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Sleep Awareness Behavior Brain and Mental Performance

Sleep-Anxiety Connection: How to Manage with Effective Bedtime Routines

1 month, 3 weeks ago

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Posted on Feb 27, 2024, 11 a.m.

Our internal worlds shape our external circumstances, and when something is off balance with our mental health, our bodies quickly follow suit. Most people on the planet are familiar with the uneasy feeling of waking up in the middle of the night with a tight chest and a sense of trepidation about what tomorrow will bring. 

This is one of the ways anxiety creeps its way into our sleeping patterns and wreaks havoc. Some people struggle with falling asleep, which is why high anxiety is one of the underlying causes of insomnia. Thankfully, there are ways to manage anxiety with some lifestyle changes and effective bedtime routines. Here’s what you need to know.

How are sleep and anxiety connected?

Anxiety can be described as stress trapped in the body that affects your physical, mental, and emotional state. High stress has become all but mundane, but that doesn’t mean that this reality should be settled for. 

If you are worried about your future, family, and survival, cortisol will rise, put you into “red alert” mode, and keep you in its grip. When this happens, relaxing and resting become increasingly more difficult, and very soon, piled-up stress will negatively impact your sleeping schedule. 

The consequences of excessive, ignored stress and anxiety can manifest in different ways. This can include not being able to fall asleep and waking in the night (usually between 2–4 AM), being terrified about tomorrow’s tasks, and feeling immense pressure that’s only augmented by the lack of rest. Not being able to fall asleep is another side effect of unresolved anxiety, as well as having nightmares that prevent you from getting the quality sleep you need to be able to function during the day.

As you can see, sleep and anxiety are very closely entwined, so much so that they can create a vicious cycle. Heightened anxiety can prevent you from sleeping well, and the lack of sleep can worsen your anxiety symptoms, making you irritable, more stressed, and uncertain in daily life. 

However, there are simple yet powerful ways to improve the situation, such as implementing simple yet powerful bedtime routines that could help you sleep better and manage your anxiety. Here are some recommendations and tips on what you can do.

Have A Pre-Bedtime Ritual

Anxiety is usually a strong indicator that there’s something in you that wants your attention, and until you give it attention, it won’t go away. If you don’t carve out time for yourself during the day, the thoughts and unresolved feelings could overwhelm you the first moment you get to lie down and relax. If you’re all too familiar with this feeling, you'll probably benefit from a pre-bedtime ritual.

Your mind and body need time to wind down from a long day, and you should provide yourself with the time and space to do just that. Dedicate an hour before bed to clearing out all the emotional clutter of the day, which you can do through mindful breathing techniques, meditation, listening to relaxing music, journaling, or reading. You can also try different sleep therapy comfort aids that can relax you and reduce your cortisol levels. 

The wind-down will look different for everyone, and feel free to experiment until you find what works best. Consider this time sacred because it could significantly improve your sleep and make it easier to hit the sheets in the first place.

Keep to a Sleep Schedule

Sleep patterns get disrupted very easily, and if you’re living with anxiety, this is a delicate balance that you should always keep in mind. If you’re juggling many responsibilities, this is easier said than done but still necessary. Unless you’re rested and feeling good, performing tasks and being there for your loved ones can become very difficult, so a good night's sleep takes priority.

Having a sleep schedule means going to bed around the same time and waking up around the same time every day. Going to sleep early and waking up early is the way to go because it helps your body follow its circadian rhythm, but it may not always be achievable. At the very least, aim at getting 7–8 hours of sleep every night to give your brain and body time to work through everything that happened the day before. 

Incorporate Exercise into Your Day

Your anxiety is dominated by cortisol, which can constantly keep you in the “red alert” mode, which is bad news for your body and your mental health. However, this hormone can be dethroned by endorphins triggered by regular physical activity and exercise. Cortisol’s got nothing on endorphins!

It’s no secret that mild to moderate exercise has all kinds of health benefits, and keeping anxiety in check is definitely one of them. Pick something you can genuinely enjoy – hiking, walking with your dog, jogging, playing basketball, or lifting weights, just get your body moving. Not only will you feel good about yourself afterward, but you’ll benefit immensely from the quiet in your mind that happens when you’re fully invested in a physical activity. 

Leave Screens and Caffeine at the Door

These well-known rules are worth repeating – limit your screen time in the evening and steer clear of caffeinated drinks at least several hours before bed. Endlessly scrolling through reels on your phone distracts you from anxiety symptoms (and exacerbates them), but they’ll still jump at you the moment you put the phone down.

It’s a good idea to incorporate a no-screen policy into your pre-bedtime rituals and spend that time relaxing instead. Leave your phone, laptop, and tablet in the other room and dedicate time to your relaxation, the quality of your sleep will show it.

The same rules apply to abstaining from caffeine in the evening. Seeing that it can stay in your bloodstream for 8–10 hours, caffeine can disrupt deep sleep and put your anxiety into overdrive. Opt for water or non-caffeinated tea instead, and give space to your body to wind down naturally.

Conclusion

Navigating the complex connection between sleep and anxiety can be challenging, and it will take patience and trial and error to figure out what works best for you. The key is to stay on course, make time for yourself, and address the feelings of worry and dread that can surface when you go to bed. 

If you’d like more help on the topic, it’s a good idea to consult a therapist who can provide you with effective coping strategies for your anxiety symptoms. Combine these with your bedtime routine and chances are, you’ll be rewarded with a better night’s sleep.

This article was written for WHN by Nicole McCray who is a free-spirited creative content word ninja, who has been obsessed with beauty and fashion since she was a young girl. She’s a former wedding makeup artist who still loves spending her free time testing products and staying up to date on new fashion trends. On top of that, she’s a self-proclaimed health nut who loves to explore and write about holistic, healthy living.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Opinion Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of WHN/A4M. Any content provided by guest authors is of their own opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.

Content may be edited for style and length.

References/Sources/Materials provided by:

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/what-causes-insomnia

https://worldhealth.net/news/danger-ignoring-stress/

https://www.onequietmind.com/blogs/all/hugging-pillow-while-sleeping

https://worldhealth.net/news/anxiety-effectively-treated-exercise/

https://www.webmd.com/diet/how-long-caffeine-lasts

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