Living with anxiety can affect nearly every aspect of your life, from your relationships with others to your physical health. One common symptom of anxiety is sleep disorders, which doctors define as any abnormal sleep pattern that affects physical or mental health. In a time when emotions are high for everyone, especially those living with cancer or other diseases that put them at a greater risk for a possible COVID-19 infection, sleep disorders are becoming increasingly common. However, while anxiety over the current pandemic and the emotional stress that comes from isolation are to be expected, it’s still important to make sleep a priority. Our latest guest blog from experts at SleepAdvisor.Org talks about the Sleep- Anxiety connection and how to improve sleep during stressful times.

The sleep-anxiety connection 

Even during “normal” times, the connection between anxiety and sleep is clear even if it varies from person to person. In fact, sleep disturbances are often an early sign of anxiety and depression. For some people, anxiety causes them to sleep more. For others, anxiety keeps them awake at night. In still other cases, anxiety about sleep itself — perhaps concerns about not getting enough sleep, sleeping too much, or worries about being awakened by nightmares or panic attacks — disrupt natural patterns. 

Unfortunately, these sleep disruptions have serious consequences to physical and mental health. Not only does inadequate sleep contribute to fatigue, it also has a detrimental effect on your mental clarity and mood. It also has a profound effect on your physical well-being. Studies show that sleep is vital to maintaining a strong immune system and your body’s ability to fight off viruses and infections. A lack of sleep is also connected to chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, further underscoring the need to make getting enough rest a priority, even when your anxiety threatens to take hold. 

Improving sleep during stressful times

There’s no doubt that managing your cancer diagnosis during a global pandemic is stressful, and it’s only natural to feel more anxious than usual. However, by focusing on your mental and physical well-being, and developing some good sleep habits, you can better control your anxiety and reduce the risk of a harmful sleep disorder. 

The most important step to take is to develop good sleep hygiene. This means creating an environment that is conducive to sleep and developing routines that help you drift off to sleep, and remain asleep. Some of the things you can do include:

  • Reserving your bedroom for sleep and intimacy only. Avoid working, paying bills, watching TV, or other stressful tasks in bed, so you can maintain the association between bed and relaxation. 
  • Set up your bedroom for sleep. The ideal environment for sleep is dark, quiet, and cool. Consider adding blackout shades and a white noise machine to help block excess light and sound. 
  • Develop a bedtime routine. Take a warm bath or shower, do some light stretches, or read for a bit before bed to relax and prepare yourself for sleep. 
  • Keep your cell phone in a drawer or another room to avoid the temptation to use it before bed. 

Creating an environment to support sleep is more effective when you also find ways to manage your anxiety. Staying in touch with friends and relatives, even during this time of physical distancing, is vitally important. Use technology to your advantage, or just talk to your loved ones on the phone. If you aren’t already working with a mental health provider, now is a good time to start. Many mental health professionals have begun offering telehealth services to provide support during this difficult time. Ask your healthcare provider for a recommendation, and don’t be afraid to reach out for support when you need it. 

Exercise, sunshine, and maintaining as close to a normal routine as possible is also important to keeping your anxiety under control and supporting sleep. With the proper precautions, it’s perfectly safe to take a walk or exercise outdoors, where the sunlight and fresh air can help you better maintain your sleep cycle and mood. Make a point to get outside when you can, even if it’s just to enjoy a cup of tea in your garden. Avoid spending too much time watching the news; check in once or twice per day for updates, and spend the rest of your time focused on other activities.

And finally, aim to maintain as close to your normal schedule as possible. When you aren’t working, socializing, or running errands as typical, it’s easy to fall into a trap of staying up late and sleeping in. However, the closer you can stay to your regular routine the better, as it will help you remain in control of your sleep patterns and help you manage your anxiety. You may not be able to eliminate all of your worries, but you’ll feel like you have a better handle on your life and ability to face whatever is ahead. 

For more support on improving your sleep, contact us to get your one-year Sleepio subscription, which is being offered free of charge to Penny Brohn UK clients if you sign up before 31st Decemeber 2020. Sleepio is a science-backed sleep improvement programme that can help you manage the worries and thoughts that make it difficult to sleep and get to the root of stubborn poor sleep. Find out more or sign up here.