How to Sleep With Anxiety

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Sleep disturbances are extremely common throughout the population. Many individuals have trouble sleeping at night, which impacts their quality of life and psychological well-being tremendously.

People find it difficult to fall asleep and remain asleep throughout the night. Some people also do not always prioritize sleep, especially when stressed by the demands of work and family. Adults often find themselves sleeping late and awakening early, not receiving the suggested 7 to 8 hours of sleep. This can be very destructive to overall well-being.

One study explained that “sleep disturbances encompass various potentially overlapping symptoms and disorders including insomnia,  hypersomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, circadian rhythm disturbances, and extrinsic sleep disorders (related to insufficient sleep and sleep hygiene)”.

Good sleep hygiene is associated with positive well-being. It is restorative because it helps the body to regenerate after a full day. It also allows an individual to remain healthy and establish a balanced mood.

Sleep is associated with neurophysiological activity and helps maintain a healthy metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory system. This aids in protecting the body from chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. Poor sleep can also affect cognitive abilities and everyday functioning. 

Anxiety's Relationship to Sleep

Anxiety may have a major impact on sleep quality. Those who are prone to experiencing severe anxiety might find it difficult to sleep at night.  Difficulties sleeping are actually correlated with anxiety symptoms.

Sleep is often a symptom of certain anxiety disorders. It is actually a diagnostic symptom for disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There is comorbidity with sleep disorders, like insomnia, and anxiety disorders. There is no clear understanding if one condition triggers the other. Lack of sleep itself can, however, cause anxiety to set in, and there is a great likelihood of anxiety affecting sleep hygiene.

Researchers believe both anxiety and sleep difficulties contribute to each other, producing a cycle of sleep deprivation and anxiety symptoms.

Sleep dysfunction and anxiety both have negative impacts on mental and physical health. They both may cause fatigue and stress while impacting psychological well-being, cognition as well as the immune and central nervous systems. There is also a link between sleep dysfunctions and chronic illnesses.

A population survey exploring the relationship between anxiety disorders and sleep found that 24% to 36% of those with an anxiety disorder had symptoms of insomnia, and 27% to 42% reported symptoms of hypersomnia.

How to Sleep When You Deal With Anxiety

The following are interventions for helping develop better sleep hygiene when prone to experiencing symptoms of anxiety:

What You Can Do Before You Go to Bed

Let's take a look at some activities you can do before you sleep that can help you get better rest:

  • Keep a sleep schedule: Create a sleep schedule that you can follow routinely so that you get into the rhythm of falling asleep at a specific time. In a study involving college students, researchers discovered that irregular sleep contributed greatly to poor sleep quality.
  • Journal: Journaling before sleeping gives you the opportunity to free the mind of events that occurred throughout the day and relieve any thoughts that may distract you from falling asleep. Journaling is helpful for both sleep and anxiety. It is also beneficial to keep a sleep diary that contains all of your sleep information (e.g., what time you fell asleep, if you woke up during the night, what did you do or eat before sleeping, any exercise you may have engaged in, etc.)
  • Turn off your phone or TV: Most of us look at screens all day. Doing so before bed can alter the ability to fall asleep. Looking at a screen causes the brain to remain active. Researchers confirmed that using devices before bedtime related to insomnia in young adult participants.

Dietary Habits to Promote Better Sleep

Below are some dietary tips you can employ that may help promote better sleep hygiene.

Refrain From Eating Three Hours Before Bedtime

It takes the body time to digest food after eating, which causes the metabolism to operate at night when the body is attempting to rest.

If you feel a need to eat before bed make sure it is something light that wouldn’t delay sleep. For example, consuming anything with caffeine in it will make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Try Supplements That Promote Relaxation

Dietary supplements like magnesium, melatonin, and ashwagandha are sometimes used to help calm the mind and body and settle the nerves.

Melatonin is one of the most popular dietary supplements used to help with sleep. In a review of multiple studies, researchers found melatonin to benefit the sleep quality of those with sleeping disorders.

Melatonin helped individuals to fall asleep quicker and remain asleep longer. Melatonin was not as effective as certain sleep medications, but some individuals would rather try a supplement for sleep before resorting to sleeping medication that may have side effects.

Unfortunately, supplements like melatonin and ashwagandha may not benefit every person and could cause a reverse effect that negatively impacts sleep, anxiety, and depression.

Try Herbal Tea

Herbal tea can help with relaxation and stress relief. While reviewing a variety of studies regarding the health benefits of herbal teas, researchers found that chamomile and lavender improve sleep quality.

Chamomile is one of the most popular teas that people drink before bedtime to help them fall asleep. An experimental study examining the effect of chamomile tea on sleep quality in women with postpartum depression, found this tea to improve both sleep and depression symptoms.

Optimize Your Environment For Better Sleep

Ensuring that your sleeping environment is peaceful can help promote a better night's sleep. Here are some ways you can create a healthy sleep environment:

  • Limit harsh light and noise: For better sleep quality it is suggested to sleep in a dark room with little to no noise. A review of multiple studies determined that little sound and light exposure was beneficial to the sleep quality of patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).
  • Play relaxing music: Some individuals sleep well when hearing calming noises before sleeping. Soothing sounds like the ocean or rain, and instrumental rhythms or melodies can help one to relax and drift into a sound sleep. When examining the impact of music on sleep quality in older adults, researchers found music to have positive effects on sleep.
  • Use a Himalayan salt lamp or night light: Soft lighting can produce a calming setting. These types of lights are dim and can help with relaxation as opposed to the light of a phone or television screen.
  • Diffuse essential oils with a diffuser: You can use essential oils to give the room a pleasant aroma that promotes sleep. Certain essential oils like lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, and ylang-ylang can help relax the mind and promote sleep. These oils are known to lessen anxiety. A study that examined lavender essential oil’s impact on sleep quality and anxiety in patients in the ICU, found that it bettered sleep quality and lessened anxiety.

Relaxation Techniques to Try

If you're looking to get your body and mind relaxed before bed, here are some techniques you can try:

  • Breathing and meditation techniques help to calm the mind and relieve anxiety before bedtime. “A daily practice of deep breathing and body scan meditation combined with music has a positive effect on improving sleep quality and quality of life among older adults."
  • Stretching or Yoga can prepare the body for restful sleep by relaxing the muscles and settling the mind. Yoga appeared to be effective for sleep quality in participants who maintained an 8-week yoga intervention as well as a sleep diary.

A Word From Verywell

If you are someone who finds it difficult to get quality sleep due to anxiety, consider trying the interventions mentioned in this article. It may be best to consult your physician before including a new dietary supplement in your daily routine.

Not every supplement works the same for everyone so there is a possibility that certain supplements or medications can have a negative effect on anxiety and make it more difficult to sleep. Your physician or a mental health professional can also help in deciding whether sleep or anxiety medication is a good option for you.

17 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Tiara Blain, MA
Tiara Blain, MA, is a freelance writer for Verywell Mind. She is a health writer and researcher passionate about the mind-body connection, and holds a Master's degree in psychology.