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  • Writer's pictureJessicah Walker Herche, PhD, HSPP

Restful Mind, Peaceful Heart: Navigating Anxiety-Related Sleep Concerns

It is quite common for an anxious client to come to therapy with sleep concerns. Often, anxiety interferes with restful sleep, which in turn leads to increased anxiety symptoms because of sleep deprivation. Some people have a difficult time falling asleep and report that, as soon as their head hits the pillow, racing thoughts zoom around in their mind. Others report waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to return to sleep due to myriad thoughts, intrusive or otherwise, that will not turn off. And then there are those who feel as if they barely sleep at all because they struggle to fall into a deep sleep. Any type of anxiety-related sleep concern can generate a negative circuit of sleeplessness, stress, and worry.


Committing to healthy sleep habits can help reduce anxiety-related sleep concerns, although it is important to seek professional help if you need support in managing sleep issues.


Our sleep routine begins long before our head hits the pillow.


Here is a list of ways our choices during the day impact restful sleep at night:

 

  • Caffeine has a 6-hour half life. That energy drink you drank around 3pm to help you rock out the last few hours of work…you may still be feeling amped up several hours later because of caffeine’s 6-hour half life.

  • Alcohol blocks REM sleep. The glass (or two) of cab sav at dinner, which was oh so good, might make you feel drowsy and put you to sleep earlier than you intended. But you just might have lousy sleep the rest of the night and wake up feeling quite unrefreshed. This is because alcohol blocks REM sleep, which is considered the most restorative type of sleep.

  • Blue light suppresses sleep hormones. Blue light from our screens (TV, iPad, laptop, iPhone, etc.) suppresses the production of melatonin – a sleep hormone – more than any type of light. Consider keeping screens out of the bedroom or try to not use them 2 hours before your bedtime. If you must view screens in the evening, wear blue blocking glasses.

  • Spicy food, intense exercise, and horror films. What do these three things have in common? Well, they might be making it difficult for your body to feel calm and fall asleep at night. These are a few of our favorite things, but sadly they also might be getting in the way of sleeping well. If at all possible:

    • Avoid intense workouts a couple of hours before bedtime.

    • Avoid watching startling movies, listening to scary podcasts, or reading frightening books right before bedtime.

    • Avoid foods that cause indigestion (e.g., spicy food, citrus fruit, coffee, etc.) if this is a problem for you.

 

As with any change, it’s not just about eliminating barriers to achieving your goal, it is also about adding what enhances your ability to attain your goal.

Here are some helpful sleep suggestions to begin incorporating:

  • Use a weighted blanket.

  • Consider using a grounding sheet on your bed as there is some evidence to suggest it may boost your sleep.

  • Exercise earlier in the day.

  • Experiment with herbal teas - such as chamomile, passionflower, valerian, lavender, and lemon balm - or essential oils to find which one makes you sleepy.

  • Go to sleep and wake up around the same time (plus or minus an hour) every day, even on the weekends.

  • Sun gaze in the morning and watch the sunset at night to help regulate your circadian rhythms.

  • Consider discussing with your physician adding supplements that encourage restful sleep (e.g., magnesium, valerian, GABA, melatonin).

  • Track your sleep with wrist or ring wearables or other sleep-supportive devices to better understand your sleep length and quality.

  • Practice progressive muscle relaxation strategies or mindfulness as part of your consistent bedtime routine.


Making the following environmental changes could also improve your sleep:

  • Make your bedroom dark by tightly closing the blinds or curtains.

  • Consider using black-out curtains in the room you sleep.

  • Turn on a fan to keep the temperature of your bedroom cooler.

  • Set the thermostat to automatically create a cooler temperature during your sleeping hours.

  • Use a white noise machine in your bedroom to block noise.


Importantly, if you don’t fall asleep quickly, don’t stay in bed.


Overtime, this teaches your body to associate the bed with restlessness instead of restfulness. If you cannot sleep, get out of bed, read a book in the family room, return to bed, and try to fall asleep again.

 

Seeking Professional Help: If getting adequate sleep is a topic that provokes anxiety for you, processing the anxiety components of sleep with an anxiety therapist could help immensely! Let’s connect and help you experience the sleep you deserve. To schedule an appointment for anxiety treatment or to gather more information, please call or text 317-747-0574 or visit our contact page today. 

 

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional psychological care, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

 

*Please note: If you are plagued with chronic insomnia or other complex sleep issues, see a sleep specialist. You are worth getting good sleep.

 

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