Your Ultimate Sleep Guide for Anxiety

anxious young women sits on a white bedspread hugging her knees

It’s an exhausting cycle: it’s time for bed. You’re so tired. But as soon as your head hits the pillow your mind starts spinning.

You start thinking about everything you should have done today, and how much you have tomorrow.

You dissect your day at work, scrutinizing over what you should (or shouldn’t) have done. Your kids, your pets, your family—every thought whirls through your head.

You look at the clock—how can it be so late?

You are not alone.

It’s estimated that over 40 million people in North America suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders.  About 50-70% of people suffering from generalized anxiety also develop anxiety related sleep issues.  

But don’t worry: in this guide, we’ll cover how to get more sleep if you’re suffering from anxiety.

Close up of an old fashioned alarm clock

How Anxiety Affects Sleep

Anxiety can create chaos at bedtime.

Those feelings of nervousness and restlessness can make it difficult for your body to settle down. These feelings can also cause tension in your muscles and joints, leading to neck and back issues, stiff joints, and gastrointestinal problems.

Anxiety can make it extremely difficult, sometimes even impossible, to fall asleep, leading to a vicious cycle that can carry on for days and even months.

Panic attacks at night can be common for people suffering from anxiety disorders.  These episodes of extreme and intense fear can make the idea of falling asleep seem insurmountable. 

Middle-aged women's head peeking out of white covers

Common Anxiety-Related Sleep Disorders

Anxiety can also lead to a number of sleep disorders.

A sleep disorder is a condition that greatly impacts your ability to get quality sleep. 

Anxiety-related sleep disorders can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Sleep apnea
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
  • Sleepwalking
  • Sleep terrors
  • Teeth grinding (Bruxism)

Struggling with sleep problems can be a frustrating experience. Mixing anxiety with sleep disorders can be debilitating.  

You are not alone. There are things you can do to help promote quality sleep.

Young man sleeping in a bed

Sleep Disorder or Sleep Anxiety: Which Comes First?

It can be hard to tell whether you are anxious because you can’t sleep, or whether you can’t sleep because you’re anxious. There may be no easy answer to this question.

There is a lot of research on the connection between anxiety and sleep. A new study suggests that these two are closely linked:

“Sleep and mental health are closely connected. Sleep deprivation affects your psychological state and mental health. And those with mental health problems are more likely to have insomnia or other sleep disorders.”

- “Sleep and Mental Health” -  Harvard Medical School

These studies show that it’s common for people with anxiety disorders to also develop a sleep-related disorder, and that people with sleep disorders are at high risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

Close up of an arm in a blood pressure cuff

What Are The Health Risks of Sleep Disorders?

A lack of sleep can wreak havoc on you both physically and mentally.

Sleep deprivation causes more than tiredness. It can lead to some serious health issues:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Obesity

Chronic sleep loss also accounts for an increase in sick days, and is a leading cause of workplace accidents.

Sleepiness is also a public safety issue. It is estimated that fatigue causes over 100,000 car crashes a year—1,550 of those being fatal.

Sleep loss can also affect your ability to think. During sleep, your brain works on processing everything you have learned and need to remember from the day.  Dreaming is to help you process your emotions and memories. Without this critical sleep, you will find your ability to problem solve, concentrate, remain alert, and reason severely hindered.

These issues can be avoided by getting a good night's rest.

Tips for Sleeping With Anxiety

Close up of three white cups; one of a cup of coffee, the second with ground coffee, the third with coffee beans

1) Cut the caffeine.

Caffeine is found in more than just coffee and soda pop. Caffeine is actually found in over 60 plant species, from cacao to tea leaves.

Caffeine can hide in your vitamin supplements and even in your cold medication. Green tea also contains small amounts of caffeine.

Young women meditating with three young people; two men and one woman

2) Try meditation.

Long gone are the days where meditation is just for new age gurus and hipsters. 

The benefits of meditation are unquestionable: better overall health, increased focus, reduced memory-loss, controlled anxiety, better sleep—the list goes on.

