- A study from wellness brand Healthspan has found over 40% of us feel increasingly anxious about health, money and career
- Not sleeping properly is one of our biggest anxiety triggers
- Over 43% say life is increasingly becoming more anxiety-inducing
- A 2017 study from the Young Women’s Trust revealed almost half of the young men and women in the study felt worried for their future
- Worries included inability to afford a home, debt, not earning enough to live on, and anxiety about finding and keeping a job
- Dr Meg Arroll, a psychologist who works with Healthspan, offers 7 tips
The world does feel increasingly precarious and anxiety producing at the moment.
Most of us can testify to this when we wake at four in the morning fretting not just about money, job security, aging, illness, relationships and family but also about how much sleep we have had and how much more we can manage before the alarm goes off.
We then wake up exhausted and remember something we read on Twitter about how getting less than six hours a night that can be the cause of premature death.
And then because we’re shattered we get anxious we won’t be able to do our job properly or will forget something important…and so the cycle of sleeplessness and anxiety goes on.
It seems perfectly understandable that our sleep should be a casualty of our increasingly anxiety.
The big question, though, is: how do you know if you are having trouble sleeping because you are worried or whether your anxiety is caused by the fact you are not sleeping well?
The answer it seems is both. It is a two-way street. Sleep problems can cause anxiety and anxiety can disrupt your sleep. So just how do you stop those anxious feelings getting in the way of a good night’s sleep?
Run away from it. Not only does exercising take you away from your worries and help you work off that ‘nervous energy’ any sustained exercise can also release brain chemicals that counteract it.
Walking, swimming, cycling are all good as are more meditative practices like yoga.
The charity Anxiety UK point out you don’t have to join a fancy gym and there are plenty of ways to increase your activity levels into your day suggesting walking the kids or grandkids to school, walking to and from work, taking the stairs and using your lunch hour to take a brisk walk or exercise class. Physical exercise should also help you to sleep better.
1. Quieten your racing brain
The government-backed Escape Your Anxiety program offers a range of tools and resources to help you understand and manage anxiety including how helping others can help shift your focus away from your own worries. It also recommends a range of relaxation and mindfulness apps. Mindfulness can help you to focus on your anxieties by accepting them uncritically in the moment and then letting them pass. In effect, this helps you train your thinking so you become less distracted and disturbed by anxious night time thoughts.
2. Science-backed herbal remedies
One systematic review found the traditional herbal remedy valerian increased the chance of improved sleep quality by a staggering 80 per cent compared to a placebo. It is thought valerian root contains compounds that reduce anxiety as well as inducing sleepiness. Another of the benefits of valerian (sometimes dubbed ‘nature’s Valium’) is that it doesn’t leave you feeling groggy and like your head is full of cotton wool the morning after. You can find it supplement form on its own or in A.Vogel Stress Relief Daytime Valerian-Hops oral drops with the added addition of hops. Hops have been used for centuries to help aid sleep and evidence has shown them to have naturally sedative effects which also relieve mild anxiety. They have also been found to slightly lower body temperature – which can help trigger sleepiness.
3. Drop off with military precision
A trick reportedly used by the US military is said to help soldiers to fall asleep in two minutes during hugely stressful war-torn or other high stress situations and ensure they are less likely to make mistakes due to tiredness. This is how you do it:
Relax the muscles in your face, not forgetting your tongue, jaw and the muscles around your eyes.
Drop your shoulders as low as they will go, follow by your upper and lower arm one side at a time.
Breathe out, relaxing your chest then legs working downwards from the thighs to the feet.
Say ‘Don’t think, don’t think’ over and over to yourself for around 10 seconds to help clear your mind and stop anxious thoughts distracting you.
This technique is said to work for around 96 percent of people after practicing for around six weeks.
4. Breathe low and slow
One of the most commonly suggested ways to reduce anxiety is by breathing deeper and slower. Doing it for just a few minutes if you’re having trouble nodding off and if you wake during the night can make a big difference.
When we’re anxious we tend to breathe shallowly through the chest. Combat this by breathing deeply through the diaphragm. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Now breath in through your nose so that your belly lifts – when you exhale your stomach should dip back down. If you notice your chest rising and falling concentrate more on drawing the air into your abdomen. Deep breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system which highjacks the anxiety response associated with anxious feelings.
5. The mineral and amino acid that help
There is evidence to show waking often throughout the night is linked to magnesium deficiency so try to get enough of this mineral in your diet too (good sources include pulses, brown rice, spinach, almonds) or take a supplement daily.
A study on elderly people with insomnia given a 500mg magnesium supplement or a placebo over eight weeks found the ones taking the supplements reported getting to sleep quicker and sleeping for longer.
Another potentially helpful nutrient is 5-HTP, a chemical made in the body from the dietary amino acid tryptophan which has been shown to ease sleep problems.
Once ingested, 5-HTP gets converted into serotonin (which helps to regulate mood and promote restful sleep) and melatonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone.
Research suggests 5-HTP could help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and also increase the amount of time spent asleep.
You can’t get 5-HTP from food but you can from tryptophan, sources include chicken, turkey, potatoes, milk, cheese, tofu and nuts and seeds. Alternatively, take one 5-HTP supplement an hour before bed.
6. Get a little less mobile
Smartphones, tablets and laptops can be a godsend in our life but at the same time can create a whole other layer of extra stress and anxiety.
It might be time to set a few limits so you are not constantly distracted by the incessant and potentially-anxiety inducing alerts.
Set boundaries – turn off devices during mealtimes at least and have a cut off point for answering work emails.
Ditto checking social media platforms. Findings from a 2017 US study on young adults which found a linear association between the number of social media platforms used and anxiety. Maybe this is your time to set a limit on how much time you spend on them or delete an account or two.
7. Try CBD oil
The popularity of CBD oil has skyrocketed in the last few years as people have flocked to try its alleged calming and anxiety-relieving effects. Research is still slim, but there is some evidence to suggest it can increase sleep amounts and duration although larger studies are needed.
Some research suggests CBD could also help regulate the REM stage of sleep (this is the fifth and final stage in the sleep cycle where most dreaming occurs). Not getting enough of this REM sleep can make you feel increasingly negative and anxious. Try taking one capsule an hour before bed to see if it helps you to more restful and restorative sleep.