Sleep Tips for Managing Anxiety

For many people anxiety and sleep operate in a cycle. Anxiety keeps us up late, scrolling on social media, tossing and turning, or listening to podcasts to drown out worry thoughts. We sleep poorly or not enough, leading to more anxiety and low mood. We cope by avoiding our feelings with social media, alcohol, or other distractions and the cycle repeats.

Prioritizing sleep is important for overall health and well-being, particularly during times of stress and anxiety. In this blog post, we’ll explore practical tips and strategies to help improve sleep quality, focusing on managing anxiety-related sleep disturbances.You might be surprised that some simple strategies can help you get the rest you deserve.  Read on for practical tips to tackle anxiety-related sleep issues you can use tonight! 

The Association Between Anxiety and Sleep

Heightened stress and anxiety can directly affect sleep quality, leading to difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night. 

Research shows that poor sleep impacts both the development and the worsening of anxiety. For example, one longitudinal study of young Australian women revealed that sleeping difficulties were associated with increased risks of new onset depression and anxiety, indicating an important link between sleep quality and mental health (Jackson et al., 2014). 

Another comprehensive review found that poor sleep is linked with maladaptive changes in emotion at multiple stages of the emotion generation and regulation process (Palmer & Alfano, 2019). 

Studies have also shown that subjective and objective measures of poor sleep quality can modulate emotion regulatory brain function in individuals with anxiety and depression, further underscoring the interplay between sleep and anxiety (Klumpp et al., 2017).

Importance of Quality Sleep

Given these findings and many others, it’s clear that addressing sleep difficulties can make a significant improvement in decreasing anxiety and improving overall well-being. These tips are easy to implement and make a difference, starting tonight.

Strategies for Better Rest and Decreased Anxiety

 General Sleep Guidelines 

  1. Consistent Sleep Schedule.  Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Consistency helps regulate your body’s internal clock, promoting better sleep quality. Most people need around 8 hours. If you struggle to get to bed on time, talk with your partner about making sleep a priority or set an alarm as a reminder to start your bedtime routine.
  2. Bedtime Routine.  Create a relaxing bedtime routine to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. This could include activities such as skincare, reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques.
  3. Your Bedroom. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool (in the low to mid 60s)  to create an optimal sleep environment. Invest in comfortable bedding and consider using white noise machines or earplugs to block out disruptive sounds.
  4. Limit Stimulants Before Bed.  Avoid consuming caffeine, sugar, or alcohol close to bedtime, as these can interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  5. Screen Time Before Bed.  Minimize exposure to your phone, TV, or computer before bed. The blue light from screens can disrupt your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
  6. Reserve Your Bed for Sleep.  Use your bed only for sleep and intimate activities. Avoid working, scrolling social media, or watching TV in bed to associate your bed with sleep.
  7. Regular Exercise.  Incorporate regular physical activity into your daily routine, but avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime, as it may interfere with sleep.
  8. Expose Yourself to Natural Light.  Spend time outdoors during the day, especially in the morning, to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm. Open blinds or curtains to let natural light into your home.

Strategies for Managing Anxiety-Related Sleep Disruption

Sometimes sleep is disrupted because of anxiety and worries. If you’re stuck in a cycle where anxiety is disrupting your sleep, which is making you anxious, which is making it hard to sleep, try some of the following strategies. 

  1. Practice Relaxation Techniques.  Incorporate relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery into your bedtime routine to help calm your mind and body. This video is a great place to start.
  2. Mindfulness Meditation.  Try mindfulness meditation to cultivate present moment awareness and reduce anxiety. Focus on your breath or body sensations, gently bringing your attention back whenever your mind wanders. Jon Kabat-Zinn is a go to for mindfulness resources. His app has great instructions for beginners and set of simple, effective meditations. It’s a great place to start.
  3. Limit Stimulating Activities Before Bed.  Avoid engaging in stimulating activities such as intense exercise, watching thrilling movies, or engaging in heated discussions close to bedtime. Instead, opt for calming activities that promote relaxation (see establishing a bed time routine above). Consider word puzzles, a craft, or reading. 
  4. Set Aside Worries Before Bed.  Practice cognitive restructuring techniques to challenge and reframe anxious thoughts before bedtime. Write down your worries in a journal and then challenge them with evidence-based alternative thoughts. Do this in the evening, not right before bed. You might also keep a journal next to your bed to quickly jot down any worries that come up as you’re trying to fall asleep. You can deal with those tomorrow! This post has more worry management strategies you can use.
  5. Seek Professional Help if Needed.  If anxiety-related sleep disturbances persist, consider seeking help from a mental health professional who can provide guidance and support tailored to your specific needs.

Improve Sleep to Improve Anxiety

A healthy mindset is built on a strong foundation of caring for yourself. Sleep is an essential part of that. Poor sleep or not enough sleep is linked with difficulties with emotion regulation, low mood, anxiety, and just generally feeling bad. By focusing on healthy sleep habits and developing strategies for dealing with anxiety that might be maintaining poor sleep, you can get the rest you need to feel your best. 

If you’re struggling with poor sleep and need some additional guidance, we can help! We offer strategies based on CBT for insomnia. Reach out to schedule your free 15 minute consultation today