This morning's anxiety is bought to you by a lack of sleep and a ton of coffee!
We’ve all experienced a bad night’s sleep because our mind just won’t switch off. Random thoughts... a never-ending to-do list, reminders of the things we did wrong...those cringey moments... as well as a wholloping dose of ‘what-if I had done this instead’ spirals.
We all know that when we're tired you don't function as well. We might be snappier than usual with our partner or kids and we might be more prone to forgetfulness. At the end of the day the odd night of little sleep isn't big deal. If you're anything like me you'll warn everyone around you that you're in a foul mood, have an extra cup of coffee (or two!) and vow to get an early night and before you know it... you're back to yourself.
That's great for some... but are you constantly lacking in sleep?
If you are like 60% of the adults in the UK who struggle to fall asleep each night, then this will have a detrimental effect on your mental and physical health. I know there will be those of you out there that will say 'Ooh I've only have a few hours sleep each night and I'm perfectly fine' - if you've found yourself reading this then chances are that's not you! But even so, a lack of sleep will have an impact on you. And sorry to be the bearer of bad news... it will eventually catch up to you.
In fact, the impact of sleep directly impacts how we think and feel.
"Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours"
- Matthew Walker.
Scientists have found that sleep deprivation causes the prefrontal lobe (a part of the brain which is critical for self-control and reining in emotional impulses) to go 'offline.'
This can impact you in several ways:
Your ability to cope with day-to-day stresses - meaning you’re more likely to be reactive to things that you might usually be able to brush off.
Anxiety levels increase – lack of sleep and anxiety are highly connected. It can cause racing, irrational and repetitive thoughts, which then cause issues with sleeping and then more anxious thoughts. If we continue to have sleep issues then it will result in a 'anxious-insomnia' vicious cycle!
Your performance levels lower - you’re less likely to get work done effectively and this can cause further stress and anxiety, especially if you’re a perfectionist.
Physical symptoms - sleep deprivation causes higher spikes in cortisol (a stress hormone). This can then cause uncomfortable symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues such as IBS, as well as high blood pressure and more severe problems like heart attacks and strokes. You're also more receptive to pain.
Lower sex drive - research has found that sleep deprivation has been associated with reduced sexual desire and arousal in women*, and linked to a higher risk of erectile dysfunction in men**.
Issues managing your weight– when you are tired you are more likely to opt for high fat and sugary foods for energy. If this continues over a longer period, then it can result in weight gain and unhealthy relationships with food. (Check out my previous post on weight management here.) Let’s be honest no one that is ever exhausted and stressed craves a healthy salad!
“the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.”
- Matthew Walker.
There is so much that I could write about sleep and our mental health but I think it really will send you to sleep (that could be the solution...). I highly recommend checking out Matthew Walker's book 'Why We Sleep' if you are interested in finding out more.
But the key thing I want you to takeaway is that if you’re struggling in any aspect of your mental health, it’s really important that you prioritise getting good quality sleep.
If you’re struggling to switch off, here are 13 tips that can help:
1. Dim lighting and avoid electronics in the lead up to bedtime (ideally at least 2 hours before) - the blue light emitted from these devices plays havoc on our circadian rhythm.
2. Don’t have your phone in the bedroom - linked to the point above but also means you’re less likely to scroll before bed and be disturbed by notifications.
3. Limit your caffeine consumption - so many people tell me that they can drink coffee and energy drinks and still sleep well. Unfortunately it will have an impact on the quality of sleep you have. It can take up to 10 hours for caffeine to leave your system so ideally you want to stop drinking it around midday. If not veing able to drink coffee or energy feels you with anxiety then take small steps and gradually lower the amount you drink or drink it slightly earlier in the day. If you like a hot drink then try decaffainated herbal teas (I know it's not the same - but your brain will thank you for it).
4. Avoid vigorous exercise 90 minutes to 3 hours before bed - avoid anything that causes you to sweat or your heart rate to increase, instead opt for something calm and meditative like yoga or gentle stretches.
5. Warm shower or bath before bed - the hot water helps change your body’s core temperature so that you go to bed with a lower temperature, which will signal to your body's circadian rythym that it’s time for bed.
