One of the body's natural anxiety coping mechanisms is sleep. When you sleep, your mind and body relax, so the next day you're sharper and able to withstand some of life's daily stresses.
The irony is that anxiety can actually make it harder to sleep. Sleep problems are extremely common in those with persistent stress, and in many cases it can actually cause a cycle that makes it harder to overcome anxiety in the future.
Sleep Problems = Anxiety?
Nearly every type of health condition disrupts your sleep. But anxiety and stress are commonly associated with sleep difficulty.
You may not even need to have stressful thoughts. In some cases, anxiety can cause you to stay awake, even when you're feeling stress free. My free 7 minute anxiety test will help you learn more about your anxiety symptoms.
Why Anxiety Causes Sleep Problems
Anxiety can affect sleep in a host of different ways. Nearly every symptom of anxiety has the potential to disrupt your ability to sleep, since sleep itself is only possible when your body and mind are relaxed.
Speaking of which, if you haven't done so yet, take my 7 minute anxiety test, so that you can get an idea of what symptoms you experience that may be caused by anxiety and disrupt your sleep.
Sleep problems may be caused by any number of factors. These include:
- Racing Thoughts Racing thoughts is likely the most common cause of sleep disorders in those with anxiety. Thoughts often race because of stress, but the thoughts themselves may or may not be stress related. Often those with stress simply struggle to stop focusing on thoughts, no matter what they are.
- Racing Heart/Body Anxiety causes energy to spread through your body as it prepares for fight/flight mode. When your body feels like it's on edge, it's very difficult to reach the level of relaxation required for a gentle sleep.
- Muscle Tension Anxiety also causes tremendous physical tension in your muscles - tension that can be incredibly problematic. It's very difficult to sleep when your body is tensed up, but that tension is very natural when stress consumes your life.
- "Needs" Especially common in those with obsessive compulsive disorder, you may also feel like you have worries or things you need to complete that prevent you from sleeping. Compulsions may keep you up later than you wanted, and anxiety may cause you to feel like you need to watch TV more, or stay up more, without even trying to go to bed.
- Pain and Other Anxiety Symptoms Finally, each individual symptom of anxiety may affect your ability to sleep. 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.
Often those with severe anxiety also have negative thoughts that sour the mood, and since relaxation is the key to sleep, a sour mood can have a very powerful effect on your ability to get rest.
How to Sleep With Anxiety
Sleep problems are called problems for a reason, and few of them have an immediate cure. Ideally, you'll need to focus on reducing your anxiety and stress in general, so that you're less consumed by these negative experiences and can drift off to sleep more easily.
Yet there are tips and strategies you can use to get more rest with anxiety. Consider the following:
- Journal Writing The first, and arguably most important strategy to try, is journal writing. People see journal writing as important for kids, but writing your thoughts in a journal has an effect on your ability to sleep as well. Your brain is a fascinating thing, and when your mind knows that you have written a persistent thought down (one that keeps you awake), it will feel better about letting the thought go, knowing that it's in a permanent place. Any time you have a thought that won't leave your mind, try writing it in a journal.
- Herbal Sleep Supplements Depending on any medicine - including herbal medicine - is not ideal for those trying to overcome anxiety. But herbs like valerian root, kava, and passionflower are very popular for those that need to get more rest. It's still a good idea to talk to your doctor before trying any herbal supplement, but you may find the results to be a big help.
- Daily Jogging At least 3 to 4 hours before you go to sleep (and possibly as early as the morning), try to get out for a long jog. Jogging is actually a natural anxiety reduction strategy, and one that releases endorphins that calm the mind and body. But beyond that, jogging tires the muscles, so when you go to bed they will be much less tense.
Mental distractions can also be beneficial, especially for heavy sleepers. Some people find that turning on radios, podcasts, or television sets, and putting the volume as low as possible so that you can barely make out the words can be helpful. Your mind tries to listen to the distraction, causing it to stop focusing on the stressful thoughts, and ultimately you're able to fall asleep.
This solution does not work for everyone, however.
Unfortunately, these tips are not enough, and they can't work forever. You still need to stop experiencing that anxiety, so that sleep comes much more naturally.
I've helped thousands of people improve their sleep and live without anxiety. Yet to start, you have to take the 7 minute anxiety test. It's the only way to get an idea of how anxiety affects you, how you compare to others, and what will work best at reducing your anxiety.
So what are you waiting for? Take the test here.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.