The Importance of Sleep and the Effects on Anxiety

I am continuing on the theme of anxiety this week, and the condition that seems to conspire to make it worse -lack of sleep.

Good quality sleep is so important. Ideally we should get eight hours a night. With families to look after and demanding jobs or even a thriving social life, we often do not get that peaceful night’s sleep that we should. Sleep plays a big role in your physical health and mental health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repairing your body and supporting good brain function. In children and teenagers, sleep also helps support growth and development so perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on our teenagers when we have trouble getting them out of bed! Lack of sleep can impact on us in many ways and even harm over time; deficiency can raise your risk of some chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and can also affect how well you think, react, work, learn and get along with others. It can affect our safety too; if we are tired when performing important tasks such as driving or operating machinery we can be prone to accidents. Children who lack sleep may struggle with school work and examinations.

Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you are sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day; it is forming new pathways to help you learn and take in information. It may be that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain , so if you are sleep deficient you may have trouble making decisions or controlling your emotions and behaviour. It will also play a part in anxiety and depression.

Sleep is important in regulating the hormones in your body such as insulin which controls your blood sugar, and important growth hormones in children. Another interesting point is that lack of sleep makes you hungry, so if you battle with your weight and controlling your eating it may be worth thinking about a few early nights!

Melatonin and sleep

The pattern of waking up naturally when it is light and sleeping at night when it is dark is a natural part of human life. A key factor in how we sleep is regulated by exposure to light or darkness. You may say this is obvious, but in modern times we do not really sleep in the way our ancestors did or indeed as animals do. Melatonin is a natural and beneficial hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain. During the day this gland is inactive. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal gland starts to function and releases melatonin. This has the effect of naturally slowing the body down and preparing us for sleep. When we sleep melatonin levels stay elevated in the body and then fall again with the light of the new day. So we see that light affects how much melatonin the body produces. During the shorter days of winter, your body may produce melatonin either earlier or later in the day than usual and this change can have an effect on mood, often called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is good to make sure your curtains are drawn at night and the bedroom is dark; all appliances should be switched off and try not to have a television in the room! Leave your mobile out of immediate range too! (It can be done!) All electronic devices can interfere with your sleep. One thing I try and do (and often find it hard to stick to) is to have a ‘wind down’ spell after 8pm. This means staying away from the computer and leaving unfinished work until the next day. Most emails can wait until the morning! Also, I try to avoid listening to late night news so that I don’t go to bed feeling troubled.

In the dark night hours, there is nothing much worse than laying awake tossing and turning. Every minor problem and worry about tomorrow becomes magnified and before you know it you have a whole list of possible bad scenarios bubbling up in your mind. The best thing to do in this situation is to get up. Instead of staying in bed worrying about how many hours sleep you will be missing and fearing you will be a wreck the next day, go and make a warm drink and try and clear your mind with some calm thoughts. Do something else for thirty minutes until you feel really tired. Just be sure it’s not something too stimulating or involving bright light.

When laying in bed, try relaxing all the muscles in your body from head to toe. This is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation and is a good way of winding down when you get into bed at night. Once you are laying quietly, work through your muscle groups from head to toe. Start with your face: lift your eyebrows and wrinkle the forehead, then close your eyes tightly before opening them and relaxing. Tense your lips, cheeks, and jaw muscles by grimacing, then feel the serenity come over you as you relax all your facial muscles. Work down through the body, tensing and then relaxing the shoulders and arms, the chest and abdomen, (breathing deeply and exhaling as you relax), the back muscles, hips and buttocks, and lastly, the legs and feet. After you have systematically tightened and relaxed all the muscle groups in your body, you should feel more relaxed and calm. You may even fall asleep half way through!

Relaxation CDs

I love to listen to soothing music at night. It’s great for helping you drift off. I recommend any CD by Bliss – find out more at: http://www.bliss-music.com Also anything by the wonderful Lucinda Drayton  – look at her website: Lucind Drayton – Music-Life-Meditation http://www.lucindadrayton.com

Sleep is very important in helping put away the thoughts from yesterday; with good restful sleep the brain can organise and sort the good thoughts from the bad and do away with ‘mind chatter’ so you can awake refreshed and ready to face a new day with new mental awareness.

During the day and often the evening too, especially this time of the year, I have a Himalayan salt lamp plugged in. I have read various reports about their possible health benefits, such as cleansing the air, helping to reduce allergies, increasing energy levels, helping with sleep, treating Seasonal Affective Disorder, and producing an environmentally friendly light source. Whatever their benefits, I do know they certainly lighten up any room with their friendly warm glow and seem to freshen the air too. You can place them on a desk, in your living room, next to the bed or anywhere you choose.

When you are awake at night and feel the darkness closing in, remember that everything will feel better in the morning. Ok not everything perhaps, especially if you have any ongoing troubles, but you will be able to put things more into perspective when you are up and about, have opened the curtains, and chased away the night. And if you do lay awake worrying, remember also,  that there is nothing at all you can do about anything in the night time hours, so you may as well get to sleep and think about it again another time!

