rest, how unreachable your mobile phone or how many lavender candles you light. Some of us just. Can’t. Sleep.
Sleep anxiety is the feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease associated with normal anxiety, except it occurs right before or during, sleep.
The most common cause of sleep anxiety is mental stress, recognised by many as racing thoughts – when your to-do list, your finances, or what you should (or should not have) said to your new boss, all come at rocketing speed into your thoughts as soon as your head hits the pillow.
More physical reasons to explain why anxiety causes sleep problems include symptoms such as a racing heart – commonly associated with anxiety. When your body is under such tension and stress, it is difficult for it to reach a level of relaxation allowing you to slowly drift into the land of nod.
The Calm Clinic explains that: ‘each individual symptom of anxiety may affect your ability to sleep. A rapid heartbeat may cause concerns over your health. Weak limbs may make you feel less comfortable. Each symptom may contribute to the way you experience anxiety.’
Therefore, it’s no surprise that the quality of sleep is hugely impacted as a result. And for many of us, tiredness and fatigue only worsen the effects of our anxiety, to the point where it becomes a never-ending cycle of being unable to sleep because you’re anxious, then anxious because you’re unable to sleep. Arghhh!
This is because your body is gradually building up a huge level of stress due to this relentless cycle. But this time it’s not just the stress generated from sleep deprivation, it’s also your body’s inability to release the anxieties of the day during sleep.
Sleep and dreaming help our body and mind to repair and re-calibrate itself. Without it, stress and tension can build up. Not to mention that fact that when we're tired, everything just seems harder and more challenging adding to your fear and anxiety.
If you’re consciously aware that you have fallen into this cycle, then it’s also incredibly common that you have become anxious about going to bed, because you know what’s coming. You know that you’re going to be tossing and turning, counting sheep, and watching the clock tick by and counting the hours before you have to get back up.
Becoming anxious about going to sleep is, in fact, a type of 'Performance Anxiety', Matthew Edlund, author of The Power of Rest explains: “We’ve turned sleep into a job,” he says. “We think, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to have enough sleep to make everything work.’ They’re worried about sleep, so they can’t sleep.” If you go to bed anxious that you’re not going to get any sleep, you’re actually adding to the anxiety that you’re going to experience.
Herbs and habits to help you sleep soundly
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that is amazing to help you relax into a deep sleep.
- It controls stress levels: The stress that our bodies are under when we suffer from sleep anxiety is caused by the hormone cortisol. According to our circadian clock (the body clock that naturally prepares us for sleep and wake), cortisol should naturally decrease in the early evening in preparation for sleep. Stress can overrule these rhythms and cortisol can stay elevated into the night and affect sleep success. So, the great thing about ashwagandha is it controls the production of the stress hormones and allows our body to retain natural sleeping rhythms.
- It prevents us from worrying: we spoke before about feeling anxious about going to bed because of the worrying feeling we feel even thinking about getting a good night's rest. Ashwagandha affects the neural receptors in our minds and reduces our tendency to worry by settling our minds.
- It supports sugar levels: Crashing blood sugar levels during sleep can contribute to people having a disturbed night's sleep. Ashwagandha has been shown in a number of studies to support blood sugar so our bodies can function efficiently at night and allow us to have an undisturbed sleep.
Brahmi is another Ayurvedic herb that calms emotional turbulence before bed, and also has added benefits of improving concentration and alertness. Brahmi, in Ayurveda, is called brain tonic and is known for curing digestion problems that may prevent us from having an undisturbed sleep.
It also improves blood circulation, further supporting the body's natural healing process. This body repairing herb means that your body is in the most healthy and relaxed state possible for sleep, naturally reducing your anxieties.
Valerian has been used by people for thousands of years. Even today, it's remarkably calming effect is a great comfort to people struggling with everything from sleep and insomnia to nervous anxiousness. This herb helps the brain to switch off before bed, slowing down any racing thoughts and calming the mind, helping you to cure tension and insomnia.
There are some simple strategies that will reduce the effects of sleep anxiety and calm your mind and body so you can get the sleep that you need. Take a look:
Learning to quiet your mind can be a helpful skill, both for navigating stressful daytime periods and for falling asleep at night. If you’ve never tried it, start with as little as a couple minutes of sitting quietly and focusing on your inhale and exhale. You can also explore apps that will help guide you.
- Put your to-dos on paper
Instead of letting your brain swirl with all the things that you don’t want to forget to take care of, write them down so your brain can relax and let go.
- Tense and relax
Try this relaxation exercise in bed: Squeeze your toes for several seconds, and then relax. Then move through your body tensing and relaxing each body part.
As you settle down for bed, you could also try listening to my guided sleep hypnotherapy session. For more tips on getting a better night’s sleep, follow Pukka’s 7-Day Night Time programme.
And finally, remind yourself – 'I don’t have to take this day all at once, but rather, one step, one breathe, one moment at a time. I am only one person. Things will get done when they get done.' – Unknown