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Healthy Sleep

5 min read

how to beat anxiety for a better night’s sleep

written by Liz Tabron

updated 17.01.2023

sleep anxiety and mental health

Sleep is vital for your health, cognitive function and bodily repair, and around 7-9 hours of shut-eye each night is recommended, but if you suffer from anxiety, you’ll know all too well just how difficult it can be to get the rest you need. When you’re feeling anxious, it’s hard to calm a racing mind and your worries always feel so much worse at night when you’ve gone to bed. 

It’s no surprise that many people with anxiety disorders have trouble sleeping and a lack of sleep has a negative impact on mood and concentration, and can contribute to irritability and even depression. Not getting enough quality sleep worsens anxiety, leading to a negative cycle that involves insomnia and anxiety disorders.

So, if anxiety is stopping you from sleeping and you can’t seem to switch off once your head hits the pillow, make sure to read our tips and advice on how you can get a better night’s rest.

what is anxiety and what does it feel like?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry and unease and it’s normal to feel like this during times of stress. With an anxiety disorder though, the distress becomes excessive and these feelings can persist, interfering with everyday life in both a physical and emotional way. You may feel extremely nervous and on-edge, or have a fearful feeling or an impending sense of doom. With the physical symptoms of anxiety, you are likely to feel tense, have rapid breathing and a fast heartbeat, and you may sweat, shake and feel fatigue.

what is sleep anxiety?

Sleep anxiety is a feeling of fear or stress about going to sleep. With sleep anxiety you may feel apprehensive about not being able to sleep and you may be worrying about not getting the sleep you need each night, and so it can feel like a never-ending cycle. If you have a disorder such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea or narcolepsy for example, you are more likely to develop sleep anxiety.

When you’re feeling stressed and anxious, your body releases hormones that help you to react quickly in order to escape harm, and high levels of these hormones, especially at night, make it harder for your body to relax and therefore prevent you from falling asleep.

how sleep and anxiety are connected

Without the distractions that happen throughout the day, it’s hard to refocus your mind on anything else other than your worries once you’ve gone to bed, and is the main reason why anxiety tends to get worse at night. So, when you’re focused on your concerns, you’ll feel more anxious and find it a challenge to fall asleep. And even when you have finally managed to drift off, it’s common to wake up during the night with that all too familiar feeling of anxiety and dread. Your mind can then start racing with worry once again and it will be difficult to fall back asleep. This leads to fragmented sleep and a lack of quality sleep too, so it’s no wonder you’ll feel irritable and sluggish the next day.

Anxiety also affects REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is the phase of sleep where you are most likely to experience vivid dreams. If you have anxiety, your dreams can become disturbing or turn into a nightmare that wakes you up.

how to get to sleep with anxiety

Although trying to reduce your feelings of anxiety before going to bed is not always so easy, there are some things that you can do to help you sleep better. Doing  something that will relax you before bed and making it a part of your routine is a good way to help tackle anxiety. And building good sleep habits also makes going to bed a more positive and pleasant experience. Here’s some tips on how to beat anxiety so you can sleep better:

  • Exercising on a regular basis and eating a healthy diet can go a long way to reducing sleep anxiety, helping to break the cycle of worry and putting your mind at ease.

  • Breathing exercises are a simple yet effective way to create a sense of relaxation, and so will help you to unwind and destress before going to bed.

  • Practicing mindfulness meditation promotes relaxation by focusing on the present and teaches you to slow down racing thoughts. This type of meditation involves practises such as guided imagery and breathing techniques that relax your body and reduce stress.

  • Listening to soothing sleep sounds, for example, white noise, nature sounds, ocean waves and calming music, aids with reducing anxiety, lowering blood pressure and slowing your heart rate, therefore helping you to relax and sleep better.

  • Essential oils for sleep and anxiety are a great relaxation aid and worth incorporating into your bedtime routine. Lavender, cedarwood, chamomile and peppermint help to promote calm and alleviate anxiety, ensuring you feel relaxed for a better night’s sleep.

  • Drinking alcohol in the evening affects the type of sleep you get and causes sleep disruptions too, so if you want a full undisturbed night’s rest, then make sure to avoid alcoholic beverages before going to bed.

  • Creating the right bedroom environment, so a space that’s cool, dark and quiet, will help you achieve a good night’s sleep. Ensure your bed is comfortable and remove anything from the room that can disrupt your sleep, such as noise and light. Keeping your room clutter free has also shown to have calming effects.

If anxiety is often keeping you awake and is persistent or significant, we recommend talking to your doctor or ringing a specialist helpline, such as CALM, who can assess your situation and make suitable recommendations.

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