What causes sleep anxiety?
Sleep anxiety is a challenging situation for anyone who experiences it. Much of our daily health is based in a good night's sleep. Sleep that is aligned with the circadian rhythm ensures stable mood, good memory, and reduced anxiety. Studies have shown that less than 5 hours of sleep, for two weeks, leads to significant cognitive impairment leading to poor performance on multiple levels, including driving and reaction time. In addition, deep sleep allows astrocytes, beautiful star shaped cells in our brains, to remove metabolic by-products to allow the brain to function better over the long term.
When sleep starts to become interrupted, and the usual response of restoring the next night with a good night's sleep is also interrupted, we can develop "anticipatory anxiety" towards our sleep.
The first response to this is to initiate good sleep hygiene, and sleep stimulus control. Avoid blue light devices in the 2 to 3 hours before bed, as blue light suppresses melatonin, which then enhances alertness. Try to fall asleep before 11 pm to ensure alignment of your physiology, and production of neurochemicals and neurohormones, with the circadian rhythm. If you sleep before 11 pm, you then usually reach deeper stages of sleep and have the benefits of sleep the next day. Avoid any stimulants before sleep. If you are having a lot of difficulty, avoid stimulants after noon, or 4 pm. Stimulants include coffee, tea, chocolate, coca-cola, and other neurostimulants. When we get more emotional, this can interrupt sleep. Avoid triggers of strong emotions after 8 pm. Any potentially stressful conversations around health, home, finances, relationships, or other, and any media that is potentially stressful, is best avoided after 8 pm at night.
A powerful method to improve sleep is waking at the same time each morning. Ensure that you do not hit the snooze button - place your alarm clock further away from you so that you have to physically get out of bed if hitting the snooze button is not a good habit. Avoid long naps during the day. Avoid heavy meals at bedtime. Engage in a bedtime ritual of self care - brushing your teeth and hair, washing your face with warm water, consider gentle stretching or supine yoga poses like child's pose or savasana or legs up the wall, and consider a meditation that is guided or self driven. Contemplate the peaceful and beautiful times in your life, to bring your brain to a relaxed state. Daydream or write about pleasant past experiences. In bed, only sleep. Do not read or watch TV or use your computer or mobile phone or kindle in bed. If you can't fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, then get out of bed and do something relaxing in a low light area away from the bed. Only return to bed when sleepy.
If the above approaches do not work within several days, see your family doctor to review your sleep disruption to rule out other possible causes.
- Dr. Maia Love
The above information is not meant to replace the advice of a medical professional, but rather ideas to support your awareness.