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Panic Disorder and Sleep

6 Tips for a Better Night’s Rest

By

Updated January 23, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Often, people with anxiety disorders have a difficult time falling and staying asleep through the night. People with panic disorder can be more prone to having anxious and fearful thoughts at night. It is not uncommon for panic attacks to be more prevalent before bed, preventing you from getting a good night’s rest.

The following are six tips can help you reduce your nighttime anxiety and establish better sleep hygiene.

Set Aside Enough Time for Sleep

This tip may seem logical enough, but surprisingly, many people do not put enough time aside to get a proper night’s sleep. The average adult requires approximately eight to nine hours of sleep a night. Research has shown that getting the recommended amount of rest per night can help improve mood and performance, making you feel more alert, happy and refreshed.

You can begin to get the right amount of sleep you need by trying to get to bed sooner than later. In order to get an adequate amount of rest, set aside at least eight hours in bed. Many people will wait to get to bed until it is too late to actually get the proper amount of sleep. Anxiety can be heightened if you are constantly watching the clock and noticing that you will not be getting enough rest. For example, a lot of people will get to bed late and think, "It is so late. Now I will only get five hours of sleep. I am going to be such a mess tomorrow!" Such negative thinking will only contribute to your worry.

Have a Bedtime Routine

A bedtime routine is a great way to relax and unwind before bed. By creating a routine, you are telling your body and mind that you are preparing for sleep. This routine can consist of many activities, such as taking a shower, brushing your teeth or praying. These activities are meant to be calming and low energy, so that you are better able to transition to a restful sleep.

Relaxation techniques are also a great and effective way to let go of tension before bed. For instance, visualizing can help you get your mind off your worries and focus on more calming thoughts. Progressive muscle relaxation or engaging in a few yoga stretches can help the body relax. Other self-care strategies, such as journaling or reading, can help you reflect and slow down your thoughts.

Be Prepared for the Next Day

Part of what can keep us up at night is worry and nervousness regarding the following day. To help eliminate some of the stress, it can be helpful to be more prepared for the next day. For example, you may find it anxiety-reducing to have your clothes laid out for the next day, have a list of to-do’s written out or have your things for work packed up and ready to go. You can make these preparations a part of your before-bed routine.

Keep Consistent Sleep Hours

To keep your body in a regular cycle of sleep, it is important to stay consistent with your sleep hours. That means trying to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning around the same times every day. Your body will become used to the sleep hours you set, helping you more easily fall and stay asleep throughout the night.

Many people find it difficult to maintain routine sleep hours over the weekend. However, if you are always having irregular sleep hours on the weekends, you are setting yourself up to have sleep issues throughout the week. Shifting your wake and sleep times an hour or two shouldn’t completely throw your sleep schedule off for the rest of the week. However, if you are committed to getting better and more consistent rest, you will need to keep your hours as stable as possible.

Cut the Caffeine Early

If you are having a hard time falling asleep, it is important to stop drinking caffeine much earlier in the day. Abruptly cutting caffeine out of your diet can actually cause some major withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches and increased anxiety. Instead, try to gradually reduce the amount of caffeinated beverages you drink per day.

Eventually, you may want to limit your caffeine intake to the morning only. Other common food triggers for people diagnosed with panic disorder include alcohol and sugar. Try reducing your consumption of these foods, along with caffeine, and notice if you feel less jittery or anxious at night.

Your Bed is Only for Sleep and Sex

With all of our technology and entertainment, many of us find it difficult to keep our bed a place designated only for sleep and sex. It can be tempting to turn our beds into home offices, by texting on iPhones, answering emails on laptops or reading documents for work. The bed is also not a place for constant entertainment, such as watching hours of television, reading magazines or talking on the phone.

To get a good night's sleep, stick to the 15-minute rule. When you get into bed at night, only allow yourself 15 minutes of wake time. If you do not fall asleep within that time, get out of your bed and engage in a low-key activity, such as reading a book. Do not engage in any activity that may be too over-stimulating, such as watching the news or doing physical exercise.

After about 20 minutes, get back into bed and try again. If 15 more minutes go by and you do not fall asleep, get out of bed again and go back to a quiet activity. This can be very challenging at first, but if practiced over time, you will begin to make sleep a priority and get a better night’s rest.

Sources:

Carney, C. & Manber, R. “Quiet Your Mind and Get to Sleep: Solutions to Insomnia, for Those with Depression, Anxiety, or Chronic Pain” 2009 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Schiraldi, G. R. “The Self-Esteem Workbook” 2001 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

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