Sleep and Anxiety – the Ongoing Conflict

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Cat asleep in bed

Increasing anxiety can mean you sleep badly – sleeping badly can increase anxiety. On the other hand lowering your anxiety can improve your sleep – and improving your sleep can help reduce anxiety.

Many people who have anxiety and stress issues will recognise the experience of waking up in the night and then finding it difficult to get back to sleep – with all those anxious feeling and worries going through their head. And this compounds the real problem, because regular nights of good sleep helps sort out anxiety.

Sleep Phases

When we sleep, we go through phases – some of the time we have deep sleep and at other times we are sleeping very lightly. These are important in order to keep your body and mind healthy. One of the stages of sleep is known as REM (rapid eye movement) – the stage when we dream. REM sleep accounts for around a fifth of our sleep patterns, although most people rarely remember much of it.

During REM sleep, our brain consolidates our memories. It looks at things that have happened recently and processes them, getting rid of unwanted stuff and reconfiguring the rest. You may have heard the expression, “Sleep on it.” If there is something that is worrying you – put it aside and look at it again in the morning and you will view it differently. Why? Because during the night, while you are in your REM sleep, you process that bit of memory and so a lot of the emotion is taken out of it.

How Sleep Helps with Anxiety

So a good nights sleep will give you around an hour and a half of REM sleep in which to process all your worries and regrets so that they don’t look so bad the next day. This means that the fight-flight-or-freeze centre of the brain is less likely to be triggered and less likely to generate as much anxiety.

And I know that it’s all very well telling someone with anxiety, “just get enough sleep,” but that doesn’t help when you wake up in the middle of the night worrying and cannot get back to sleep again.

Sleep Tips

There is no one answer that can guarantee a good night’s sleep. What works for one person may not work for another. So the trick is to have a go at different things – just see what works for you. Remember – if what you are doing at the moment doesn’t work, then try something else.

Let’s start with some “don’t”s

  • Don’t try to go short on sleep and catch up on the weekend
  • Don’t drink alcohol just I order to help you get a good night’s sleep
  • Don’t drink caffeinated drinks before bedtime

And some “do”s

  • Do have a wind-down routine before bedtime
  • Consciously relax every part of your body as you lie in bed
  • If you have anything that’s worrying you – write it down so that your brain doesn’t have to keep reminding you to deal with it

Sleep is so important to our lives, and these few tips do not do do it justice. I will come back to fully exploring sleep tips another time.

If you have problems coping with your anxiety and stress on your own and are looking for some help, then you may wish to consider hypnotherapy. I work out of my clinic in Fleet, Hampshire helping people get their lives under control and reducing the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Photo by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash

Tim Maude

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