Following on from my series about anxiety that I posted last year, here is my expanded article about how to improve your sleep.
There are many potential pathways to managing or overcoming anxiety, including lifestyle change, behavioural therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or hypnosis, practices like mindfulness, yoga or tai-chi, exercise and traditional therapies drawing on herbal or plant-based remedies, and of course pharmaceutical drug therapies. Recent concerns about several classes of anti-anxiety medicines, including benzodiazepines, have led many to search for more natural ways to manage low to moderate levels of anxiety. However, there are cases where anxiety is so severe that pharmaceutical treatment will be the front-line treatment of choice.
Only about one-third of those who experience anxiety seek formal treatment, and anxiety is one of the most common reasons that people use holistic and alternative modalities. This week I’ve detailed 3 of the 7 Essential Tips for Anxiety – Essential Oils, Exercise and Time in Nature, and shared the extensive research to support their use. Let’s recap our top 7 tips again…
Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, an Ayurvedic approach will include looking at your whole life to reduce the Vata imbalance and bring energy out of your head and back into your body that may include:
- Diet: Avoiding sugary foods, take-away, junk foods like soda and I hate to say it – chocolate – as these foods can be overstimulating. Increase grounding, warm, moist, less oily foods, like, hot cereals (porridge), dairy products, bread and pasta or their gluten-free or vegan equivalents like almond milk and oats
- Structure: Staying warm, taking a hot bath with aromatic oils, and avoiding distracting or busy music, stressful work or study zones, or entertainment like violent programs or gaming. Create a sanctuary for yourself where you can control your environment
- Mindfulness Use mindfulness techniques, meditation or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, listen to grounding music or guided meditation tracks, learn breathing techniques to help eliminate the use of stimulants like nicotine, coffee, energy drinks, illicit drugs etc.
- Sleep: Keeping a regular sleep cycle in tune with your natural circadian rhythm, going to bed before 11pm and waking before 8am. Develop a wind-down routine to eliminate stressful activities like answering work emails or browsing social media at least an hour before bed-time, keep your sleep area free of blue light
- Nature: Spending time in nature to ground your energy, get your toes into the sand or dirt, create a small garden, talk to your plants, sit on a rock in the sun, hug a tree or look at pictures of nature
- Exercise: Undertaking exercise that grounds, strengthens and warms, hot yoga, weight training or hot pilates
- Essential Oils: Supplementing with plant-based remedies like essential oils that include concentrates of grounding ingredients including cinnamon, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, rock salt, sesame seeds, anise, citrus, lavender as either aromatics or ingestible have been shown to support the parasympathetic nervous system to relax, reducing anxiety and stress
You may or may not have come across these 7 tips. They work best when used in conjunction with each other, and many of them are common sense. Today we are going to focus on Tip Number 4 – the power of sleep.
We all know that sleep is crucial for physical recovery on a daily basis, but it is also essential for the body-mind to download and process each day’s experiences, reflect on problems and clean-up the mind’s filing system. Without proper sleep we become like a computer with too many tabs open, programs running, using up too much processing capacity and memory. What happens when we don’t let our computer sleep and have too many browser windows and programs running? It crashes! The same is true for our mind.
Sleep disturbances, and in particular insomnia, are often linked to anxiety, either as a contributing factor, or as an effect. Researchers have discovered the relationship is bi-directional (working both ways), with studies showing how our hormone and nervous systems play major roles in both anxiety and sleeplessness.
A recent study showed that deep sleep is crucial to prevent and alleviate anxiety. Published in the Nature Human Behavior journal the study showed that poor sleep increases risk of anxiety by 30%. Published in 2020, the lead researcher, Professor Walker explains that “without sleep, it’s almost as if the brain is too heavy on the emotional accelerator pedal, without enough brake.”
“These findings help contribute to an emerging framework explaining the intimate link between sleep and anxiety and further highlight the prospect of non-rapid eye movement sleep as a therapeutic target for meaningfully reducing anxiety.”
Move your body – Exercise has been found to both lower anxiety and improve sleep. But try not to exercise right before sleep, as it can keep you awake. Moving your body in the morning or afternoon can help you get your sleeping and waking cycle back on track and also treat insomnia or sleep apnoea.
Tailor your environment – Controlling light, sound, and temperature can help you get a good night’s rest. The darker, quieter, and cooler you can keep your bedroom, the greater chance you have of calming your mind and falling asleep. Avoid blue light in your bedroom as this can act as a signal to stimulate wakefulness. Taking a shower or bath shortly before bed can also help lower your body temperature and help you fall asleep more quickly.
Limit caffeine and alcohol – Drinking too much caffeine or consuming it too late in the day can increase anxiety and inhibit sleep, that goes for most teas unless they explicitly state they are caffeine free. Consuming alcohol close to bedtime can also increase your heart rate and keep you up. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but don’t drink too much before bedtime, as trips to the bathroom can keep you anxious and alert.
Calm your mind – There are many relaxation techniques that can help you calm your mind throughout the day and improve sleep. Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and breathing exercise can help you achieve calm, but it can also be as simple as taking a walk when you have a short break at work. If you practice techniques for calming your mind during the day, then it will be easier to trigger your relaxation response at night.
Limit screen time – Your phone, tablet, and TV emit light that keeps your brain awake, so try to limit them an hour before bedtime. Checking email or doing work right before bed can also trigger anxious thoughts and make it difficult to calm your brain. Consider setting an alarm to remind you to shut screens off at an adequate time before bed. Instead, consider listening to music or reading a book to quiet your mind.
Ask for help – Sometimes managing anxious worry and improving sleep is more complicated than simply turning off your phone or getting adequate exercise. Never hesitate to ask for help if you need it from your doctor or a counselor. Sleep problems and anxiety are highly treatable, so consider whom you can recruit today to help you rest your mind and body.
This leads us to the next essential tip – Mindfulness – the theme for tomorrow’s post!
Anxiety is a complex problem and, thus, there are no simple solutions. The greatest improvements I have seen come with dedicated effort across multiple dimensions of life. As a clinical hypnotherapist for over 30 years, I have seen people experience dramatic improvements in their anxiety levels if these suggestions are consistently and diligently practiced. Think: lifestyle change rather than one-time adjustment.
As Deepak Chopra says, “the journey of self-discovery, taken with an open heart, inevitably leads to healing.”
Yours in Wellness,