How Sleep Hygiene Can Improve Your Anxiety
I’m not gonna lie to you, as I write this, I’m running off of five hours of sleep. My brain decided it would be a cool idea to wake me up at 3:30 on a Saturday. Evil right?!? I woke up with my mind racing, a million ideas for blog content popping into my brain, and a strong desire for some java.
I’d imagine my lack of sleep is due to the large amounts of sugar I consumed before bed – thank you Cool Haus ice cream! It might also be due to the fact I scrolled Instagram right up to the moment I closed my eyes. Either way, this kid is feeling sleep deprived.
Before you dive into all this goodness, if reading isn’t your jam, you can also learn about sleep hygiene on the courageously.u YouTube page. Just make sure you snag your “17 Sleep Hygiene Habits to Improve Anxiety” freebie.
WHY SLEEP IS IMPORTANT
Sleep is crucial when it comes to anxiety and your overall well-being, and I’m not just talking about four or five hours either. You need to be catching at least six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. If you’re a new momma, you’re probably thinking, “Girl, you are nuts!” Don’t worry. I’ll touch on this a little later in the post.
While you’re sleeping, your brain is busy at work – at times, more active than it is during the day. It’s busy making sure necessary hormones are released, neural chemicals are produced, and memories are stored (Pittman and Karle, 2015). If you aren’t sleeping, your brain’s not meeting the necessary requirements to make sure your ticker is running in tip-top shape.
Poor sleep has detrimental effects on your brain, such as difficulty concentrating, problems with memory, overall poor health, increased anxiety, anger, irritability, or lack of motivation. Don’t assume that just because you’re not tired, you are getting enough sleep. You can still feel alert and energetic when sleep deprived. For example, when you’re anxious, your sympathetic nervous system is activated, causing you not to feel tired.
HOW SLEEP IMPACTS ANXIETY
Your amygdala (which is responsible for activating anxiety) reacts more negatively to lack of sleep than other parts of your brain. You can basically compare your amygdala to a temperamental toddler who missed their nap.
According to Pittman and Karle (2015), while sleeping, you cycle through different stages of sleep in a particular pattern, with rapid eye movement (REM) occurring several times throughout the night. REM sleep, the stage of sleep when dreaming occurs, is also a time when memories are consolidated, and neurotransmitters are replenished. REM sleep becomes more frequent at the end of the overall sleep period (Pittman & Karle, 2015). When you get a sufficient amount of REM sleep, your amygdala calms down resulting in a decrease of anxiety.
If you live with anxiety, getting a restful night’s sleep can be a challenge because your amygdala is activating your fight-flight-freeze response, keeping you in a state of alertness. If you’re struggling with increased anxiety, be mindful of what your sleep hygiene looks like because sleep plays a massive role in your anxiety.
WHAT IS SLEEP HYGIENE?
Sleep hygiene is crucial to helping you shut down after a long day and an absolute must for helping you calm your overreacting amygdala. Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and rituals that you engage in before bed to help you have a better quality of sleep. When your sleep hygiene is poor, you find yourself waking up throughout the night, struggling with daytime sleepiness, increased anxiety, and grumpiness.
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T NAP
Avoid napping! New momma’s if you’re struggling with anxiety listen up. If you’re anxious, it’s because you are not getting adequate REM sleep as a result of waking up multiple times throughout the night. You might think napping throughout the day will help improve your sleep deprivation, but it won’t! Napping isn’t giving you the adequate REM sleep you need because it’s only short bursts of sleep. You need six to eight hours of uninterrupted deep, restful sleep. I will dive deeper into this in an upcoming blog post.
Be sure to snag your “17 SLEEP HYGIENE HABITS TO IMPROVE ANXIETY” freebie to see my go-to wind down suggestions.
SLEEP HYGIENE TIPS:
- Your brain likes repetition and rituals, and the more you incorporate sleep hygiene into your bedtime wind down, the more your brain will begin to anticipate sleep.
- Be mindful of your thoughts as you’re preparing for bed. If you go to bed with “scary” thoughts, you’ll frighten your amygdala, resulting in anxiety activation.
- Be mindful of your sleep environment. Are dogs or kiddos sleeping with you and waking you up? Are you falling asleep on the couch or to a T.V.? Your sleep environment can either make or break your sleep.
- Are you consuming alcohol close to bedtime? A lot of people think drinking wine before bed helps them sleep better, but the reality is, alcohol consumption messes with your sleep patterns. Long story short, you are not getting deep, restorative sleep.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, listen to a podcast or Audible book instead of watching T.V. or getting up and turning on the lights.
- Caffeine is a stimulant, so you want to avoid it 4-6 hours before your head hits the pillow. Did you know brownies also have the power to keep you awake? Yeah, I learned the hard way.
- If you’re taking too long to fall asleep, you should evaluate your sleep routine and revise your bedtime rituals.
Pitman, C.M & Karle, E.M (2015). Rewire your anxious brain: How to use the neuroscience of fear to end anxiety, panic, and worry. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.