Deep Sleep Reduces Anxiety Levels

When we have anxiety often one of the first things to suffer is our sleep.  It may be difficult for us to drop off to sleep: we ruminate, toss and turn.  Or maybe you have no problem dropping off, but wake suddenly at 3 am with an anxious thought and are then unable to return to sleep. However, the good news is that if we can improve your sleep quality, deep sleep reduces anxiety levels.

Woman sleeping deeply - deep sleep reduces anxiety, says Sarah Tuckett Psychotherapy and Counselling North Brisbane
Photo by Gregory Pappas on Unsplash

The not-so-good news

Research from UC Berkeley in the USA shows that one sleepless night can increase our anxiety levels up to a whopping 30%. 

The good news

They also found that deep sleep reduces our anxiety.  

Something as simple as getting better quality sleep could help reduce your anxiety levels. How awesome is that!

“Deep sleep had restored the brain’s prefrontal mechanism that regulates our emotions, lowering emotional and physiological reactivity and preventing the escalation of anxiety,” Eti Ben Simon, postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley.

So when do we get deep sleep?

In each sleep cycle there are several phases to sleep (see the image below) and we go through these cycles approximately four times in an eight-hour period.  However, we only have two cycles of this deep sleep (stage 4) which has this anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) effect.

How do I get more deep sleep to reduce anxiety?

Try this simple Evening Mind Clearance technique as you lie in bed (3 mins)

There are 3 simple steps to this Evening Mind Clearance technique created by Siimon Reynolds. So as you lie down in bed preparing for sleep, we’ll use the power of positive thinking to reduce anxiety:

  1. Create a list in your head of things that you are grateful for.
  2. Forgive anyone who’s annoyed you today (or before).
  3. Visualise tomorrow going really well. Really picture your day ahead going swimmingly and having a great time. (I’m usually asleep before I get to this point, so my big tip is to turn the reading light off before you start this!)

Avoid alcohol to get more deep sleep

“Booo” I hear you say.  Sadly, although it might make you feel more relaxed initially, that glass of Rosé is a depressant and a sedative.  Sedation is not the same as sleep.  Alcohol lessens both REM and deep sleep.  Which means less of that protective anxiety-alleviating effect.

Avoid caffeine after 1pm

It’s a stimulant.  Preferably we want our body and mind to calm down in the afternoon and evening. 

Have a regular routine

Get up and go to bed at the same time, even on weekends.

Give your body time to wind down in the evening. Favour gentle exercise and stretching in the evening. Avoid vigorous exercise before you need to go to sleep.

Keep your bedroom cool

Keep your bedroom cool. (Easier said than done in a Queensland summer.  TIP – wrap a freezer block in a towel if your ceiling fan isn’t cutting the mustard. )

Dim the lighting and reduce blue light exposure

Keep your lighting dim in the evenings to promote natural circadian rhythms. Especially avoid fluorescent lights because they inhibit the release of melatonin (which makes you want to sleep).

Avoid blue light from technology at least 2 hours before you go to sleep. The blue light affects the release of melatonin. Read more about blue light and sleep here.

And here are 12 more suggestions for calming your mind before you go to sleep.

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Deep sleep reduces anxiety was last modified: January 15th, 2020 by Sarah Tuckett