How Can Better Sleep Affect Anxiety?

Perhaps you are familiar with this scenario.  As soon as your head hits the pillow, your mind starts racing. You start thinking about your to-do list, that thing you should (or shouldn’t) have said to your partner, or what you have to get done tomorrow. Then you open your eyes and see the clock, and realize how late it already is.

More than 40 per cent of Canadians have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night and many more are not getting enough for optimal mental and physical health. Seven or eight hours of sleep a night is typically what one needs to feel rejuvenated. Sleep rejuvenates both body and mind and a lack of it can leave us feeling anxious, moody, irritable and unable to concentrate or cope with changing situations.

We believe it is important to consider a holistic approach to your anxiety.  Managing your diet is just as important as managing your thoughts as you try to improve your sleep quality.

Foods that help you sleep

There are many ways to improve sleep habits, including eating certain foods.  Foods containing calcium, magnesium, potassium and tryptophan can be very effective at promoting good sleep because they work together to help calm the body by relaxing nerves and muscles and boosting melatonin levels (the sleep hormone).  Such foods include raw almonds, cashews and walnuts, bananas, raw seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flax), chickpeas, hummus, leafy greens, turkey, oatmeal and pineapple.  Warm milk and chamomile and passion fruit teas have a sedative effect by also relaxing nerves and muscles.  Herbs such as valerian, kava, St. John’s wort and hops are also beneficial.  These can be found at your local health food store and are sold in blended formulas.

Mindfulness helps you sleep

Research has proven that practicing mindfulness before you go to bed can help you not only fall asleep, but to have a better quality of sleep.  Just as there are many types of personalities, there are also many different ways to practice mindfulness, so it may take you a few tries before you find the tool that fits you best.

One exercise that helps a lot of people is practicing progressive muscle relaxation as you lay in bed.  Progressive muscle relaxation teaches you to tense and then relax your muscles.  When you experience a lot of anxiety in your life you may not be aware of how tense your muscles are, so this exercise can help you identify the difference between tense and relaxed muscles.  As you relax your muscles, it has a calming effect on your brain.  It will also help your body start your sleep pattern off in a more relaxed manner, improving your sleep quality. 

Start at the bottom of your body and move up.  First, you systematically tense the first muscle group (for example your legs).  Next, release them and take time to notice how your muscles feel when you relax them.  Take a deep breath, and move to the next muscle group.  This is not an exercise that should be rushed.  Give yourself 15 minutes to do this.  It may feel awkward the first time you do it, or you may feel like you rushed through it.  I would suggest you try this 3-4 nights in a row before you decide if this is the tool for you.

Other ways to prepare for a good night’s sleep

  • Keep blood sugar levels balanced by eating regularly throughout the day, including protein rich foods at each meal (fish, eggs, lean meats, nuts, seeds)
  • Exercise early in the morning or during the day
  • Establish a bedtime routine and be consistent with it
  • Keep the bedroom quiet, dark and at a temperature that is good for you; wear comfortable clothing
  • Clear the mind of worrisome thoughts and anxiety by listening to sleep meditation audios or calming music (nature sounds or classical music)
  • Journal your worrisome thoughts before sleeping

Things to avoid before bed

  • Caffeine is a well-known sleep disrupter.  The melatonin-depressing effects of caffeine can last up to 10 hours so it’s best to avoid caffeinated drinks from midday.  Other stimulants include sugar, alcohol, drugs and smoking and should be avoided within at least 4 hours of bedtime
  • Avoid stimulating activities like exercise, reading on computer and phone screens and watching TV
  • Avoid reading about tragic or depressing events in the news
  • Avoid eating large meals before bed, as it’s hard for your body to rest as it digests food

If you have questions about eating better for your health, contact Glenys Bowers, R.H.N. at 604.375.9471.

You can contact Lisa Catallo at 778-549-6334 or through the box below for any questions you might have about your anxiety or other ways to manage it.

References – New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, by Patrick Holford; Article published on