Oh, sleep, the precious anecdote to all of life’s issues. After a good night of sleep, you can tackle anything. There is no problem that is insurmountable when you are well rested. But, therein lies the problem. You are not well rested. You are not sleeping well. And life seems hard. You’re grumpy, anxious, feeling unsupported as demand after demand is placed upon you.
So, what gives? Are you anxious because you can’t sleep or are you anxious, so you can’t sleep? Anxiety and insomnia are often related. In, fact, more often than not, its the anxiety that creates the insomnia. In today’s world, where stress is rampant, where we go 24/7 without taking time to pause in our day, stress keeps us stirred up, triggering a mild anxiety, which in turn degrades our sleep. Then we wake tired. After a few nights or more of this, we become over tired and then start focusing on our lack of sleep which increases the anxiety, decreases the sleep and so the cycle begins.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America, more than 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders, and an additional 20 million report sleeping problems occasionally, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Stress and anxiety may cause sleeping problems or make existing problems worse. And having an anxiety disorder exacerbates the problem.
Sleep disorders are characterized by abnormal sleep patterns that interfere with physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Stress or anxiety can cause a serious night without sleep, as do a variety of other problems.
Insomnia is the clinical term for people who have trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking too early in the morning, or waking up feeling unrefreshed. There are other sleep issues or disorders for which people suffer; sleep apnea (loud snoring caused by an obstructed airway), sleepwalking, and narcolepsy (falling asleep spontaneously).
A study conducted by Dag Neckelmann, MD, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, shows that chronic insomnia increases your odds of having anxiety disorders. So, treating chronic insomnia may be one way to alleviate feelings of anxiety.
Although many people have suffered insomnia in certain periods of their lives, chronic insomnia is characterized by one month or more of having trouble falling asleep, waking up too early or overall poor quality of sleep. It affects 10 percent of adults in the US.
Poor sleep affects everyone, not just you. When we don’t sleep well we cannot perform optimally. This affects our work, patience, behavior, choices and our health. People who have insomnia are more likely to have auto accidents, heart disease, stroke, be aggressive and make poor decisions.
What to do. Start with your doctor to rule out any physiologic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, pregnancy, menopause or chronic pain aren’t the cause of the problem. Certain medications may also negatively affect healthy sleep.
Assess your stress level. How busy are you? Do you stop during the day, to take a break? What is going on in your life right now? When was the last time you had a week of good, quality sleep? What happened to change that?
Mental health. Seek any psychological factors that are affecting your rest. For example, one major sign of depression is not being able to go back to sleep after waking up too early. So, in this case, treating your depression may also help with your insomnia.
What do you eat? How’s your diet? Do you eat regularly during the day? Do you eat sugar to keep you going? Your brain consumes 20% of your body’s energy. If you are not giving it healthy fuel throughout the day, it slows down, becomes inefficient and so do you. And that’s when we go for caffeine and sugar and later to relax we go to alcohol. Sugar, caffeine, alcohol keep you awake and can cause slow rushes of heat as the fuel burns too quickly. Coffee is the obvious culprit when it comes to too much caffeine but you also want to avoid tea, soft drinks, chocolate and certain medications. While you may fall asleep quickly after drinking alcohol, your sleep will be light and fragmented.
What’s on your mind? How was your day? Did you review it at all? Too often we leave the job, turn on the radio or news as we drive to collect the kids and then we are in a constant stream of conversation with them. There is noise every where. We are so used to it, we don’t even notice. Take time, 10-20 mins to debrief yourself as you go from one area of your life to another. You can find time for this. Add it into your commute time. Go the bathroom at the end of the day and mentally go through your work day, while you are eliminating the toxins from your body, you can eliminated the unneeded thoughts and emotions from your day. THEN go pick up the kids or whatever you have to do next. Give yourself time to process each part of your life before stepping into the next one. Don’t expect to do so in the car. Traffic will distract you.
Are you worried about something? If so, you may find talking to your minister, or a good friend helpful. Sometimes, your concerns may warrant a therapist. It’s okay to ask for help. Its much better than losing sleep.
Exercise stimulates the body, then relaxes it. Just a fast 20 minute walk in the morning and or the early evening (at least 4 hours before bed) most days of the week is a great way to destress, move the body and help it cleanse itself.
Supplements: Calcium enhances sleep, as do B vitamins and magnesium.
Environment: Your sleeping room is your sacred sleeping space. No electronics at all. It should be as dark as possible. Any kind of light, and especially blinking, flashing lights or lights from the TV, are disruptive to sleep. Decrease as much noise as possible. A white noise maker is a way to block out sounds that could wake you. Temperature is also important. Make sure that your thermostat is set at a comfortable position for you when you’re covered in blankets.
Meditation. Yes, its the cure for just about everything! 5-10 mins of deep, soft belly breathing stimulates the vagus nerve which in turn relaxes the internal organs. This calms you. Focus on your breathing. You will know when you have achieved the effect. Once there, imagine yourself sleeping, dreaming and be utterly relaxed in your bed for 8 hours.
Volunteer. Yes, Give a little of your time to someone in need. Spending time helping others will decrease your anxiety and depression by taking your mind off you and putting towards the good of another.
If all this fails and you are still struggling, talk to your doctor about options.
Here’s to your health & wellbeing