For most people, laying in bed is the best part of the day. The warmth of their blanket encompassing them as they close their eyes. It is the closest thing to heaven. But for individuals with anxiety, sleeping might be the last thing on their minds. For these individuals, sleeping can be considered torturous, accompanied by more worry, stress, discomfort and uneasiness. Trying to sleep better with anxiety may seem downright impossible.
Many of us can relate to individuals with anxiety, since we have all had those sleepless nights. Whether preoccupied by the stress of a big project, speech, maybe a promotion. This does not mean that we have anxiety. Which means that understanding their full mental discomfort is unlikely. Unfortunately, anxiety can seem even worse at night and result in sleep disruption, or vice versa.
In fact, sleep disruption and anxiety are bidirectional, each causing and affecting the other. Facing anxiety during the day is difficult enough, but if your anxiety is also affecting your sleep, continue reading to learn more about ways to improve your sleep.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is normal. It is a reaction to stress and signals that something is wrong. This is known as temporary anxiety, which is needed in our daily lives to correct the things that are causing stress. Anxiety is characterized by worried thoughts and feelings of tension. As well as physical signs , such as increased blood pressure and heart rate.
Anxiety is overall harmless, it is the long-term, excessive, anxiety disorders and chronic reactions to stress and mental illness that are to fear. Unlike normal anxiety, anxiety disorders lasts for long periods of time. And are no longer useful to stress-relieving, but rather stress-causing. These disorders often get worse with time, one of the worst symptoms being a lack of sleep.
Individuals with anxiety report that anxiety and its extreme emotions frequently wake them up throughout the night. Physical changes in their bodies during sleep actually ramp them up. Which is the opposite of what you want when you’re trying to relax and fall asleep. Anxiety is the umbrella that encompasses several disorders as described in the following.
Different types of anxiety
The list of anxiety disorders goes on and on. Chances are, anxiety affects more than just a couple people you know. All of the various disorders are manifestations of stress and worry in some form. Some of the most common anxiety disorders are:
Generalized anxiety disorder:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is exactly what it sounds like; anxiety that occurs over general, everyday events. It is also known as free-floating anxiety and is diagnosed if the anxiety persists for majority of days over a six month period. Individuals with GAD experience unprecedented, persistent, and excessive worry no matter the circumstances.
Other symptoms include: persistent obsession, restlessness, difficulty maintaining, inability to set aside worry, and worrying about worst-case scenarios. When it comes to sleep, individuals with GAD admit that it is hardest to quiet their anxiety during rest, and fifty percent report additional sleep disorders.
Falling asleep and staying asleep is often a problem, while individuals may also experience panic attacks and shortness of breath throughout the night that results in frequent awakenings.
Social anxiety disorder:
Everyone might think they have a bit of social awkwardness, but social anxiety disorder is much more serious. Unless you have a persistent fear of social situations or persons in which there are unfamiliar people, or you are subject to scrutiny, then you do not have a social anxiety disorder.
The fifteen million Americans that live with social anxiety disorder will tell you that they fear embarrassment or humiliation, or judgment by others which leads to social avoidance of situations. Once social avoidance interferes with an individual’s normal routines, relationships, or goals for at least six months, they are considered to have a social anxiety disorder.
Common symptoms include avoiding situations or enduring them with complete distress, recognizing that the fear is excessive, and feared social situations or performances. Quality rest is important for all, but especially for those with social anxiety disorder. A lack of sleep increases their anticipatory anxiety which makes even the lead up to social situations even more feared and stressful.
Phobias are far worse than a small fear. Because phobias are irrational, persistent, and intense, regarding either objects, situations, or places. A phobia can be paralyzing in more ways than one. Symptoms include intense discomfort, anticipatory anxiety, avoidance of triggers, and panic attacks.
The most common phobias are arachnophobia (fear of spiders), arachnophobia (fear of heights), agoraphobia (fear of open spaces), and claustrophobia (fear of tight or small spaces). Individuals with phobias would love to get a good night’s rest, but it is not uncommon that their phobias cause anxiety and worry that keep them awake at night, or even worse they may have somniphobia, and irrational fear of sleep.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD):
Obsessive compulsive disorder, whether mild or otherwise, is a very common, highly stressful, anxiety disorder. Individuals with OCD are severely impacted during the day, let alone at night. OCD specifically is a chronic pattern of unwanted, unreasonable feelings, ideas, thoughts, or sensations that cause an individual to perform repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
Most people are aware of at least one common symptom of OCD, displayed as either obsessions or compulsions, or in some cases both. Obsessions may include: fears about germs or cleanliness, aggressive behaviors, and/or preoccupation with order, symmetry, and counting. Compulsions may include: rituals such as cleaning the hands, organizing and arranging things repeatedly, and checking in repeatedly. These individuals are kept up at night by these obsessive and compulsive thoughts.
