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Beyond counting sheep: Managing anxiety for a better night’s sleep

There are very few feelings worse than tossing and turning, trying to get some sleep. Sadly, a bad night’s sleep seems to be quite common for many. A recent study shows that nearly one third of all adults struggle to get to sleep at least one night a week. Those who suffer from conditions such as anxiety and depression may find increased difficulty when trying to relax and calm their mind whilst attempting to sleep. In this blog, I’d like us to look at the link between anxiety and a bad night’s sleep, and investigate what practical steps someone can take who just wants to switch off and get a good night’s rest.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety was first classified as a disorder in psychiatric classification at the beginning of the 20th century, but humans have been aware of and studied anxiety as far back as the times of the ancient greeks. Anxiety is a common mental health condition characterised by persistent worry, fear, and unease.  Almost all of us will experience a certain degree of anxiety throughout our lives. However someone suffering with anxiety disorder may find themselves continually affected by anxiety, with symptoms that dont quickly subside. Anxiety disorders cover a range of conditions and can be caused by a range of factors. Anxiety isn’t just a mental affliction, it can manifest as physical symptoms which can further perpetuate the feeling of anxiety. One of these symptoms is struggling to fall into a deep, relaxed and continuous sleep.

The Relationship Between Anxiety And Sleep

The relationship between a bad night’s sleep and anxiety is  bidirectional. Those suffering from anxiety may often find themselves afflicted in the night time whilst they attempt to sleep. A recent study shows that around 20-40% of those living with a panic disorder are more likely to suffer attacks at night. Your bedtime should be a chance for your mind to let go of the stresses of the day and metaphorically put your problems to bed as you fall asleep. However anxiety sufferers may find that this quiet time of contemplation can become a strenuous battle to overcome their own fears, doubts and worries. Anxiety also comes with a range of physical symptoms such as increased heart rate which can further exacerbate a person as they try to sleep. 

Lack of sleep and anxiety can become a downward spiral. Sleep provides our brain with the building blocks to form new memories, process thoughts and regulate our emotions. When we suffer from sleep deprivation, symptoms of anxiety can increase, and our emotional responses to these symptoms can become more extreme. In turn this increased anxiety around sleep, makes it even harder to get a good night’s rest. This vicious cycle can be difficult to break out of, and can be a profoundly negative experience for  sufferers.

What can you do to get a better night’s sleep? 

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix solution to either insomnia or anxiety. But you can seek to control as many contributing factors as possible. Combatting anxiety can be a long and hard road, but there are a number of steps you can take from small to life changing that might help you feel less anxious, and  sleep a little better.

Mindfulness And Sleep

Practising mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, mediation and yoga can help to calm an anxious brain and promote better sleep. Research published by the NCBI saw clear benefits from using mindfulness techniques alongside clinical therapy. Practising mindfulness throughout the day can help prevent a flood of thoughts at the end of the day when you are trying to relax. By just taking a moment throughout your day to acknowledge your stress and analyse what its route cause is, can help identify causes of stress, allowing you to implement practical steps to avoid or control the cause of one’s anxiety. 

Exercise And Anxiety

The benefits of exercise are not just physical. Exercise is also vital to maintaining good mental health. Studies have indicated that exercise is effective at decreasing fatigue, increasing alertness and improving general mental cognition. Scientists have found that those who engage in aerobic exercise experience  a more stabilised mood, decreased levels of tension and a better night’s sleep. The endorphins triggered through exercise can also help an anxious brain to relieve stress, and raise one’s mood.

Master Your Bedtime Routine

There are a range of simple factors you can control to help you get a better night’s sleep. Creating a sleep friendly environment at home can be effective in helping get a better night’s sleep. From making sure your bed is comfy, to avoiding stressful interactions and technology before bed, take control of any factor that might be stressing you before or during bed time and promote a better night’s sleep. The NHS have released these top tips for what you can do to promote better sleep, and i’ve also just finished a blog on how to create the best bedtime routine for you.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy is a highly effective therapeutic approach to managing anxiety and a range of other psychological conditions. CBT seeks to identify negative thought patterns and unhealthy learnt responses to emotional situations. CBT is widely available on the NHS and has been largely received by the psychiatric community as one of the most effective forms of therapy. For those who suffer from long term anxiety, there are only so many small steps you can take. I would very much advise anyone reading who feels a long term sense of anxiety to seek advice from medical professionals if your symptoms are acute.

Conclusion

Managing anxiety is crucial in getting a good night’s sleep. As I’ve previously stated, there is no quick fix to anxiety, and it can be a hard and lonely journey changing the way your mind deals with stress. However by taking control of what factors you can and  seeking help if things feel out of your control, you’ll be on the right track for a calmer mind in the day and a far better night’s sleep.

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