Anxiety and Sleep (or lack of it)

Tatiana asked one of her fellow counselors to share with us an article regarding anxiety and sleep. Neitcha Thomsen is an LCSW and certified in treating anxiety. She sees clients in both their Dunwoody and Alpharetta locations. I met her at our latest book club event!

by Neitcha Thomsen, LMSW, LCSW, Atlanta Specialized Care

Anxiety, we all have it. Anxiety was something that helped our ancestors survive and we descended from those who were great at survival. If you were to do a pros and cons list about anxiety you could identify some benefits of anxiety:

  • Being alert to physical danger
  • Motivation to complete a task or prepare for an exam
  • Source of energy
  • Improve physical performance

Many of us know the negative impacts of anxiety such as chronic worry, poor sleep, memory decline, health issues, headaches, depression and poor sleep. There are many things in our day to day life that can impact anxiety such as chronic life situation stress, time management, perfectionism and poor boundaries.

Poor sleep is often one of the first noticed symptom of anxiety. Sleep is such an important factor for us since our brain rebuilds during sleep and anxiety can interrupt this. When an individual has anxiety it often leads to what we call rumination. Pathways in the brain can build up with repetition. This repetitive rumination or worry can strengthen this in the brain and build up a type of superhighway to anxiety. Worry is a maladaptive way to resolve anxiety or a perceived problem.

If you are struggling with poor sleep, there are some helpful strategies to improve your sleep:

  • Establish a sleep transition routine that signals your body it is time to sleep.
  • Get some exercise and sunshine during the day.
  • Eliminate stimulation before your bedtime.
  • Create a sleep promoting environment through pleasant sleep temperature, control lighting and sound in your bedroom.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods.
  • Use progressive muscle relaxation exercises or breathing exercises.
  • Listen to guided imagery or meditation before bed.
  • Think about a 2-3 item gratitude list for the day.
  • Contain your worry for the day by setting a timer for worry or writing it down and then putting it away in a box or drawer for the day.
  • Limit your electronic devices and emails before bed so you can disconnect from the day.

If after 45-60 minutes you are still awake, get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. It helps to keep some things handy in a comfortable, low lit area. People sometimes find it relaxing to do a puzzle, read a magazine, listen to relaxing music or even folding laundry. 

Still struggling with sleep, worry or feelings of anxiety? A trained mental health professional can aid you in getting your worry out into the open and identify what might be impacting your anxiety. The therapist can give you some coping skills in order to create a plan, contain the worry and aid you in recognizing that you are competent to handle the problem.

Neitcha Thomsen, MSW, LCSW, CCATP
Atlanta Specialized Care