Treating Sleep Disturbances Caused by Anxiety

by Lynne Taetzsch Patient Expert

I don't know how many nights I have lain awake worrying about something I did, something I need to do, or something disastrous that's about to happen.
It's amazing how everything seems more ominous and hopeless in the dark.

When I know at the beginning of the night that I'm going to be wide awake for hours, and I also know I need to be sharp the next day, I sometimes take an Ambien.
As long as I don't use them too often, they usually do the trick.
And there are many other sleep medications available, from over-the-counter Benadryl to Klonopin.

The healthiest solutions to sleep problems, of course, are life management and non-drug therapies like meditation and deep breathing.
For life management, try these accepted recommendations:

  1. Get regular exercise, but nothing strenuous close to bedtime.

  2. Eat your last meal of the day early enough to leave two or three hours without eating before you go to bed.

  3. Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption, especially later in the day.

  4. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

  5. Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex, that is, no reading or watching TV.

A friend of mine who is a massage therapist recommends deep breathing and relaxation.
Here are two websites that offer advice on how to use these techniques to fall asleep:

Deep Breathing

Relaxation Techniques from the University of Maryland Medical Center

I sometimes use a simple breathing meditation which goes like this:
breathe in and out normally, but pay attention to the breathing and count.
Breathe in and out, counting 1; breathe in and out, counting 2, up to 4, when you start again.
The trick is to notice the breathing, how it feels as your breath goes in and out, and ignore everything else that's happening around you.

Another friend uses self-hypnosis to help her go to sleep.
The way this works is that you talk yourself into relaxing, like this:
"I am relaxing all the muscles of my body . . . I'm beginning to feel free of all muscle tension . . . all my limbs are limp and relaxed . . . my breath is deep and slowing down . . . I feel relaxed all over . . . and so forth.
For more on self-hypnosis as a sleep aid, check out this web site.

Sleep is important and most of us need 7 to 9 hours in order to function well.
When anxiety keeps us from sleep, as mine periodically does, we need to find solutions that work for us.

Lynne Taetzsch
Meet Our Writer
Lynne Taetzsch

Lynne is an abstract painter and writer from Ithaca, New York. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder.