Updated: Oct 23, 2021
Anxiety almost has buzzword status these days, you can’t scroll any corner of the internet without finding something related to it. It seems like the numbers of people who suffer with anxiety is continually growing. It also seems like everyone is at risk, from young children to the elderly. As a nurse, I can tell you, nearly every patient I encounter has a diagnosis of anxiety or is at least on medication to help with symptoms of anxiety. It’s truly epidemic, but why? Well, I certainly don’t know all the answers, but what I do know is that poor and insufficient sleep is feeding this epidemic. While it is likely not the root cause for all anxiety sufferers, poor sleep has the ability to spiral a relatively functional person into total dysfunction.
The fact is, we have been socialized to devalue and sacrifice sleep before almost any other physiologically necessary process. Even our physicians, the top tier of our healthcare system, don’t appreciate the importance of a quality 7-9 hour sleep everyday, and what it means to our mental health. So, why should we care? In a time when the Canadian health care system is stretched to its absolute limit, we need to start caring more about what we can do for ourselves to manage our health. Self care may have gotten the reputation of a hot bath, a glass of wine, and a trip to the nail salon, but it is actually so much more. Self care is the care that we can control, it’s what we can do by ourselves to improve our health in a time where the health care system simply cannot serve us the way it should.
It is no secret that mental health resources are scarce. Therapy is expensive, and can be difficult and even intimidating for many to access. So what can we access? I think we all know that outside of therapy what our healthcare system has to offer consists almost exclusively of pharmacological interventions, aka medications. Do medications have their place? Absolutely! Is it the only way to manage something like anxiety? Not even close. It might be shocking given that this is a sleep related blog, but sleep has a pretty major influence on our mental state, including how we experience anxiety.
Sleep and anxiety actually have what is called a bi-directional relationship, which is just a fancy way of saying that anxiety causes poor sleep, and poor sleep causes increased anxiety. So, basically it's a chicken/egg situation, and as a result, we don’t often know which came first. This close connection between the two is self- reinforcing, so the worse your sleep becomes, the worse your anxiety becomes. This situation can quickly become out of control for some people. However, for the large majority of us it just means a general feeling of discomfort and low grade anxiety all the time. That is my experience at least. So why is this? It is because during sleep our bodies go through important regulatory processes that help balance the hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for our mental state. This includes optimizing our brain health and function for things like our memory, thought processes, and emotional regulation. These processes help us remain resilient to inevitable daily stressors that life brings.
What I can tell you is that the general public should stop seeing people who prioritize 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night as lazy, less productive, or even less fun than those who live in a sleep deprived state. We should start seeing adequate quality sleep for what it is, a secret self care weapon for optimizing our mental health. Whether you experience a more pervasive clinically diagnosed anxiety disorder, or you are a self diagnosed anxious person, your quality of life will improve drastically by making some small changes to your sleep. Anxiety doesn’t have to be your identity, and it doesn’t have to rule your life, and hey, just by reading this blog you are already moving in the right direction. Check out our social media pages and podcast for more sleep tips, and keep an eye on this blog for more posts on improving your sleep quality and quantity.