Updated: Feb 19
Anxiety and Insomnia tend to feed into each other to the point where it is impossible to tell which came first. Worrying about not getting enough sleep leads to more anxiety and less sleep. When it comes to sleep, so many of us worry about getting enough, and waking up at night. Without good sleep, we are less productive. It’s also true that worrying about it makes it worse, not better. At the same time, telling people not to worry is not helpful, and disrespectful to those of us with serious anxiety disorders. Sometimes the only thing that really will help is seeing a professional.
One of the first blogs I wrote at the beginning of the pandemic was about sleep. I have copied it below for references. While the blog offers good tools, I wanted to share a tool that has been very helpful to me recently.
Anxiety right now is a shared experience. If you’re not experiencing any anxiety, good for you and tell us all what your secret is. But mindfulness -- specifically focused on the anxiety related to lack of sleep and waking up at night -- can be a game changer. It has been for me.
Waking up at night.
Before electricity, people would go to bed early and wake up during the night. They would have a drink or a meal, hang out, have sex, then go back to sleep. I thought about that, and focused on not worrying about waking up. When I wake up now (which rarely happens before 5:30 am), I have trained myself not to worry. Instead I ask myself a few questions before looking at the time. Do I feel rested? Do I feel sleepy? Do I need to pee or get a drink? If need be I'll tend to my needs before looking at the time. Usually, if it’s the middle of the night I’ll be too sleepy to get up or look at the time. If it’s close to getting up, I focus on doing breathing exercises before getting up and sometimes fall back asleep.
It sounds simple, but it took practice. Breathing and letting go of thinking is not easy, at least it isn’t for me.
Not getting enough sleep.
It happens, there's no way to avoid a bad night from time to time. I’ve noticed that my bad sleep nights often coincide with the full moon. That knowledge used to make me more anxious, knowing I would wake up feeling unrested. Now, I focus on doing more physical work the day after a bad night's sleep, knowing I won’t be able to focus as well, but will get better sleep the following night, leading to a more productive day and the ability to catch up.
Here is a post about better sleeping habits, and steps you can take to get more and better sleep.
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Sleep problems can be related to an underlying medical condition and should be evaluated by a medical doctor. For occasional disturbances, there are many natural remedies to try. Sleep and weight management are top concerns in the natural remedies industry. People who are sleep deprived consume 20% more calories a day -- and people who are overweight suffer more from sleep issues, and the cycle feeds itself.
Here are tips which are appropriate for both sleep and weight management:
Consistent routine. Eating and sleeping at the same time everyday has been shown to be very beneficial. Your stomach will start releasing acid and enzymes just before a routine meal time. Your body releases sleep hormones in exactly the same way to help you fall asleep. I find falling asleep between 10-11 p.m., and waking up within an hour of sun up, works well for me. Sleep therapists are greatly divided about the virtues of napping. In my opinion, consistency is key. My grandfather was a baker. He got up at 4 a.m., and napped every single day even after he retired, because his body could not break the habit. He always napped after lunch for about an hour. Even after children grow out of waking up at night, it can take their parents years before reestablishing their own routines.
Healthy eating. Consuming an equal amount or less calories than you burn is key to healthy sleep. The extra calories can lead to hyperactivity before being stored as fat. Eating 70-80 percent of your calories between 11 a.m.-5 p.m., is recommended because it’s the ideal time for burning calories. Whatever you eat after 5 p.m. should be very low in sugar and carbohydrates. Think keto, and/or intermittent fasting after 5 p.m. During isolation, my family has been eating a later lunch, which is ideal as the biggest meal of the day. Dinner can be two cups of raw vegetables and half a pound of lean protein. Eat foods high in tryptophan for dinner: Turkey, dates, figs, dates, yogurt, grain crackers, tuna, and nut butters. Be conscious of your fluid intake two hours before bedtime so as to avoid having your sleep interrupted by bathroom visits.
Exercise. Pick whatever sport you like that makes you happy. I don’t enjoy high impact activity which weighs on my knees and ankles, so I bike and swim for cardio. Try intense exercise earlier in the day, slower activity in the evening. Look online for yoga and tai chi routines for evening time.
Take showers in the morning and baths in the evening. A bath before bed is especially calming with an essential oil like lavender. It can be conducive to sleep. Showers can be energizing.
White noise and relaxing music can inspire sleep. Once my children were sleeping through the night, I would still wake up at any sound. I started using a fan. The noise covered all the sounds and I slept through the night. Ear plugs can be very beneficial for light and anxious sleepers. Dim your lights an hour before bed and reduce noise and activity. Meditation is helpful to put your mind and body at rest.
Herbs. Many herbs can be useful for sleep, and many herbal companies make blends for sleep. However, people often find them to be a short-term solution. Kava kava is great for relaxation and a good nervous system toner, but has limitations on who can use it. It can never be combined with any medications, especially antidepressants. CBD is also a great herb to reestablish balance with great benefits for sleep. Also try California poppy, hops, and passion flower, oat straw and lemon balm, but alternate them enough so your body doesn’t get acclimated to them, making them ineffectual.
Supplements. Anything you ingest to help you sleep should only be used to help in reestablishing a sleeping routine. The same is true with over-the-counter sleep aids, they should be used to get one single good night of sleep. Think about not using them for more than once or twice a week.
Melatonin. It is my opinion that it’s overused. It is the hormone released to fall asleep. Unless your body does not produce it, or you are jet lagged, you should not use it. If you produce a regular amount of melatonin but still supplement your body will produce less. If you continue to supplement for a prolonged time, your body could stop producing it completely. People over 65 stop producing enough and need to supplement with melatonin. If you are groggy in the morning, you are taking too much. Most seniors use 5mg to 20mg, but they should start low and increase as needed.