Help me sleep! When anxiety causes insomnia

Most anxiety disorders do cause the individual to experience cycles of disrupted and poor quality sleep, this can be immensely frustrating, physically draining and does actually make the anxiety worse, if not managed in the right way. Often poor sleep hygiene patterns emerge like; going to bed late, using alcohol to ‘crash out’ or sleeping during the daytime.

Getting good quality sleep, timely and consistently is essential to overcoming anxiety and overcoming anxiety is essential to getting a good sleep, so, this is a catch 22 loop you are faced with! As you work through the Calmness In Mind Program we teach you how to unravel this conundrum and get back to normal levels of sleep (whatever normal is to you.) Here are a few things to consider in the mean time.

Good sleepers and bad sleepers

In general there are two types of sleepers in the general population (when emotionally healthy), those who are good sleepers and those who are bad sleepers! This can then be sub-divided into; good good sleepers, bad good sleepers, good bad sleepers and bad bad sleepers.

Good Sleepers – Larks

We call good sleepers larks, they enjoy going to bed early and because they sleep deeply they wake up (and get up) early. They love their sleep and get a bit grumpy if their sleep is restricted in any way. They fall asleep very quickly and if awoken in the night they quickly nod off again and they can sleep through external sounds, such as, snoring and traffic noise quite easily.

Bad Sleepers – Owls

This is the group who say “Help me sleep!” – They hate getting up in the morning and like going to bed later, it is as if the world is just running 2-3 hours ahead of how they would like to operate. They can manage on 4 – 6 hours of sleep a night for weeks on end and typically wake up a few times each night and will sometimes find it very hard to get back to sleep. They are easily awoken and environmental factors like noise, heat, light etc. can interrupt the quality of their sleep, as well as, their mind that likes to think and think.

At one level it is important to not compare yourself against someone else when it comes to sleep, just because one person sleeps 10 hours a night it doesn’t mean that your only sleeping 5 hours means you are broken in any way, as long as, you can function well and feel OK.

However, when you are experiencing bouts of insomnia, you know that you are not getting enough sleep and can often wake up in the morning feeling worse that when you went to be.

Help me sleep! Why can’t I sleep?

There are a thousand causes, however, these are main culprits and they all (in some part) contribute to feelings or anxiety and depression. Basically, happy people sleep well, or at least are good bad sleepers!

  • Anxiety, depression, fear, worry & stress
  • Unhappy at work or in a relationship
  • Raising a young family
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Unemployment or fearful of losing job
  • Financial worries
  • Restless partner (Snoring, fidgeting)
  • Side effects of medication
  • Feeling lost in your life

The importance of sleep to overcome anxiety

We discuss sleep in depth on the Calmness In Mind Anxiety & OCD Recovery Program because allowing yourself to recharge your emotional energy levels is fundamental to recovering from bouts of anxiousness and depression. For some people, when experiencing various forms of anxiety, sleep becomes just a pain in the neck and a waste of time “there’s no point going to bed because I won’t sleep anyway”  this is a natural response, however, it is flawed at many levels – sleep needs to be considered as a huge part of the recovery process and pulled closer rather than rejected.

Once you know how anxiety tricks us and have learned how to interrupt it, you’ll find that it is possible to lay calmly and wait for sleep to come (even if it takes a while) without getting bored, angry, frustrated or frightened.

Increased dreaming when anxious or depressed

It takes quite a lot of energy to dream (both mental and physical) just watch a dog twitch and bark when he is chasing rabbits in a dream). We do the same thing in our dreams, but we are more paralysed than a dog whilst we are dreaming, so we don’t thrash around or jump out of the window (sleep walking is when this mechanism breaks down). If you think about it, we might wake up from a nightmare and have a racing heart and be all sweaty as if we were really experiencing that nightmare or wake up aroused from an erotic dream, basically, put our body can’t tell the difference from a dream or reality and it just gives us the appropriate physical reactions, that is why it is so important to be able to control a racing mind.

Important information about dreaming
During times of anxiety and depression we spend much more time dreaming each night than we would normally do at times of calm in our lives, this is why people feel so tired in the morning. Many of these dreams are quite traumatic when observed from the unconscious nervous system point of view (because it thinks the dream is true and tries to react to it) because they include things like; being chased, fighting, escaping tense situations, murder, sexual activity and a whole range of “basic survival” type dreams.

These are the unconscious minds way to try and work through the troubles in your life and vent anxious feelings, however, they leave us feeling exhausted and our sleep is disrupted. Once again the insomnia treatment program teaches you how to alleviate this by taking action in other areas of your life.

Top tips to reduce anxiety based insomnia

The number one top tip for a great nights sleep is don’t be stressed, anxious or worried and that’s what this program teaches you, however, there are good routines and sensible strategies that you can use to enhance the quality of your slumber.

  • Do try to take a quick one hour nap during the day (if you can)
  • Avoid caffeine and any energy drinks after lunch time
  • Take some form of exercise (walking is fine)
  • Avoid alcohol as this greatly reduces the quality of sleep
  • Sleep alone if possible for minimum disturbance
  • Explore meditation and yoga
  • Try to eat by 7:00 pm at the latest
  • Avoid watching TV in the bedroom
  • Invest in black -out blinds for the bedroom
  • Realise that laying in bed awake can be a form of meditation
  • Buy the Calmness in Mind Program and learn how to quieten your mind

When help me sleep, becomes, helping myself to sleep

We hope that as you read more and more on this “Understanding Anxiety Website” you will begin to see how many things become intricately woven together that result in an anxiety disorder. Disrupted sleep or insomnia feels like it is the problem “If  only I could get a good nights sleep I’d be fine.”

However, it is a symptom of the anxiety! As you work through the Calmness In Mind Anxiety & OCD Treatment Program and work on letting go of the anxious feelings, worrying, stress and quieten all the stories running around in your mind, you’ll find that sleep returns and often far more soundly than it was before, and your former cry of “help me sleep” becomes a thing of the past.