The relationship between anxiety and sleep
If, like most people, you’ve ever had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because of stress and worry, you’ve experienced firsthand the strong connection between anxiety and sleep. Stress routinely tops the list of sources of sleep problems, according to patients.
Anxiety causes racing thoughts, making it difficult to quiet the mind. When the body is under stress, the body releases more of several hormones—including adrenaline that boosts energy and alertness which contribute to:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Trouble staying asleep throughout the night
- Waking very early
- Waking feeling un-rested and un-refreshed by sleep
Relaxation techniques to help you sleep better
Relaxation exercises have been shown highly effective in reducing stress and improving sleep. Low impact, self-directed, and easily able to be integrated to your daily life, these relaxation techniques can help you get a handle on stress and anxiety during your waking day, and help you de-stress at night before you go to bed.
Deep, slow, self-aware breathing is an ancient, powerful way to clear the body of stress and tension, and a great way to relax as part of a nightly transition to sleep. Deep breathing kicks off a series of physiological changes that aid relaxation, including reducing muscle tension, slowing breathing rate and heart rate, lowering blood pressure and metabolism.
A breathing exercise can be as simple as taking a series of even, slow inhale and exhale breaths as part of a regular routine before bed, or whenever you feel anxious or stressed to help calm the mind. There are also more structured breathing exercises you can try such as the 4-7-8 breathing exercise which is said to ease the body into a state of relaxation and thus promote better sleep:
In a comfortable position, with your eyes open or closed:
- Inhale for 4 seconds
- Hold breath for 7 seconds
- Exhale slowly, for 8 seconds
- Repeat several times
The idea in this exercise is to focus your attention on an image or story, so that your mind can let go of worries or thoughts that keep you awake.
Get into a comfortable position in bed. Close your eyes and relax. Begin to visualise a scene, memory, or story that you find calming. This is highly individual—find what works best for you by trying a few choices. For example: a favourite vacation or calming outdoor spot, a relaxing activity like curling up with a book in your favourite chair, or something repetitive like remembering the steps of an exercise or dance routine. The key is to find something that allows you to focus your attention and let go of other thoughts. Begin to create this scenario in your mind. Visualise all the details of the image or story, as slowly and carefully as you can. Any time you find your mind drifting to an unrelated thought (a worry about the day or a “must do” for tomorrow), acknowledge it and let it go – each time you practice you will get better at it.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is a way of achieving total body relaxation by slowly and systematically tensing and then relaxing your muscles. Starting at your toes and working up. It also plays a part in hypnosis. Combined with deep breathing exercises progressive muscle relaxation becomes an even more effective way to reduce stress.