We now come to the final part in our three part series on managing anxiety through lifestyle changes. If you missed parts one and two you can find them here:
Beating Anxiety – Part 1: Nutrition
Beating Anxiety – Part 2: Exercise
Today we are talking about sleep. While stress and anxiety can cause sleep disturbances, likewise, studies have shown that sleep deprivation can cause anxiety-like symptoms or exacerbate already present anxiety. It can be a chicken or egg scenario.
Whether anxiety started your sleep disturbances or sleep disturbances caused anxiety, treating your sleep should be a priority.
Are you getting enough?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should be getting 7 – 9 hours of sleep. A study of elite performers (musicians, athletes, chess players) showed that the top performers had an average of 8 hours and 36 minutes of sleep. However, the average American only gets 6.6 hours of sleep a night. It’s become a badge of honour in our society to get by on less sleep, but it has serious consequences.
Sleep deprivation can affect our alertness and mood, and slowly start chipping away at our happiness. Four hours of sleep deprivation in a night can leave you as impaired as drinking a six-pack of beer. Now if you get 5 hours of sleep, you may be thinking, “well that’s only 2 hours of sleep lost if I’m supposed to get 7 hours of sleep”, but you may be one of those people that need 9 hours of sleep and then you are in trouble.
Finding the right amount of sleep is a personal matter and may take a little bit of time (perhaps during vacation when you don’t have to worry about waking up at a certain time) to discover what the right amount is for you.
If you do experience a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy or any one of the 70 known sleep disorders, then make sure that you see your personal physician to discuss treatment of the disorder. Many people with anxiety do suffer from a sleep disorder.
Caffeine and other sleep disruptors
If you are using coffee and energy drinks loaded with caffeine to make it through the day, you may be sabotaging yourself. Caffeine has a half-life of 8 – 12 hours, meaning that the caffeine is still in your system 8 – 12 hours later. And a quarter-life of 16 hours. You really don’t want to be drinking anything caffeinated past noon and you should’t be drinking more than 2 cups, especially if you suffer from sleep disturbances.
Even those who say that they sleep through the night with caffeine have been shown in studies to be unable to reach the slow wave deep sleep that is needed for a restorative sleep.
You may also want to skip that nightcap or post show drink. Alcohol, though it may make you feel sleepy and help you fall asleep quickly, it will actually become a stimulant and wake you up in the night.
Eating too close before bedtime is another way to disrupt your sleep. This can be hard when you suffer anxiety and are prone to comfort eating. It can also be hard as a singer, if you have theatre call, which makes you skip dinner and then you’re off for a late night dinner after the show. Timed eating may be a solution for this (and it’s great for your digestion and body compostition, too). That means you are fasting for 12 – 16 hours. So if you allow your last meal to be at 5 pm you won’t eat again until the next morning. The trick here is to make sure you have enough calories during the day to keep your energy up and also eating good quality food that can help with your anxiety. To find the best foods for anxiety click here.
One other thing that can be disruptive for sleep is intense exercise. Though moderate intensity exercise can be done at anytime, even right before bed without fear of sleep disruption, vigorous intensity cardiovascular exercise before bed can cause sleep disruption. So save the hard stuff for earlier in the day. That being said, don’t skimp on vigorous intensity exercise as it has been shown to help sleep quality. For more on exercise and anxiety click here.
De-stress and sleep better
Anxiety often has the mind in overdrive with worries and thoughts, so taking time at the end of the day to de-stress can have a positive influence on your sleep. Avoid doing anything stressful such as paying bills before going to bed. Write out your to-do list for the next day so your brain isn’t whirling with those thoughts. Taking a hot bath with some lavender essential oil can be calming and getting out of a hot bath will start to lower your body temperature, which can aid sleep. Try some meditation. Listen to relaxing music for 30 - 45 minutes before you go to sleep (classical, Gregorian chant and binaural music are all great options). You can find more tips on pre-sleep routines here.
As mentioned in the first of this series, anxiety disorders are a serious matter and you should seek the aid of a mental health professional. Unfortunately, many doctors and therapists do not understand all the lifestyle factors that can be contributing to anxiety, so it won’t hurt to try to implement healthy lifestyle changes along side the other care you will be getting. Just be sure to let your healthcare provider know of the changes you’re making and any differences in mood you may be experiencing, especially if you are on medication, as dosing may need to be adjusted.
If you want more guidance on lifestyle changes, then you may want to book a Singer’s Wellness Strategy session with me. You can book your session here.