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Managing the Negative Effects of Anxiety on Sleep

Dr. Joti Samra

April 03, 2020

Resiliency

Managing the Negative Effects of Anxiety on Sleep

Do you lay in bed tossing and turning? Do you check the clock and calculate the number of hours of sleep you’d get if you fell asleep right now? Or think about your list of to-do’s for tomorrow? If so, you’re not alone. So let’s talk about how to manage the negative effects of anxiety on sleep. 

Anxiety, and associated worry thoughts, have a significant impact on our ability to sleep. And with the high demand world we live in, it’s no wonder that so many people struggle with sleep problems. 

The tough thing about anxiety and sleep is that it can be difficult to know which comes first. Do we not sleep because we are anxious? Or are we anxious because we can’t sleep? It’s likely both. Stress and anxiety can cause or worsen sleep difficulties and lack of sleep can make us anxious.

So, how can we manage our worry thoughts to help us get better sleep?

How to Get Better Sleep

Worry and anxiety are a normal part of life, but also among the strongest factors that impact sleep. If you are finding worries are preventing you from sleeping, here are some tips to help you sleep better:

  1. Keep a “worry log” – if you can’t sleep, get out of bed, write down your worries, and ask yourself 3 key questions: what is the evidence for this worry? What is the problem to be solved? What can I do right now?
  2. Implement relaxation strategies such as diaphragmatic breathing, visual imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation – these can help with sleep onset and maintenance. This also means reducing stressful or anxiety-provoking activities close to bedtime.
  3. Move your body. Exercise helps to not only manage anxiety but to improve sleep; however, exercise can keep you awake if done in the evening – as a general rule, it’s good to avoid exercise in the 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  4. Have a good bedtime routine. For example; have some decaf tea, listen to relaxing music,  or have a warm bath. Make a clear distinction between daytime activities which require alertness – and bedtime activities which should induce relaxation. This includes reducing or eliminating screen time before bed. 
  5. Don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep, as this can lead to our bed becoming associated with a state of wakefulness. If you can’t fall asleep within 15-20 minutes, get out of bed and do not get back into bed until you are sleepy (not just tired). 

Final Thoughts

Still not able to effectively manage the negative effects of worry on your sleep? Cognitive-behavioural treatment (CBT) is the most effective treatment for sleep problems, as well as associated mood and worry or anxiety issues. If worry thoughts persist and continue to have a significant impact on sleep, consider seeing a registered mental health provider. It may also be helpful to talk to your family physician to ensure there are no other underlying issues that may be impacting your sleep.

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