6. Ensure your room is a comfortable temperature –linked to the point above; you want your environment to be nice and cool. I like to have my window open regardless of the outside temperature and have a quilt that I can throw off if I get too hot.
7. Black out blinds or an eye mask - this will help to block out any light and allowing your circadian rythym to work effectively by signalling to your brain that it is time to sleep.
8. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and heavy meals 2-3 hours before sleep - I know this can be a tough one for people. And as much as people say that alcohol helps them to fall asleep quicker - which can be true - it doesn't actually allow you to get the quality, deep sleep that you need in order for those important processes in your brain to happen.
9. Journal or do a brain dump - use it as a opportunity to get everything off your mind. Anything that you need to worry about or deal with will be there the following morning so you don't need to worry about forgetting it.
10. Breathing exercises.- there are lots of breathing techniques out there...
Inhale deeply through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth as though you are are blowing through a straw.
4,7,8 breathing - inhale for 4, hold for 7 and breathe out for 8.
I personally like box breathing (see diagram) as it gives me something to picture and focus on.
11. Read - if you are a book lover, avoid reading anything too exciting before bed. I have a go to book that I've read so many times that I love but it's not going to keep me awake as I know what will happen.
12. Have a cup of chamomile or lemon balm tea – Chamomile has been used for years in a number of cultures to help aid with sleep and relaxation. Although the research is limited, there are a few studies that have shown that people who recieve camomile reported better sleep quality *** and one study found that postpartum women who drank chamomile tea reported a reduction in sleep barriers and depressive symptoms.
Lemon balm tea is another good option, particularly if you’re struggling with restlessness and anxiety before bed or insomnia. In one study comparing menopausal women who consumed 500mg of lemon balm to those who took traditional antidepressant, found that the lemon balm group of women reported an improved quality of life compared to those did not.
Just be mindful though that you don't drink it too close to bedtime if you have a baby bladder like me and are prone to needing to get up in the night to wee. Dr Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at the Standford University School of Medicine, recommends taking small sips of your drink rather than gulps to prevent this – can’t say I’ve tried it but if you do give it a go let me know the outcome.
13. Stick to a routine - go to bed and wake up roughly the same time every night, even at the weekends. Avoid going to bed too late - perhaps start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier and gradually increasing this time.
Don't stress and lose sleep over it! I don't recommend trying to implement all of those steps above as it can be overwhelming trying to do everything at once and you're more likely to want to give up. Pick one that you can try and once you've established it as part of your regular routine then add another one. If you’ve tried to lots of things already and still struggling to fall asleep or tame those noisy thoughts before bedtime then it could be time to seek further support.
Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is great in helping people to establish a better sleep routine; the sessions are super relaxing, so they naturally help in reducing anxiety and worries. The thing that most of my clients notice is that their sleep is so much better and in return this helps with their anxiety levels.
If you want to find out more, contact me using the link below.
* Kalmbach, D. A., Arnedt, J. T., Pillai, V., & Ciesla, J. A. (2015). The impact of sleep on female sexual response and behavior: A pilot study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12(5), 1221–1232.
**. Kohn, T. P., Kohn, J. R., Haney, N. M., Pastuszak, A. W., & Lipshultz, L. I. (2020). The effect of sleep on men's health. Translational Andrology and Urology, 9(Suppl 2), S178–S185.
***Adib-Hajbaghery, M., & Mousavi, S. N. (2017). The effects of chamomile extract on sleep quality among elderly people: A clinical trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 35, 109–114
****Chang, S. M., & Chen, C. H. (2016). Effects of an intervention with drinking chamomile tea on sleep quality and depression in sleep disturbed postnatal women: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 72(2), 306–315
*****Shirazi, M., Jalalian, M. N., Abed, M., & Ghaemi, M. (2021). The Effectiveness of Melissa Officinalis L. versus Citalopram on quality of life of menopausal women with sleep disorder: A randomized double-blind clinical trial. Revista Brasileira de Ginecologia e Obstetricia: Revista da Federacao Brasileira das Sociedades de Ginecologia e Obstetricia, 43(2), 126–130.