A few weeks ago, I posted a short video on What Your Brain Does While Your Sleeping. I was surprised at the number of responses that came through regarding sleep, anxiety and insomnia.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether you’re having trouble sleeping because you’re anxious, or if you’re anxious because you can’t sleep. The answer may be both. It’s a two-way street: Stress, anxiety and worry cause sleeping problems, or worsen existing ones – like not getting enough sleep. That alone, is a big problem.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, some 60 million people in America have sleep problems. That’s almost 20% of the population! Thirty-five percent of adults say that at least three times per week, they wake up either in the middle of the night, or too early in the morning.
Sleep is as important as oxygen to your good health and well-being. It affects not only your physical stamina, but also your memory, organization, productivity, creativity, and mood. Lack of sleep means daytime drowsiness, trouble concentrating, and irritability. Circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster estimates that 30-40% of medical problems are “directly or indirectly related to sleep problems.” When you can’t sleep, the quality of your work, relationships, and health all suffer.
Whether you realize it or not, you need around eight hours of sleep every night. Any less, and you’re cheating yourself out of one of the best gifts your brain has to offer – better solutions to your challenges and problems. Your brain does its best problem solving when its dreaming. This dream time is also called REM sleep. The majority of REM sleep takes place during the second half of an eight-hour period. If you cheat, and only get six hours of sleep, you’ve lost out on more than three quarters of this critical REM sleep, time when your unconscious brain is processing and assembling data, sorting and making new connections, and coming up with better solutions to the very problems that you are worried about.
If anxiety or sleep disruption crops up on occasion, here’s a few techniques that might help:
• Limit Caffeine and Alcohol – Caffeine is a stimulant and like all stimulants, it gets in the way of a good night’s rest. Caffeine stays in your system for about 12 hours. Consuming it late in the day will is guaranteed to negatively impact the quality of your sleep. Have a Diet Coke or coffee at lunch and then stop. You’ll sleep better. Consuming alcohol close to bedtime increases your heart rate and keeps you up. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but don’t drink too much before bedtime, as trips to the bathroom will wake you up.
• About a Half-Hour Before Bedtime, Take Time to Wind Down – A healthy bedtime routine allows your body and mind time to slow down before lights out. Take at least half an hour to play quiet music, take a bath, or read a book. On many nights before going to bed, Oprah Winfrey identifies five things for which she is grateful. She says it’s one of the most important habits she’s ever developed. It calms her mind and brings her peace.
• Steer Clear of Stressful Activities Before Bed – Leave the bill paying for earlier in the day, stay away from heated social media exchanges, and skip the evening news.
• 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.
• Put Your To-Dos on Paper – Instead of letting your brain swirl with all the things that you don’t want to forget to take care of, write them down so your brain can relax and let go.
Make your sleep time a high priority. Few things are more important to your mental and physical health and overall well-being than a good night’s rest. Your body and brain will thank you by delivering better answers to your questions and problems.