Reviewed by Dawn Brown, LPC, NCC
One sheep...two sheep... Are you finding yourself counting sheep because you're awake all hours of the night? If so, you're not alone. More people find themselves up at night, watching the clock and hoping for sleep, while overwhelming anxiety keeps them awake. Concerns about the future, job loss, fractured relationships, health, and financial concerns are just a few issues that can lead to losing sleep.
And just when you start to fall asleep, you may find you wake yourself with a quick jerk. That startling movement is called a hypnogogic jerk. Though hypnogogic jerks are common, with up to 70% of people experiencing them, they may be a sign that you are going through anxiety.
But in the end, all you know is that you aren't sleeping well, and you want help. So, how should you deal with insomnia? Or is anxiety the real problem? Is there a difference, and what can you do about it?
Anxiety And Insomnia: Aren't They The Same?
Though insomnia and anxiety can both cause sleepless nights, they're not the same, and treatment options may differ. So let's start by reviewing the symptoms for both insomnia and anxiety to help you understand.
Insomnia symptoms may include:
- Difficulty going to sleep at night
- Waking up too early or during the night
- Feeling tired even after sleeping through the night
- Being tired during the day
- Feelings of anxiousness or depression
- Being irritable
- Problems remembering things or paying attention
- Errors or accidents in your tasks
- Being worried about not being able to sleep well
- Feelings of panic
- Quickened heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Difficulty remembering things or concentrating
- Sleep trouble
- Digestive issues
- Overwhelming worry
If you can identify with anxiety symptoms more than insomnia and would like to be sure, you can take an anxiety test by clicking the link to find out if you're struggling with anxiety.
Which Comes First? Insomnia Or Anxiety?
After a night of tossing and turning, it may be on your mind whether the lack of sleep causes your anxiety, or is it that anxious feeling you have about life that is causing you to lose sleep?
Which comes first: anxiety or insomnia? The answer is that it could be either one. Anxiety can cause a lack of sleep, and sleeplessness can cause anxiety.
You may start to go over situations that you faced during the day, replaying what you could have done differently, and start to feel anxious. The more anxiety you feel, the more you are unable to sleep due to anxiety. And you know you need to sleep so you can function in the morning, which brings feelings of panic. This keeps the anxiety building and makes it even more difficult for you to fall asleep.
You may find yourself struggling with anxiety and insomnia in a cycle that needs to be broken. And you probably want to know some ideas right now to move you towards that good night's sleep.
9 Things You Can Do To Ease Anxiety And Get On The Path To Better Sleep
If the thought of making changes seems daunting to you right now, especially since you are more than likely facing the task with sleep deprivation, have no fear. The following are some simple suggestions you can get started on that can help teach you how to fall asleep when you feel anxious.
You may need to work your way through each one until you find the best solution to help you over your sleeplessness and anxiety, and you may also find that a combination of them will be just what you need.
- Essential Oils For Sleep And Anxiety
What Exactly Is An 'Essential' Oil?
Essential oils are oils that are extracted from flowers, fruits, leaves, seeds, and herbs. They have small molecular structures that allow them to pass through the nervous system to the brain. Studies show that essential oils can help aid with sleep and relaxation.
There are several different ways that you can use essential oils. Some may be applied to your skin when properly prepared, and others can be used through diffusers. You must learn the proper way to use each one before avoiding any negative side effects. Speak with your doctor before trying any new essential oils.
Some of the best essential oils to promote relaxation include:
- Clary Sage
- Magnesium For Sleep And Anxiety
Magnesium is needed to help us fall asleep and stay asleep. It helps your body and brain to relax. Magnesium also plays a part in regulating the hormone melatonin, which helps with sleep cycles. It is a common mineral found in foods like almonds, spinach, and cashew nuts.
If you can't get enough magnesium through their diet, some supplements can be taken. If you have questions about this, you can reach out to your physician for more information.
- Decrease Or Eliminate Coffee From Your Diet
If you're a coffee lover, then the thought of giving it up may cause more anxiety than you need. It can help start by decreasing the number of cups you have a day instead of cutting it out completely.
However, you'll want to make sure that your last cup is early in the afternoon. Research has shown that enjoying the coffee cup too late in the day can make sleep difficult, and too much can cause anxiousness and a feeling of panic. It may feel like a tough choice, but the good night's sleep may likely feel worth it.
It might be hard to think about laying the phone aside or shutting down the computer sooner than you'd like at night, but just turning off the television, computer, and phone an hour before bed can help you fall asleep faster.
Shutting off those outside noises and reducing the amount of blue light that you're exposed to can give your body time to relax and promote better sleep.
- Practice Breathing Exercises
There are many different breathing exercises that you can use. But the equal breathing technique is an easy one you can do anytime and anywhere when you feel anxiety rearing up inside of you. The equal breathing technique simply means that you inhale for the same amount of time as you exhale.
Start by closing your eyes so that you're shutting off one of your senses. This can help you concentrate.
- Shut your eyes and pay attention to the way you normally breathe for several breaths.
- Then, slowly count 1-2-3-4 as you inhale through your nose.
- Exhale for the same four-second count through your mouth.
- As you inhale and exhale, be mindful of the feelings of fullness and emptiness in your lungs.
As you continue practicing equal breathing, your second count might vary. Be sure to keep your inhale and exhale the same.
- Practice Gratitude
Making a list of people and experiences you are grateful for can move your focus off the things that cause anxiety in your life and redirect it to good, positive thoughts. Doing this before bedtime can prepare you for a more peaceful sleep.
- Exercise The Body
Move your body, but make sure you schedule your exercise in the morning or afternoon, so you allow your body and mind time to relax before bedtime.
Start by choosing an exercise you like. Basketball, baseball, swimming, or a brisk walk for 30 minutes, 3-5 times a week can help lower anxiety and improve your sleep. Set reasonable goals to help keep your anxiety levels low.
- Limit Alcohol Intake
Though that glass of wine before bed may seem like a good way to relax you, it can have the reverse effect after the initial calmness has worn off. It would be better to skip the alcohol before bedtime and use an alternative method for relaxation.
They say that laughter is the best medicine, and when dealing with anxiety, that is often true. Laughing is a quick and easy tool you can use to turn your focus from the overwhelming to the lighthearted. So turn on a funny movie, or share some silly jokes with your friends. Laughing can help improve your mood and boosts your immune system as well.
When More Care Is Needed
If you're struggling with anxiety or struggling to sleep and it's impacting your daily life, then it may be time to talk to your doctor or a licensed therapist.
Some signs that it's time to seek help include:
- Areas of your life like your work or relationships are being negatively impacted because of worry or anxiety
- You're having a hard time controlling your anxious feelings
- You're using alcohol or drugs to try to treat your anxiety
- You are struggling with depression
- You think there might be a physical health problem related to your anxiety
- You are having suicidal thoughts - seek immediate help if this is something that you are experiencing. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, but if you find you are still struggling with sleep loss because of anxiety, it may be time to seek a professional's help.