How Anxiety Affects Your Sleep

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Does your anxiety make it hard for you to sleep? It sure does for me! From laying in bed panicking about all of the things I did wrong, to questioning if other people are upset with me, to feeling like a horrible mother, falling asleep is totally difficult. Add in a gust of wind brushing a tree branch against the side of your house or the sound of a dog barking, and you’ve got  yourself in a mess.

But why does this happen? Why is it so hard to get a good night’s rest? And what can we do about it? Anything?

How Anxiety Affects Sleep

I fully believe anxiety and sleep is yet another mental health cycle. I honestly don’t think anyone knows which one causes the problem first. Here’s what I mean.

The Scenario

Imagine with me being a single mom of three kids. The youngest is teething and stays up all night crying, but you still have to go to work the next day. In utter exhaustion, you’re functioning primarily on auto-pilot. You get out of bed, get dressed, brush your teeth, feed the kids and run out the door. Then you realize, you forgot your keys. So back in you go.

You finally find your keys, head to your car and arrive at the daycare. The provider asks where the kids bathing suits are since today is water play day. Of course, you completely forgot so you leave your kids in tears as you drive away, pulling through Starbucks to get a coffee which you then spill on yourself.

Bedtime

I think by now you get the picture of how your day has gone in our scenario, right? Let’s fast forward to bedtime. You are falling asleep at the dinner table you are so tired. But you force yourself up to do the dishes and get the kids off to bed. Once that is done you’re faced with a choice: Should I focus on my mile long to do list or go to bed?

You finally choose to go to bed but just as you close your eyes your brain shouts at you, “Did you turn off the stove?!” You run to the kitchen to find it’s already turned off. Then you check the door again to make sure it’s locked. When you do, you realize the motion light outside is on and you have to focus to catch your breath. Is someone outside? 

Eventually you crawl back into bed and then your brain begins repeating everything that happened during the day, allowing you to replay each failing moment. When that cycle finishes, it is time to rehearse your to-do list and feel all of the guilt for not accomplishing it.

At that point, I think it’s safe to say the lack of sleep caused you to be absent minded, which cause your insomnia. But what about the night after that? Did the fact that your anxiety kept you up all night lead to a more anxious day and a more restless night the next day? It all becomes a vicious cycle that can be hard to break out of.

How To Sleep Despite Anxiety

I want to start by making it clear that it’s the middle of the night while I’m writing this, so obviously I do not have all of the answers. But I certainly do know some things that help me and I want to share them with you.

Eliminate Screen Time

I know, you’ve heard it before, but it’s true. Screens do create more insomnia. While the science is clear, another thing to mention is the time vacuum. I don’t know about you, but if I bring my phone into the bed with me, I have a tendency to stay looking at that screen for over an hour. So make it a point to put the phone away 30 minutes or so before bedtime.

Use White Noise

For me, that noise is a fan. But there are free apps for your phone, or even sound machines you can purchase to provide white noise. This is so helpful to me as it drowns out the little noises that often send me into a panic. If my fan is on, I don’t hear my phone vibrate. I don’t hear the dog’s tail brush against the wall or the sound of a mouse scurrying along. More importantly than that, however, the constant noise of a fan or white noise machine is steady. It is continuous. And that provides something I can focus on that will not change as I fall asleep.

Try Supplements or Oils

Essential oils such as Lavender are known for their calming effect. Diffusing them before bed can be a great way to fight back against anxiety. You could also try ingesting magnesium or absorbing it topically via a bath. Melatonin has also been cited as a fantastic sleep aid.

Exercise

So this one probably isn’t going to help you late at night, but it is a way to change the cycle. Sometimes we have a hard time sleeping simply because we aren’t tired. So break the cycle and plan a hard run or even a yoga workout.

Skip The Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant and as such it is very often the culprit of both insomnia and anxiety. Cut it out for a while and see if it will help.

Take A Bath

I kind of already mentioned this, but I wanted it to have its own space too. A nice warm, Epsom Salt Bath can be exactly what you need to relax all of your muscles and just be able to breathe.

Focus

When you’re lying in bed and absolutely cannot fall asleep, find something to focus on that doesn’t take too much work. Perhaps you can recite the alphabet, or see how far you can count. The purpose is if you can focus on something mundane, you will keep the anxiety at bay. You will stop yourself from replaying the day and you will slowly feel your body start to relax. And that is good thing!

Does anxiety affect your sleep? How do you fight back?

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