“My brain won’t let me sleep!”

Q:  “Ever since an intense bout of anxiety and stress a few weeks ago, I am having trouble sleeping.  Before that I was a good sleeper.  So now I wonder if something’s broken or wrong with me.  My doctor prescribed Xanax, and that’s helped, but I’m still only getting about 4 or 5 hours of sleep instead of my usual 8.  I want to sleep but feel like my brain won’t let me.  What’s wrong?”

First, it looks like you recognize the root causes for your insomnia, because you have stated it clearly: anxiety and stress.  Your inability to sleep at the moment is not some inherent defect.  You, like us all, have a built-in capacity to sleep well.  It’s just a matter of enabling it, and in your case, because you have history of being a good sleeper, re-enabling it.

From your description, it’s possible the Xanax worked not because it forced sleep but rather because it reduced the anxiety levels you are experiencing, thus enabling sleep.  So we suggest managing stress and anxiety you experience during waking hours, because these conditions can and will disrupt sleep.

It’s important to understand that sleeping pills (or supplements for that matter) do not directly address the root causes for insomnia caused by stress and anxiety.  But rest assured there are ways to effectively manage stress and anxiety that don’t involve drugs, and thereby help yourself sleep better permanently.

If you are not doing it now, we suggest setting and keeping a consistent bed time and wake-up time.  Your sleep system thrives on this sort of consistency.  Wake-up time in particular is important because that’s how you synchronize your biological clock to your natural circadian rhythm.

Then, upon arising, immediately expose yourself to bright light.  Light gets your system started in subtle but powerful ways.

Circadian rhythm, along with your homeostatic sleep drive, are the two most important internal components that control sleep.  You want these two systems working supportively together.  When they do, sleep is practically irresistible.

All these ideas about improving sleep come from CBT specifically designed for insomnia.  It’s a very effective and drug-free solution for improving sleep.  CBT is a conservative approach that enables you to directly address the root causes for insomnia, including stress and anxiety.

Since you are taking anti-anxiety medication, be sure to work closely with your doctor when making any adjustments.  But rest assured that by addressing the root causes, and by making healthy lifestyle choices, you will succeed and get the sleep you need.

Explore posts in the same categories: Health, Insomnia, sleep

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