A Good Night's Sleep: Anxiety Takes It Away and Mindfulness Brings It Back!

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By Roy Faget, MA

There’s no better feeling than waking up after a night of solid, uninterrupted sleep. Your mind feels clear, your body feels rested, and you feel ready to take on the day ahead and what it brings.

Is a Good Night’s Sleep THAT Important?

Absolutely!

Generally, adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep at night to be well rested. Tuning into yourself and your body and knowing the amount of sleep that is best for you is an important thing to know for your health and well-being. Some people can feel well rested after only six hours, while others can’t function well with a mere six hours of sleep. If you are sick, you will likely need even more sleep to heal your mind and body.

Everyone is different, and our bodies may have different sleep needs at different times during our lives.

The important thing is to find your “sweet spot” for sleep hours and make it a priority to get that much sleep each evening.

Unfortunately, some may think that making sleep a priority is being “lazy” or associate it with a lack of mental or physical strength. The laziness label may surface especially for those who take an afternoon nap.

The reality is, quality sleep benefits your overall functioning and health. Even the short afternoon nap is a ritual that many make a priority because it helps reset, recharge, increase focus, and improve productivity for the remainder of the day.

Getting the appropriate amount of sleep for your body improves not only your physical functioning, but your cognitive functioning, as well. Sleep improves your physical health by strengthening your immune system and giving you more energy. It also benefits your mental state by improving memory and boosting your creativity. Moreover, sleep improves your mood and allows for a clearer mind.

Clearly, a good night’s sleep is critical for all of us.

What Role Does Anxiety Play in Sleep Patterns?

For those who struggle with anxiety, sleep is especially important. Stress and anxiety have a close link to sleeping patterns. In fact, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, seven out of ten adults who struggle with anxiety claim it plays a major role in their sleeping patterns.

Of course, we all experience stress or anxiety at times. It’s not abnormal to experience sleep loss during stressful times in our lives (e.g. the night before an interview, a big presentation, or an important exam). But, those with anxiety experience this same sleep loss multiple times per week and may have difficulty going to sleep because of their anxiety, or wake up in the night and can’t return to sleep because they can’t calm their thoughts and emotions.

If you suffer from anxiety and struggle to get sufficient sleep because of it, a mindfulness practice is a great way to restore peace in your life and get some much needed, quality rest.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness expert, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It’s about knowing what’s on your mind.”

Practicing mindfulness will allow you to become fully present for each moment of your life. Mindfulness also encourages a disregard of emotional judgment. Its goal is not to escape all negative and anxious thoughts but to acknowledge they exist and to accept them.

A crucial part of being in the here-and-now is having the realization that there is nothing you can do to change the past, and there is nothing you can do to predict the future. Mindfulness is a helpful tool to combat anxiety and stress because you can’t think about the past or the future when you are focusing on the present moment. If you find yourself drifting into ruminating thoughts, just notice it, and then return to the present moment.

How Exactly Does Mindfulness Improve Sleep?

By focusing on the present moment, mindfulness doesn’t allow the mental space in your thoughts to dwell on the past or stress about the future. When you focus on, and are mindful of the present moment, you give yourself a reprieve from repetitive thoughts and worries, and allow body and mind to rest, which will help you drift off to sleep.

An important part of practicing mindfulness is concentrating on your breathing. Focusing on your breath enables you to think of nothing other than relaxation in the present. It promotes the activation of the relaxation response, the opposite of a stress response, and allows you to sleep better at night. Other mindfulness focuses are helpful, as well, but being aware of breathing is a good first step at practicing mindfulness.

Keep in mind, though, while mindfulness is certainly key right before bedtime, it’s also important for you practice it throughout the day. Even brief moments of mindfulness go a long to helping reduce anxiety and stress. With fewer daily stressors, nights are more naturally prone to relaxation.

One of the greatest things about mindfulness is that it can be practiced anywhere at any time. While adopting a mindfulness practice may take a bit of practice, or even some help from a counselor trained in the use of therapeutic protocols incorporating mindfulness practices, it’s well worth the reward to integrate a mindfulness practice into your life if you struggle with anxiety.
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Roy Faget is a marriage and family therapist associate with the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Contact him for scheduling at 512-270-4883, ext. 109, or request an appointment with him on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.