Of all the various types of anxiety disorders, panic disorder and panic attacks are the worst combination: severe and sudden. Panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks which can be heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, or even abdominal distress.
Panic disorder affects women more than men, and 2.7 % of Americans. An individual is said to have a panic disorder if 4 of the 13 symptoms occur, one right after the other, within 10 minutes. Since panic attacks are so sudden, if they occur during the individual’s sleep, it is extremely difficult to fall back asleep.
How anxiety affects your sleep
Even for individuals who are not affected by anxiety, it is no surprise how it affects sleep. Anxiety is not only racing thoughts, fear, stress, and worry, but can also cause physical changes that damage the ability to sleep and sleep well.
Most adults and individuals experience some degree of Sunday-night anxiety; when their to-do list is miles long and they are anticipating the week ahead. But for individuals with anxiety, these racing thoughts exist 24/7 and without cure.
In addition, anxiety causes the body to go under physical tension and stress. Making it difficult to relax and fall asleep. The heartbeat may increase, as well as blood pressure, muscles tighten, and the idea of drifting off is next to impossible. Not to mention, not sleeping creates more anxiety. Causing the individuals to lose sleep yet again, and potentially become anxious about sleep altogether. It is a vicious and never-ending cycle.
Tips to Sleep Better with Anxiety – naturally:
Facing sleep difficulties with anxiety is one thing, but actually being proactive and doing something about it is another. There are endless natural remedies that you can use to improve your bedtime routine, and if that doesn’t help, it is important to consult your doctor. Of course, if you have anxiety, you are not alone, but it would be more helpful to explain the various tips and remedies that could actually help you catch some ZZZ’s for once.
A weighted blanket is the closest thing to magic. You would not believe the way adding some weighted comfort over your body, actually lifts the heavy weight of stress that you have been carrying during the day. Weighted blankets are not just any blanket. They are specifically designed and filled with pellets or other filling, and created based on your weight and size, to wrap your body in the most comforting hug you’ve ever had.
Weighted blankets are not new to the world of mental health. Often times they are prescribed for individuals with autism and related disorders, mental health disorders alike. And now should especially be used to help individuals with anxiety-caused sleep disorders. The idea that a weighted blanket gives you a ‘hug’ is no joke. Especially for individuals suffering from anxiety. The feeling of an embrace makes it easier to relax and decrease the stress that so often keeps them awake at night.
The weight makes the nervous system feel at ease and allows the brain to settle down. Most weighted blankets are expertly designed so that the filling does not shift throughout the night. Which means you’ll get the same hug all night long, for a solid 8 hours of sleep. Many highly recommend this natural remedy to improve your sleep.
Learn more about the benefits of a weighted blanket in our helpful article: Weighted Blanket Benefits
Melatonin is the natural supplement that sleeping pills wish they could be. Sleeping pills often have drastic, heavy side effects. While melatonin is an expert-recommended, completely natural supplement. In fact, the body already produces melatonin, especially at night and during sleep. The hormone is the main compound in your body that signals when it is the end of your day and time to settle down. For individuals with anxiety who suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders, melatonin is an easy solution.
Sure the body already produces it, but often not enough to ward off those other feelings of stress and worry that cause anxiety. The body’s natural melatonin is ineffective for a surplus of energy, change in routine, or other medical issues- including anxiety. Taking a melatonin supplement increases the amount of melatonin in the body, going directly through your bloodstream and into the brain. The increase in melatonin tells the nervous system and then the body to basically go into rest mode. Even the most anxious thoughts don’t stand a chance.
Still need some more information on melatonin? You got it! Learn more in our article: A Guide To Using Melatonin
In most scenarios, cannabis and cannabis oils are too taboo to discuss. But if you are losing sleep over it, its time to make a change. Cannabis contains cannabinoids such as cannabidiol- or CBD. CBD oil is the specific compound within cannabis that has been studies for its therapeutic benefits in diseases and disabilities.
