To honour Mental Health Awareness Week's theme of anxiety*, each day this week I've been exploring different facets of anxiety and sharing tips and ideas to help.
Sleep is one of the things many people take for granted, that has an enormous impact on our health. When it comes to anxiety there's two ways sleep and anxiety interact: anxiety preventing sleep (insomnia) and lack of good quality sleep causing anxiety.
Insomnia is when people find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or both. This causes issues during waking hours such as not feeling refreshed on rising, sleepiness through the day or an increased risk of heart disease or diabetes.
Those living with anxiety may find it hard to switch off at the end of the day enough to allow sleep to happen. Ruminating over thoughts, fears and concerns prevents the mind from letting the body relax, making falling asleep difficult. Others may find that their anxiety wakes them in the middle of the night, and then they can't get back to sleep again, or if they do it causes them to wake late in the morning. Both types of insomnia are equally disruptive and can lead people to feel anxious about going to bed, making the anxiety and insomnia worse.
The other way sleep and anxiety are linked is when sleep deprivation causes anxiety to happen or be amplified. Shift workers, parents, noisy environments and those affected by pain or breathing disorders can experience less or reduced quality sleep, resulting in low mood and poor mental health.
This is because good quality sleep is one of the most healing experiences your mind and body can get. Great sleep helps us to process and let go of the day before, filing our days experiences in our memory bank and wiping the slate clean for the next day. Great sleep also helps us to replenish our body's energy levels, so we wake feeling fresh, excited and ready for the day ahead. Great sleep also feels like completely switching off. For some people, sleep time is bliss time, where they don't have to think and they are quiet and peaceful. Who wouldn't want that experience for 8 hours a day?
So, sleep is worth paying attention to - and even investing resources in - if you want to get some or all of the benefits available.
Strategies to support sleeping
Nice thought it might be, we can't 'make' ourself sleep (not without some pretty strong chemicals anyway!) We have to 'allow' sleep to happen, which means setting ourselves up for success. Here's my tried and tested strategies:
Invest in a decent bed and pillow that is right for you. Anything too hard or soft will disrupt your sleep through discomfort. You are going to spend around 8 hours a day in bed - get the best you can afford.
Find ways to make your bedroom as dark and as quiet as possible. Blackout curtains to block out street lights helps our brains to know it's nighttime, whilst quietness helps us relax. Use ear plugs if necessary and get rid anything that ticks!
Meditate or do self-healing before bed. If you've had a stressful day it's a tall ask to expect yourself to wind down enough to sleep. Meditation helps to let go of thoughts and tap into our inner stillness. Self-healing helps us to detox and clear aches and pains. Both help you to drift off into better quality sleep, meaning your sleep will be more effective. The same is true if you wake in the middle of the night.
Keep your phone out of the bedroom. Having your phone next to you, even if it's on silent isn't enough. Your phone needs to be left in another room. If you don't need to be contacted in the middle of the night, give yourself a break from technology (this goes for all technology in your room) and don't look at it till you've been been up and done your morning routine!
What you do during the day impacts your night. If you go about your day caught up in the past or worrying about your future, you'll go to bed anxious. Eating well (easy on the caffeine and no eating just before bed), moving (enough to make you physically tired) and being present, help the wind down process. I also highly recommend a daytime nap! Worrying about sleeping is better replaced by being pro-active about sleeping by getting yourself educated on what good sleep hygiene is.
This is a few pointers to get you started. If you're still struggling, then something like a Mind Detox to find out why you are finding it difficult to sleep can be very helpful or even recruiting yourself a sleep coach that will both give you advice and check in with you on your progress.
* Anxiety can be described as a mild to severe form of worrying and a feeling of impending doom. It can be highly disruptive and take away from your ability to perform tasks and take away your sense of safety.