We’ve all been there: staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, not being able to switch off and go to sleep, your mind racing with thoughts.
Sleep is so important to keep our body functioning as it should, and generally, we need about 8 hours a night.
But those 8 hours can be hard to come by for those with anxiety. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns in the UK, with an estimated 8 million people experiencing some form of anxiety at some point in their lives.1
Anxiety and other mental health concerns can greatly impact your sleep, even more so if that anxiety is caused by sleep itself. Sleep anxiety is when you experience fear or worries about going to sleep, which can have a big effect on your overall health and well-being.2
But just how can your mental health impact your sleep, and how can you improve your sleep during those nights when you just can’t switch off? Read on to find out more.
How can sleep impact your mental health?
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “woke up on the wrong side of the bed”, you probably associate it with being in a bad mood in the morning.
But, as it turns out, there’s a lot of truth behind the saying because, yes, sleep can affect how you feel on a day-to-day basis.
Not only can poor sleep leave you feeling irritable, groggy, and sluggish, but a lack of sleep has been linked to mental health concerns like anxiety and depression.3
While sleeping, your brain travels through different sleep cycles that help it process emotions and memories.
When you get enough sleep, your brain can process this information correctly, but when you get less sleep than you should, your brain struggles to consolidate positive emotions. Sometimes, this can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.4
Scientists believe that not getting enough sleep can have more of an impact than just making you feel groggy the next day. It is thought that sleep deprivation can significantly impact your mental health and psychological state, leading to other health concerns like anxiety and depression.
In fact, certain sleep disorders that affect your ability to get a whole night’s sleep, like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), have been closely linked to influencing your mental health.3
OSA is more common among those with mental health concerns like depression and is thought to have a significant further impact on the psychological and physical health of those who experience it.5
In addition, insomnia has been shown to be closely linked to mental health concerns, with an estimated 75% of those with depression also experiencing insomnia.3
Traditionally, it was thought that sleep problems = mental health concerns. But scientists now feel that problems sleeping can be both a cause and a consequence of mental health.3
How can your mental health impact your sleep?
Mental health can significantly affect how you sleep, too. Different concerns, like anxiety and depression, can impact you and your sleep in several ways, from sleep deprivation to sleeping too much.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry and sometimes fear. It is your body’s way of responding to stressful or scary situations and is perfectly normal.
But sometimes, these feelings can become excessive, leading to constant worrying and negative thoughts that can be difficult to overcome.6
Feeling anxious at night can cause racing, repetitive thoughts and worries that keep you awake.
Anxiety at night means you might be unable to switch off your thoughts and have an interrupted, restless night’s sleep – also known as anxiety insomnia.7
If you’ve got a stressful day ahead or are worrying about something, racing thoughts are normal, but if it begins to happen most nights, always seek advice from your doctor.
Anxiety night sweats are common too. Night sweats and anxiety often go hand in hand because of increased stress.
Most people sweat during the night, but excessive sweating can be uncomfortable and alarming. If you find yourself experiencing excessive night sweats, it’s best to consult your doctor.8
Depression and sleep are thought to be closely intertwined.
With an estimated 300 million people worldwide experiencing symptoms of depression, it is believed that most will also experience poor sleep.9
Sleep disorders like insomnia are thought to be closely linked to depression, but sometimes, those with depression might sleep more than they need to and experience excessive daytime sleepiness, too.10
Back in the day, problems with sleep were thought to be a result of depression, but nowadays, it is believed that poor sleep can worsen symptoms of depression.
There is a growing focus now on finding ways to help people with depression get a better night’s sleep.11
Symptoms of sleep anxiety
General sleep anxiety symptoms are very similar to other forms of anxiety. But the main difference is that they will happen once you’re in bed, getting ready to go to sleep or even when you’re already sleeping.12
The symptoms of sleep anxiety can include:
- A constant feeling of worry or apprehension
- Faster heart rate
- Feeling scared
- Tensed muscles
- Panic attacks12
Sleep anxiety can result in the inability to get any, or enough, sleep at night and, in some cases, can lead to other sleep disorders like insomnia.12
How to fall asleep when you feel anxious
Trying to get a whole night’s sleep when your mind is whirring with thoughts can feel really challenging.
But sometimes, manageable lifestyle changes like simply improving your sleep environment or cutting out caffeine can give you the best shot at getting some much-needed rest when you’re feeling anxious.
If you’re wondering how to sleep when anxious, here are 10 of our favourite tips to help you switch off and fall asleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – yes, even on weekends!
- Try to get at least 30 minutes of natural light every day
- Exercise regularly, but not too close to when you want to go to bed (try an afternoon or early evening workout instead)
- Try not to take a nap after 3 pm and keep them short!
- Write down all your thoughts, worries and feelings before you go to bed to help to get them off your mind
- Avoid drinking caffeine in the afternoon
- Avoid alcohol and large meals before bed, as your body will struggle to digest them and keep you awake
- Make your bedroom cool, dark, comfortable, and quiet with no distractions like TVs
- Read or listen to relaxing music to help you wind down before bed
- If you find yourself wide awake after being in bed for 20 minutes or so, get up and do something relaxing, like reading a book, or even something dull like folding laundry or putting things away
- Try the relaxing effects of natural sleep products, like a lavender spray, to help you drift off
If you’re looking for more information on how to fall asleep when stressed or anxious, check out our ultimate guide to sleeping better.
The bottom line
The relationship between sleep and mental health is a close one. Poor sleep can have a negative effect on your mental health, and living with a mental health concern, like anxiety, can also affect your sleep.
It feels like a cycle that can sometimes be hard to break.
Not getting enough sleep can leave you feeling groggy and unprepared for the day.
But there are some lifestyle changes you can make to try and sleep better, from exercising more or not consuming caffeine after lunchtime to getting enough natural light and keeping a diary.
But if you are experiencing trouble sleeping at night, check in with your doctor, as they will be able to help you figure out the cause and any appropriate treatment.
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Last updated: 20 January 2023