Sleep well!

dreaming

As the sun sets, fold away your cares of the day and leave them outside your door. Then, wait to glimpse the moon and stars and know the Universe is wiser then we can ever be’.

More thoughts on Anxiety.

I recently wrote some posts about anxiety. Because anxiety seems to be so commonplace in people’s lives at the moment, or at least I seem to have come across a lot of people suffering from it, I wanted to write down some more thoughts about the subject. I am well aware that different approaches work for different people and I am not qualified to dispense medical advice, I can only write from personal experience and give some insights I have gained from others. I hope there may be something here that may help a little if you are finding yourself going through anxious times.

Anxiety takes many forms and can shape your thought processes and decisions. It is thought to be related to the biological fight or flight response to feeling threatened. It can become a problem if it is accompanied by panic attacks or anxiety about things which are part of everyday life.

Anxiety isn’t rational. It’s not just an amplified version of what is worrying you. It’s more than that. Sometimes you don’t know what sets it off. Some days you can cope with life and others you just don’t want to know. A lot of people think anxiety is nothing more than a similar feeling you get before giving a presentation at work or an actor having first night nerves; it may be a bit like that at times, but often its more long lasting and doesn’t decrease as it would when events like the above are over. Some of the symptoms are palpitations, wanting to escape form your surroundings, fear you may lose control of thoughts or actions, racing heart, nausea, insomnia and nervousness.

Anxiety can strike anyone and people from all walks of life. It doesn’t really matter what your circumstances are, what background you come from, whether you are in a happy relationship or alone, hold down a high powered job or are unemployed, well-off or hard up. It can creep up on anyone and sometimes it is just unexplained.

There are many ways of coping with anxiety and different ones work for different people. One thing I have noticed is that friends and family often want to find a solution for you and a reason for why this is happening to you. That’s fine but there are times you don’t want to listen to solutions and you don’t particularly want to have the reasons described. You just want to get through the day. And all you really want is for someone to say ‘It’s okay’ or ‘you will get through this’ and ‘I am here for you. I love you’. With empathy and support you can cope so much better. Remember – just because a condition is given a label it doesn’t necessarily mean it solves the problem in your head.

Here are some tips about what not to do when you are battling with anxiety:

Do not watch the news.

Do not under any circumstances look up the condition you are worried you have on the internet. I promise you the information you find will scare you and often the stuff you read is not accurate. Trust me on this. I have been there!

Don’t overdose on caffeine and be careful with alcohol consumption – hangovers are debilitating at the best of times but if you are feeling vulnerable they can make anxiety levels worse.

Do not become a couch potato – you will feel much better if you go outside and walk/ take exercise.

Don’t have very late nights. Lack of sleep makes anxiety worse. Even if you suffer from insomnia- get to bed early and get as much sleep as you can. At the same time, rather than lay tossing and turning, get up for a while and make a milky drink (cows milk or an alternative like almond milk if you don’t like dairy) Then try and get back to sleep again.

Don’t eat junk and sugary foods. Avoid any foods that trigger your anxiety and cause headaches like cheese and yeast extract. Acid producing food and drinks can make you jittery ie. processed meats and sodas,  whilst alkaline foods can be more calming, ie. vegetables and most fruits, beans and lentils.

If you are trying to help someone with anxiety , here are a few things to remember:

Often someone in an anxious state comes across as distant or uncaring but this is not how they are inside – they are feeling bad and preoccupied and may not realise how they appear to others. It doesn’t mean they don’t love or care about you.

Don’t say their worries are silly or unfounded. They are very real to them!

They may appreciate your help but not you trying to change them. You cannot know how they are feeling inside.

Never say ‘pull yourself together!’ (I’m sure you wouldn’t !)

For those suffering from anxiety, getting through the day is the important thing.

When you are in a situation that is causing you to feel anxious  – for example, worrying you might be late for an appointment, or losing your keys, ask yourself what would be the worst thing that could happen? Most things can be overcome even if they upset us at the time and cause an inconvenience. You will find most people are helpful if you are stuck in a minor predicament. Try and reach out and have a lighthearted approach- it is amazing how this will help an awkward situation and make you feel more optimistic.

Even in more serious situations that would make most people anxious, you will be surprised how you will often find help and sympathy from unexpected people or places.

Remember, anxiety doesn’t define you.

Have a small item that you find comforting and keep it with you. I have a few words on a scrap of paper in my handbag written by my late mother – it reads : ‘To my lovely girl -be happy. You will never know how much I love you. Love Mum.x ‘  To know you are loved or have been loved is more than uplifting. It is at the core of everything.

YOU are loved. Yes you are – even if you doubt it.

Blessings to you.

LynIMG_0110

 

Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength ‘

                                                                                                 Charles Spurgeon