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Sleep and anxiety

lady lying awake in bed wants to overcome issues with sleep and anxiety

There are plenty of benefits to a good night’s sleep. However, we sometimes find ourselves tossing and turning with feelings of dread and unease. If you find yourself in this position, there are some simple things you can do to help manage your sleep and anxiety.

Why can’t I sleep?

Many people suffer from sleep problems, including the inability to fall asleep, regularly waking up during the night and not being able to fall back asleep again, and early waking. The cause of some sleep problems may be related to physical health, for instance the effect of a health condition or medication you are taking. However, often the underlying cause is psychological, for instance symptoms of anxiety, depression or trauma. It is important to seek help from your GP for these underlying psychological problems.

You may be someone who finds that as soon as you lie in bed emotions or thoughts come to the surface. This may be a sign that you’re not attending to these emotions in your waking hours. Make time to know what you’re feeling and try and find an outlet, such as a journal, creating a worry list or talking to others for support.

If this doesn’t improve things, then think about talking to your GP about potentially accessing a talking therapy or you can self-refer to our service.

What can I do to improve my sleep?

Sleep hygiene is a set of good habits that can help improve sleep. Here are some tips and recommendations to help overcome issues with sleep and anxiety:

  • Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day and avoid naps. A regular routine helps train your body for sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine for four to six hours before bedtime as they are both stimulants that affect your sleep. Instead have some warm milk or chamomile tea.
  • Don’t use alcohol to help you sleep. While it may make you sleepy in the immediate short-term, it has a negative effect on the quality of your sleep and can lead to you developing a dependency.
  • If you have trouble falling asleep, try to distract yourself with breathing exercises, meditation or deep muscle relaxation.
  • Avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices for an hour or so before you go to bed as the light from the screen may have a negative effect on sleep.
  • Try not to clock-watch. A lot of people worry about not getting enough sleep, but watching the clock makes you more tense and anxious, which leads to you being more stimulated and less likely to fall asleep.
  • Your bed is for sleeping so try to help entrench this connection by not using it as a place to do other activities, such as watching television, eating or surfing the internet.
  • Develop rituals before bedtime. For instance, having a warm bath can help you feel sleep, or do some meditation or stretching exercises.
  • A good diet can help with good sleep. Try to avoid heavy meals before bed. However, an empty stomach can be quite distracting so if you’re hungry, have a light snack.
  • Your bedroom ideally needs to be dark, quiet, tidy and be kept at a temperature of 18C and 24C

Helpful resources

Sleepio is an online sleep improvement programme based on CBT principles. It’s free for people living in London. Download it here:

Overcoming Insomnia and Sleep Problems: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques by Colin A. Espie

If you are experiencing some of the issues mentioned…

If you feel you need additional support to overcome your concerns with sleep and anxiety, our Talking Therapies service may be able to help. You can register for the service by completing this self-referral form.

This story was originally published in the Winter 2020 Community Living Well magazine. It has been edited for website purposes. Subscribe today to receive mental health and wellbeing tips straight to your inbox, four times a year!

Refer to the Community Living Well service here.



Author: Stewart Gillespie
Posted on: 9th September 2020

SMART St Mary Abbots Rehabilitation and Training
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