Many celebrities are trying meditation as a way to reduce overall stress and manage anxiety. From Clint Eastwood to Kendall Jenner, many have found meditation to be a life altering practice.

Meditation can help quiet your mind and help you get to sleep faster and for longer. 

Close up of a young woman jogging

3) Exercise regularly.

Make exercise a part of your daily routine. This doesn’t mean running a half-marathon every day or even hitting the gym. 

Short moderate-intensity activity, like a brisk walk, swimming, dancing, or even intimate moments can improve sleep among those with sleep disorders such as sleep anxiety.  

Close up of a young woman in a bathtub

4) Take time to wind down.

Working until the minute you are ready for bed can increase your overall sleep anxiety.

Instead, give yourself at least 30 minutes before you are ready to fall asleep to wind down.

Put away your phone and your computer, and turn off the TV. Try taking a bath, listening to music, meditating, or doing yoga before bedtime.

Give yourself permission to wind down, making it part of your nightly routine.

Young women reading in bed

5) Practice good sleep routines.

Sleep hygiene is a set of practices and habits that are crucial to sleep quality.

Limiting daytime naps, exercising, avoiding rich and irritating foods, and getting enough natural light are all things you can do during the daytime to promote good sleep routines.

Setting a relaxing routine before bed is also an important element of good sleep hygiene.

Wearing loose, comfortable pyjamas, brushing your teeth, taking a warm shower, or reading a book are all aspects of a regular nightly routine that will help cue your brain that it is time for sleep. 

Young women making the bed

6) Make your bedroom a haven for sleep.

Take a page out of Marie Kondo’s book and declutter your bedroom.

Keep surfaces and floors clear. Make your bed. Try to limit your bedroom to sleeping and dressing. 

Try blackout curtains and lights that are designed to mimic the sun. These lights can also help cue your brain to wake up more naturally, helping you have more energy during the day.

Temperature plays a big role in sleep as well. Ensure that you are keeping the room cool, using layers of bedding to warm you up.

Many people also turn to using different types of ambient noise to fall asleep. From pink noise to ASMR, there are many options available to bolster a good night’s rest.

Close up of a white notebook on a white wooden table

7) Write your worries on paper.

Find yourself frantically worrying about things before you fall asleep?  Try writing those worries down first.

Keep a worry journal. Sometimes even seeing them written down on paper can help you let go of your troubles enough to fall asleep.

Do you get yourself into a tizzy thinking about everything on your to-do list? You can write that down too.

Experts agree that the act of writing your tasks down on paper can signal your brain that they are under control.  You don’t need to organize your list. Save that for the morning. 

Use this practice to get your thoughts out of your head so you can sleep knowing they have been acknowledged.

A basket full of laundry

8) Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep.

Tossing and turning for over 30 minutes? Get up.

Many people with sleep disorders live by the 30 minute rule. If you cannot fall asleep after 30 minutes, do something else for a bit.

This could be as simple as moving to the living room to read a book, folding laundry, or having a warm bath. 

Experts warn though—avoid screen time. The kind of light that electronic devices emit can trigger your brain into a more active state. Instead, try something that you find relaxing, without the screen.

Close up of a PerfectSense queen size mattress

9) Get a good mattress.

One of the easiest things you can do to promote a good, restful sleep is to have a quality, comfortable mattress.

Mattresses wear over time, some more than others. Getting a new mattress that suits your needs can go a long way to help you fall, and stay asleep.

Make sure your mattress is supportive and comfortable enough for your body and how you sleep. Back sleepers and side sleepers have different needs, as do people who have back problems or other physical issues.

Choosing the right company to buy from can also reduce buyer’s anxiety. Look for a company with great online reviews, who offer risk-free trials, and who stand behind their products.

Close up of a black stethoscope

10) Talk to a doctor.

If you’re suffering from anxiety, it’s best to talk to a doctor. 

They may suggest therapy, medication, exercise, a better diet, or some of the tips we mentioned above, but they’ll work with you to make sure you get whatever kind of help you need.

What’s important to remember is that sleep anxiety and other sleep disorders can be managed. Incorporate the steps above and you will be on your way to a better night’s sleep.

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