Updated: May 6
Do you consistently get 7-9 hours of sleep a night?
No? You're sleep deprived!
UC Berkeley researchers have found that a lack of sleep, which is common in those with anxiety, amplifies anxiety by firing up the brain’s amygdala and insular cortex, two regions associated with emotional processing. This mimics the abnormal neural activity seen in anxiety disorders.
The science of sleep is fascinating, complicated and growing.
Lack of sleep impacts just about everything in your body and mind, including, but not limited to, your moods, mental health, memory and decision-making skills.
This needs to change!
Sleep disruption (if you aren't consistently getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night) affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, greatly affects the brain, impairs thinking and the regulation of emotions.
In this way, sleep disruption can amplify the symtpoms of anxiety, or anxiety can create sleep disruptions. Chicken, meet egg.
Which came first?
According to Harvard Health Publishing, traditionally, clinicians treating patients with anxiety and depression have viewed insomnia and other sleep disorders as symptoms. But now, studies in both adults and children suggest that sleep problems may raise risk for, and even directly contribute to, the development of anxiety and/or depression.
Neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night's sleep helps promote both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.
The relationship between sleep and mental health is not yet completely understood, but sleep problems affect more than 50% of adults with anxiety.
Four years ago I buckled down on my sleep hygiene and sleep routine. Four years since I've taken medication to help me sleep.
What. A. Game. Changer... that was in my anxiety management. Sleep is everything you guys!
Most of us have probably heard the standard sleep hygiene advice. Avoid caffeine after 2 pm. Use your bed only for sleep. Avoid all screens at least one hour before bed. Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark. Have a consistent sleep schedule. Sound familiar?
Here are a few more tips to help you catch your z’s for those necessary 7-9 hours...
1) Balance your Blood Sugar throughout the day
Eat less refined and processed foods and more whole foods. Whole foods are full of blood-sugar-balancing fiber. And make sure you’re getting some protein with every meal you eat.
Additionally, yes, cut out caffeine and added sugar intake after noon if possible, 2 pm latest! Whole foods like fruits and veggies are fine, it's the “added” sugar you want to minimize.
Both caffeine and added sugar can keep your mind more active than you want it to be, come evening.
2) Get 10-20 Minutes of Sunshine and Exercise Daily
During the day get some sunshine and exercise. Walking around for 10-20 minutes counts! These things tell your body it's daytime; time for being productive, active and alert, which will help you wind down more easily in the evening.
Our circadian rhythms are based on light, darkness and the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. You want complete darkness at night and sunlight during the day. Even the smallest amount of light can disrupt sleep quality. Invest in black out curtains or get a sleep mask. When I say complete darkness I mean PITCH BLACK.
If you're in front of a screen a lot for work or in the evening watching TV grab a pair of Blue Ray blocking glasses. The spectrum of blue light from screens (phone, iPad, tv, computer, etc) can suppress our body’s ability to produce melatonin.
Low melatonin levels can cause poor sleep, brain fogginess, inflammation, night hunger, anxiety/depression and even fat storage.
3) BRAIN DUMP
It can be very hard to shut down your brain at bedtime, especially if you experience anxious or worrying thoughts. One of the most effective tools I’ve found is a brain dump. Keep a notebook beside your bed and write down everything bouncing around in your head, your to-do lists for tomorrow and any of those pesky anxious thoughts or worries. This helps manage them. You can't forget anything, as it will all be there, in your notebook, tomorrow morning. When you close your notebook you are "closing your brain", shutting it down for the night.
Close your eyes and take 10 deep belly breaths to calm down your nervous system, then grab a book and read until your eyelids get heavy.
You can also try one of these journal exercises for anxiety, as well as a brain dump.
4) Supplement with Magnesium and drink a "Sleepy Time Tea"
Try supplementing with magnesium 1-2 hours before you would like to be asleep to help regulate your nervous system, minimize stress and irritability, and relax your muscles.
Prepare a "sleepy time tea" and sip on it while you begin to wind down, about an hour before you would like to be asleep. My favourite combination is Chamomile and Valerian Root. Both of these you can purchase at any health food store.
Chamomile is a well known herbal remedy to reduce inflammation, decrease anxiety and treat insomnia. Valerian Root is another herb commonly used to treat insomnia and nervousness.
Wind down by reading a book, journaling or having a bubble bath while you drink your tea.
In the past, I have also supplemented with melatonin, L-Theanine, 5 HTP and GABA. These are very targeted sleep supplements. Always consult a health practitioner before beginning a more targeted sleep supplement routine. They can be helpful for some people in resetting their sleep cycle, but should not be treated as sleeping pills. The goal is to reset your natural sleep rhythm not be dependent on supplements.
5) Get consistent with your Sleep Schedule
My final tip and probably the most important, is one you have likely heard before - get yourself into a consistent sleep schedule!!
This means turning off your lights at least 8 hours before your alarm is set to go off.
Seven. Days. A. Week.
I know weekends can easily throw this off but by making sleep a priority for a few weeks your body and mind will adjust and thank you for it! A bad night sleep here or there, or even a few, is completely fine and normal.
The best way to get consistent with your sleep schedule is to have a relaxing bedtime routine that starts at least 1 hour before your "lights out" time, which is 8-10 hours before your alarm is set to go off. And no, a bedtime routine is not falling asleep to Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Seinfeld or The Office. I did that for years and years and years... and I can confidently say that was the hardest bedtime habit to break.
I always think of that quote by Theodore Roosevelt: "Nothing worth having comes easy."
Might seem dramatic but it's so true! The hardest habits to break will often produce the most significant results.
My partner refuses to ditch this bedtime habit. So I go to bed much earlier than him, by the time he comes in, I'm usually fast asleep and his nightly routine of comedy shows doesn't wake me. (I also sleep with a sleeping mask to minimize my chances of waking up).
Finally - keep your cellphone out of the bedroom! Put it on silent and do not check it for the hour before you go to bed. Get an alarm clock. You do not need your phone as an alarm.
My best advice is always to start slowwwww. Don’t overwhelm yourself by implementing too many changes at once. That has never, EVER helped me to create sustainable change.
Pick one, make it a habit, then move on to the next.
Remember to always, always be patient and kind to yourself 💜
Looking for more resources? FREE CLASS: The Three Secrets to Natural Anxiety Banishment
Register for this pre-recorded 1hr seminar training on why medication, therapy and even meditation are not enough to banish anxiety from your life and what I recommend doing instead. CLICK HERE TO GET ACCESS!