Most importantly, it is completely legal in all 50 states, even though cannabis is not. CBD oil is the stuff you want out of cannabis. Unlike THC and other elements, it does not have any psychoactive effects. CBD oil has the opposite effects and is specifically used for anxiety-reducing and ani-psychotic outcomes. CBD oil is available in a crystalline isolate form, which is completely legal, but full spectrum CBD oil is only legal where marijuana is.
You can find these in sprays, inhalers, pills, and other supplements. Since CBD oil is already naturally prescribed for anti-anxiety, it is no surprise that it aids individuals with anxiety during their sleep. CBD oil helps individuals fall asleep stress-free, but can also increase the amount of sleep, quality, and decrease insomnia. This just creates a less anxious, worry-free you in the morning and stops the cycle of anxiety night after night.
Sound crazy to incorporate CBD? Learn more in our in-depth article about CBD oil: CBD Oil Guide: Finding Better Sleep with CBD
Sleeping with a pet:
Being a good dog parent might actually decrease your anxiety and sleep disturbance. Although popular knowledge at one point assumed that it was harmful for both the person and the pet to co-sleep, recent studies conclude that this is no longer the case.
Whether it was due to health reasons or the fact that a pet (dog’s) sleep cycle is different than humans, research indicates that these discrepancies have minimal effect on the overall quality of sleep. If you and your pet are both healthy, but you also have sleep disturbances due to anxiety, you will be amazed by what sleeping with your pet can do for you!
- Comfort- whether they’re human or not, a companion is a companion. Rest easy and fall asleep easier knowing you have a cuddly friend nearby.
- Warmth- Don’t let the cold be the gatekeeper to those anxious thoughts. A dog’s body is typically six degrees warmer than a humans. So a little extra warmth can help make you feel all warm and cuddly.
- Security- Even those who don’t suffer from diagnosed anxiety, still worry about the occasional ‘what-if’ scenario. Sleeping alone naturally makes us more worried, but dogs are excellent alarms and protectors.
- Helps with insomnia- One thing is for certain, even if you have anxiety, your dog doesn’t. They will surely fall asleep much faster than you do and once that happens, you can use the calming, rhythmic sound of their breathing to lull you to sleep.
- Ease loneliness- Especially if you live alone, it is difficult not to feel alone at night. Having a pet creates an automatic companion.
We love sleeping with our pooch! See all the reasons why sleeping with a pet is great in our article: Sleeping With Your Dog
Move your body
If it sounds like exercise is the cure for everything, that’s because it is. During the day, exercise can ease anxiety by releasing endorphins, the happy hormones. And at night, while the goal is never to completely tire you out t the point of exhaustion, a little exercise does help you fall asleep faster and more soundly. Even something as simple as a brisk walk can do the trick. Just be sure not to exercise right before bedtime. We recommend morning and afternoon workouts for positive results for your sleep.
Limit screen time
We have heard it all before. The reasons for limiting screen time before bed are limitless, but especially so if you have anxiety. For starters, expecting your phone to ring, or alert, or receive a notification in any way can cause anxiety itself. Then, if you actually open and read that email or text, preoccupations about work can create even more anxiety.
Most people don’t know that the light from electronics and screens also messes up your routine. It tricks the brain into thinking 2am is 2pm and can damage your sleep routine thereafter. Experts recommend to let the eyes and the brain unwind at least an hour before bed without using any screens. If this is not possible, at least turn your electronics off or store them in a different room during sleep.
Time to Nip Anxiety in the Bud and Sleep:
No one messes with your sleep, not even your own anxiety, and if you’re here its likely because you’ve reached the last straw. We all experience a few sleepless nights when we have too much on our plates to handle. But those with clinically diagnosed anxiety have it the worst. Anxiety is sudden, uncontrollable feelings of worry or stress that cannot be calmed or cured by rational thought.
Once this occurs, anxiety holds your sleep hostage. Before you reach for those sleeping pills, or receive a new prescription however, the natural remedies listed above could save your sleep without any of those unwanted side effects. The experts recommend weighted blankets, CBD oil, melatonin, and sleeping with your pet as a few natural options. In fact, you can even try them altogether since there are no side effects. You’ll be more than grateful in the morning!