Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems, and it can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s something that can be triggered by a number of things, from stress related to your job or home life to certain substances such as caffeine1.
Unfortunately, being worried and anxious about one thing can easily begin to impact other aspects of your life – including your quality of sleep.
Why is sleep important?
Getting enough shut-eye every night is vital for both our physical and mental health. When we sleep, our bodies perform a variety of functions, from repairing damaged cells to strengthening our immune systems2. Sleep is also crucial for our brain as it’s when it processes all the information we’ve soaked up during the day and consolidates it into long term memories3.
If you don’t get enough sleep every night, you’ll likely feel lethargic the following day, much more irritable and probably have poorer concentration levels. These can all have a big impact on your everyday life and may make any anxiety you’re experiencing seem much worse.
How much sleep do we need?
Experts say that between seven and nine hours of sleep a night is a good figure to aim for4. Nevertheless, this needs to be good quality sleep to properly nourish our minds and bodies. That means uninterrupted periods of dozing when our bodies are able to complete three to four REM sleep cycles5.
How to sleep with anxiety
If you find yourself regularly lying awake at night with a thousand thoughts running through your head, you might be after some tips on how to relax. Luckily, there are numerous things you can do to help promote sleep when you’re feeling anxious:
Develop a relaxing bedtime routine
It’s important that you wind down properly and avoid stressful situations in those few hours before you go to sleep. Developing a bedtime routine is a great way to do this, whether that’s choosing to read every night before you sleep, doing some gentle yoga or having a warm bath to soothe your muscles. Try to go to bed at the same time every night, too, to help maintain a good sleep routine6.
Make sure your room is cool and comfortable
Studies show that sleeping in a room that’s cooler is actually better for promoting sleep. That’s because our bodies naturally get cooler when we’re asleep as our heart rates drop and our blood circulation slows down7. Before you go to bed, turn the heating off or down, close all the curtains properly and make sure your bed is as comfortable as possible.
Avoid technology for at least an hour before you go to bed
Technology can have negative effects on us for a number of reasons, particularly when we’re trying to go to bed. That’s largely down to the fact that most electronic devices emit blue light which stimulates the brain, making it much more difficult to switch off for sleep8. Avoid looking at your phone or tablet for at least an hour before bedtime if you can.
Try meditation or deep breathing exercises
If you’ve tried counting sheep and got nowhere, you might want to switch to a breathing exercise instead. You’ll find numerous apps online, like Calm, which guide you through meditation sequences and deep breathing routines.
Consider natural sleep aids
There are a handful of vitamins, herbal remedies and essential oils out there which may promote sleep9. These include:
- Magnesium – magnesium is one of the minerals needed by the body to make melatonin, a hormone linked to sleep.
- Valerian – valerian has been used for hundreds of years as a natural sleep aid and is thought to be a beneficial treatment for things such as anxiety and stress. Based on traditional use only.
- Lavender – this fragrant flower has also long been a sleep aid, with some studies showing lavender ’s strong scent can make you feel more relaxed after just 30 minutes.
If you’ve tried the above tips and are still having trouble sleeping, it might be worth speaking to a medical professional. Your GP, as well as many mental health charities like Anxiety UK and Mind, will be able to offer invaluable support for anxiety.
Last updated: 28 April 2020