It’s estimated that over 40 million American adults experience an anxiety disorder — nearly 20 percent of the population — and that’s not even counting the general state of anxiety that everyone experiences at some point or another.
Whether you’re one of the one-in-five individuals managing an anxiety disorder or simply in a more anxious season of life, there’s a chance that this emotional state of worry, fear, rumination, and (sometimes) panic can have a major impact on your sleep. In fact, insomnia (among other sleep disorders) can coexist with an anxiety disorder. According to a study published in 2020 in Psychiatry Research, individuals experiencing anxiety were five times more likely to have negatively impacted sleep.
In sum, science (and, you know, regular people) have found that anxiety can directly impact your shuteye for the worse. The worry and rumination can keep you up for hours, prevent you from slipping into a slumber, cause nightmares, lead to night-waking (i.e., waking up in the middle of the night, struggling to stay asleep), and more. Then, of course, being sleep deprived can exacerbate anxiety (recent research has found that it even causes anxiety disorder), so it’s a vicious, sleepy cycle. Sleep medicine doctor and psychiatrist Alex Dimitriu, MD, says “Chronic sleep deprivation may increase the risk of depression [and] anxiety,” among other disorders. “Sleep deprivation puts our bodies into ‘fight or flight to survive modes,” he says.
So if you’re struggling, know that it’s not all in your head, and you’re not alone. Literally, millions of people have the exact same challenge. And there’s good news! There are remedies.
Instant Sleep-Supporting Fixes
If you’re tossing and turning right now, and you’ve found this article while searching for help nodding off immediately, fear not. Here are some handy tips to get you to sleep right now…
Try a Warm Shower
Not only can warm temperatures be soothing to an anxious body (experts recommend this type of warming therapy to physically and mentally relax the body), but a warm shower at night can also prepare the body for sleep, cueing your brain to let go, unwind, and drift off.
Mix up Some Magnesium
If you need an immediate fix, the supplement magnesium may come in clutch for you right now. Magnesium helps relax the muscles and the mind (seriously, it’s like a powdered chill pill!), and it aids in promoting restful sleep, too. There are plenty of ways to incorporate magnesium into your diet with whole foods (always preferred), but a supplement can help you in your time of need when you just need to get some rest ASAP. Try a powdered form you can mix into water (or even tart cherry juice!) to make your magic sleep elixir.
Do a ‘Brain Dump’
One of our favorite tips from certified sleep coaches and psychologists is a journaling type of exercise called a brain dump. In essence, you take everything from your brain — worries, to-dos, racing thoughts, and literally anything else that pops up in your mind — and put it onto paper. It’s as if you’re extracting the anxiety from your head, placing it onto a pad of paper or into a journal, and leaving it there for the night so you can fall asleep. It’s often recommended to individuals struggling with anxiety, as this pen-to-paper practice can help you make an energetic shift that allows your mind to release for the evening.
Try a Breathing Exercise
We know you’re already breathing, obviously, but a breathing exercise is yet another science-backed method to quell anxiety and promote sleep. Belly breathing, box breathing, and Yoga Nidra are all styles of breathing exercises that may help you rest and get into a sleepy state — pick whatever works best for you!
You’ve heard us say this before, but it’s so important! Meditation is absolutely essential for regulating anxiety, managing stress, and getting better sleep. We’ll take the guesswork out of it for you — we’ve got some guided, sleep and anxiety-focused meditations ready to roll, so you don’t have to open another tab or app. Try the Deepest Sleep Ever, Anxiety Release, Free From Anxiety, or Relaxing Sleep guided FitOn meditations to get started.
Targeting the Root Causes of Poor Sleep
If your sleep and anxiety struggles are chronic (think: weeks or months), you need more than the immediate fixes. While breathing exercises, meditation, and journaling can all help you manage stress, they can only do so much if you’re bandaid-ing over a deeper, more serious issue.
The first step would be to schedule a visit with a licensed therapist or psychologist. They’ll be able to help you take inventory of your stress levels and begin to pinpoint the root of your anxiety. They’ll also be able to help create a more customized regime based on your specific needs — and it’ll be based on the way your mind works.
There are other shifts you can make to your routine that can dually assuage anxiety and promote better sleep… like exercise, for example! A regular exercise routine — even just fifteen minutes a day (!!) — can help you recalibrate your anxiety levels and get a better night’s sleep (and boost brain health in general!).
As Dr. Dimitriu puts it, “The more awake you are by day, the more you want and need to sleep at night; this is why hiking fixes a lot of people’s insomnia. The more vertical activity by day (walking, exercising, etc.), the more horizontal activity (sleep) [patients] will get at night. You need vertical time to have quality horizontal time.”
This isn’t an instant fix… you’re not going to go on a 15-minute walk right now and immediately drift off. But over time, with consistency, you’ll notice improvements on a number of levels.
Dr. Dimitriu also recommends “keeping a regular bed and wake schedule” in general to keep your sleep cycle as healthy as possible.
It’s Essential to Get Good Rest, Especially During Times of Stress
Keep in mind even the healthiest among us experience mental health challenges and struggles with sleep now and then. Every person’s body and mind are different, so working with your healthcare provider (and mental health professional) is going to be tantamount to getting your sleep cycle back on track. Until then, we hope these tips will help you get those 40 winks, so you feel more rested tomorrow. Sleep tight!