Can getting better sleep ease some of my symptoms?

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or an addiction, you know better than anyone that these diseases and disorders have the ability to dramatically change your normal sleeping patterns. They can either drain your energy and make you sleep more or cause you to have insomnia-like behaviors and struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

As much as you want to just get a simple good night’s sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and ready for a new day, it doesn’t happen. And you likely recognize the impacts of this imbalanced sleep in your daily routine, feeling abnormally exhausted, unable to focus, or just not as mentally sharp as you know you can be.  This cycle can make your anxiety or depression worse because things seem to be spinning out of control, or perhaps this dysfunction drives you to your coping mechanism or addiction of choice to “regain” what you feel is slipping away.

Strengthening the Mind-Body Connection

By this point in your journey, you have likely noticed the connection between what is going on in your brain and your body’s reactions. This mind-body connection often seems one-way, and since your mind seems to function on its own, you may think that you can’t make the connection go the other way. However, as you may have noticed when you are doing a physical activity or hobby that you become calmer and more relaxed, which shows that your body is capable of influencing the functioning of your mind in certain contexts. 

Now, you have a life and responsibilities, so you can’t just sit around in a workshop all day and build shelves or play soccer, but you can commit to doing everything in your power to make sure you get plenty of good-quality sleep at night. 

Practical Things You Can Do to Improve Sleep

Certainly you try to sleep well, but either your mind is racing with anxious thoughts or you are overwhelmed with your personal and professional responsibilities or you are feeding your addictive behaviors during the night. Hopefully you will find that carving out a consistent 6-8 hours every night for sleep gives you back some of the control you may feel like you have lost in other areas of your life, and this simple but powerful commitment can provide you with stability and a calmer mind.

Here are a few tips for getting high-quality sleep:

  1. Understand the power of your natural circadian rhythm: Your body wants to have a routine, and everything you can do to ensure the creation of this routine is immensely helpful. Think of this circadian rhythm as an alarm clock altering your body when it is time to eat and sleep. 
  2. Develop an exercise routine: The more active you are during the day, the more you are practicing your mind-body connection. Not only will you feel better physically after a workout (of whatever type), but you will have expended energy that sleep will need to replenish. It is recommended that you complete any physical activity at least 2 hours before going to bed so that your body has time to recover and wind down to go to sleep.
  3. Be aware of your light exposure: Studies have shown that increasing the amount of bright light or sunlight during the day aids in more restful sleep at night. Additionally, the amount of blue light emitted by electronics such as televisions, computers, and smartphones confuses the circadian rhythm of the body and can cause you to have difficulty falling asleep. Screens should be blue-light filtered at night when possible or simply avoided for 2 hours prior to sleep.
  4. Give yourself a bedtime: Based on when you need to wake up in the morning, set a bedtime to give yourself at least 6-8 hours of sleep. It is easy to get caught up in obligations or “Netflix and chill”-ing at night, but you will be far more productive after a full night of sleep the next morning and Netflix isn’t going anywhere. Be sure that your bedroom is a comfortable place to be, from the temperature to the sounds to the light to your pillows and blankets.
  5. Consider what you are consuming: Eating or drinking things that are high in sugar or caffeine late in the day can have a major impact on your ability to sleep because you have introduced an unnatural substance for your body to process. The same could be said for alcohol or other substances, which make it difficult for the body to wind down. You should also avoid eating a large meal too late at night. Until you have developed a sleeping routine, it might be helpful to take a melatonin supplement, which helps your body coach your circadian rhythm along.
  6. Practice mindfulness: If you often lay in bed trying to fall asleep because your mind is racing, a mindfulness routine may be just what you need. There are many resources available to help with mindfulness while falling asleep, including the Calm and Headspace apps as well as the Mindful website. But the main goal is to focus on your breathing and be in the present moment. Don’t think about the past, don’t think about the future. Mentally shut down every part of your body – your toes, feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, hips, abdomen, ribs, chest, shoulders, arms, elbows, forearms, hands, fingers, eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and finally your mind.

Give these tips a try for a few nights and see if getting more adequate sleep helps calm your anxiety, depression, or addiction. And don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend or your partner to ask for some accountability or assistance in keeping your routine. There is hope for you and you are not alone.

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