I remember all the nights I either couldn't sleep or woke up out of a sleep after a bad dream (usually involving work). At the time of the anxiety, I was probably only getting three to four hours of sleep a night. I was exhausted and I couldn't function properly. At the time, I had no idea how much sleep deprivation was impacting me.
I've since learned that lack of sleep can be a precursor to emotional disorders like anxiety. Almost every system of the body is affected when you sleep. Sleep is the reboot button on your body, especially for the brain. Sleep gives the body time to repair neurons that are damaged due to stress.
I think lack of sleep was the biggest hurdle for me to overcome with anxiety. How can you get sleep when it is anxiety that causes you not to and it's sleep that can help anxiety?
Well there are things that you can do to help prepare yourself to get a restful night of sleep. This is going to require you making some changes to your bedtime routines. Some are a pain in the butt.
Make the bedroom a quiet sanctuary
Your bedroom doesn't need to be beautiful (although that helps), but it does need to be functional. Bedrooms are for sleep and your bedroom should reflect that. That means that it needs to be clean and free of clutter. I know as parents, sometimes we use the bedroom as the catch all and the last room we focus on. It should really be the first room you focus on because sleep is so important to the body and your brain. You should ensure that there are no distractions in your room. That means no television, digital alarms with bright lights, or working in your bed. Cell phones should be placed out of reaching distance. It should also be as dark as possible and low lighting. These are all things that set the mood for sleep.
Get 8 hours of sleep
Studies show that an adult (anywhere from 18 to 64) needs approximately seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Count back eight hours from the time you need to get up in the morning. That is the time you should be going to sleep. Ideally after a week's time, you should start waking up about 10 minutes before your alarm goes off. This means that you are getting the right amount of sleep.
NOTE: If you are not waking up naturally, trying pushing back your sleep time by 15 minutes once a week until you find you are waking up naturally.
Create a bedtime ritual
Once you've establish the time you are to go sleep, it's helpful to create a bedtime alarm approximately 30-40 minutes before you plan to go to bed. This is the time to start preparing for sleep. When you start rituals like this, you body falls into a rhythm of preparing your self for bed. It's an indicator that your body should start to prepare for sleep. What can your routine look like? Shut off the television, put your phone away, lower the lighting in the rooms. A short meditation, a few yoga stretches, or a mildly warm bath are all great ways to start. Prepare yourself for bed, brush your teeth, wash your face and anything else you do prior to sleep.
NOTE: if you are taking a bath do not take a hot bath. This raises your body temperature and it can delay you falling asleep for as many as 4 hours.
To PJ or not PJ, that is the question
The body heats and cools during the night, and an extra layer of clothing can make it difficult for you body to regulate it's temperature and can cause you to wake during sleep. So if you do not feel comfortable sleeping in just your birthday suit, you might want to consider wearing something very light, minimal, and breathable. Multiple light layers of blankets and quilts are also helpful and easy to shift off are also helpful.
Shift your mindset
If you are telling yourself and others that you can't sleep, your subconscious mind hears you and will make it happen. As you get into bed, tell yourself, when my head hits the pillow I will be ready to sleep. Then tell yourself, I'm going to count down from 10 to 1 and I will fall asleep during the count. My body and mind get calmer with the count and I fall asleep easily. Say the count slowly,. Try this for two weeks and see the results. It may not happen over night. Whatever you do, don't tell yourself it's not going to work, because if you believe that, it won't.
In the morning, MAKE YOUR BED
This sets in your mind that sleep is over, and it's the start of your day. Studies have shown that people sleep better and longer when they have a clean room. It's has also shown that people who make their beds are more productive during their days.
What if you are in bed and still can't sleep?
If you still can't fall asleep, the best thing for you to do is get out of bed. Beds are for sleeping, not tossing and turning. This subconsciously sets in your mind that the bed is for sleep, not tossing, turning and overthinking. Stay off your phone, and don't watch tv. Read something that is not a page turner. If you do use a phone or tablet, use an app to dim the blue light so your eyes don't register the light as daylight and keep you awake. Calming music or guided meditations can help you feel sleepy.
Can I take something for sleep?
Yes, absolutely. Here is the rub, a lot of the sleep medications are addictive and the body can become dependent on them for sleep. Herbs or melatonin can help. Valerian, catnip, and chamomile all have sedative qualities. If you are taking prescription medication, please speak with your doctor or pharmacist about interactions. Some herbs can prevent medication from processing, or quicken the release of the medication in your body, so its really important to check. You may have to play around with the number of melatonin capsules you take. Some people are sensitive and it can have the opposite affect if you are not taking the right amount for your body.
NOTE: if you have an allergy to ragweed, you can develop an allergy to chamomile if you are using it daily.
What should I avoid?
Alcohol and drugs can prevent your body from going into Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM) You need REM for mood balancing and play a part in learning and memories. This is one of the reasons why poor sleepers have higher anxiety and are more reactionary to stressful situations. Caffeine can prevent you from falling asleep easily. I'm not saying don't have caffeine, but if you are not sleeping, you might want to consider decreasing to one to two cups a day and none after 2:30 pm
Next Tuesday I will be talking about napping and how it can be beneficial for those who have little sleep at night.