Anxiety and Sleep: How to Improve Our Wellness

You have probably been told many times how important sleep is or maybe you have found you can operate well without much. There are many new studies out now showing the link between anxiety and sleep. It comes down to a pretty simple formula, lack of sleep.

So how does a lack of sleep cause us anxiety? The brain needs a time to transport its toxins out of the neural tissue and through the garbage-removal systems. This function is dependent on sleep to function properly. This can happen from gradually losing sleep over time. Most of the sleep that causes sleep deprivation is specifically REM (rapid eye movement) deprivation, this is when the body becomes more relaxed and the brain more active. Normally we can spend about 20% of our sleep in REM. It has been found that even a small REM deprivation causes increased activity in emotion generating regions of the brain and reduces the activity in the emotion-regulating regions. Out of this comes anxiety, which can be generated more steadily when these two main areas of the brain are changing. On top of that anxiety can also cause high blood pressure, just another consequence of lack of sleep.

Good news! A lot of the negative impacts of sleep loss can be reversible after just one night of peaceful sleep, but how can we get better sleep? There have been some recent trials showing that mindfulness meditation can be used to help chronic insomnia.

A study was done investigating the effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), mindfulness-based therapy for insomnia (MBTI) or an eight-week self-monitoring (SM) for sleep problems. It was found that both MBSR and MBTI improved duration of sleep. Although these are difficult types of mediation to learn, they can be taught through classes such as our own MBSR eight week course. SM overall had a much lower impact on improving sleep duration.

Sometimes getting better sleep is about not doing certain things before bed (TV/electonrics, drinking alcohol & caffeine) and about relaxing the mind as much as possible. There are so many solutions and ideas of what one person can do to improve sleep and thus anxiety. Even though sleep monitoring (journal) does not show much improvement, sleep routines do have great impacts on our ability to get regular amounts of sleep each night. Including some mindfulness or mediation and even better joining a class on MBSR could quickly improve sleep. With a regular nightly routine around mindfulness and sleep times, one person could change their sleep quality and anxiety quickly. The difficult thing is to start and more importantly to keep up such a routine.

Sometimes having support or someone to talk to about your struggles helps, come see one of our skilled therapists to help reduce the anxiety in your life so that sleep can help you rather than hinder you.

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Phillip Horner