Dr Nicola Barclay BAC Q&A: The Relationship between Sleep and Anxiety

To celebrate the renewal of our partnership with the British Athletes Commission (BAC), we put athletes’ questions on sleep in a Q&A to Mammoth ambassador and renowned Lecturer in Sleep Medicine at the University of Oxford, Dr Nicola Barclay, who explained the role sleep had in handling anxiety. 

BAC: So can you now talk through what the role of sleep is in handling anxiety?

NB: Yeah sure, so sleep is not only optimum for our physical health but it is really important for our mental health, we know there are strong bi-directional associations between poor sleep and anxiety. Poor sleep increases anxiety the following day, also high levels of anxiety make it very difficult to get to sleep – so how can we stop this vicious cycle? 

Well, the good thing is that improving our sleep can help us manage the stresses that come up the following say, good sleep helps us regulate our emotions, makes us more resilient in stressful situations, improves our interpersonal functioning and helps decision making and all of these things are likely to reduce anxiety. 

Now good sleep is rich in REM sleep, this is rapid eye movement sleep, and this is the sleep that is mostly associated with vivid dreaming and it’s also thought that this sleep stage helps us deal with emotions and readies us for dealing with stressful situations and it’s possible that dreams may actually be helping us have a little run through, have a practice of dealing with things that are on our minds. And we actually see REM sleep alterations in individuals with depression and it’s thought that prolonged poor sleep disrupts REM to the extent that we have difficulty dealing with the day to day things in our lives, our brain then compensates by trying to get more REM sleep it pushes REM sleep earlier into the night makes it more intense, so our brains are really smart – they know what we need to get, to get more of a good thing. 

But what about the impact of anxiety on sleep? Well, of course if we go to bed worrying and anxious we’re not setting the right tone for sleep, in bed is not the place to be worrying. So as part of stimulus control we need to get out of bed and deal with worries and anxiety elsewhere, ideally we’d like to have dedicated worry time scheduled into our day and that’s the time where we can deal with all the worries – factor this in, and if you’re in bed worrying get up, get out and write down those worries to deal with in the morning.

At Mammoth we know good night’s sleep starts with the right mattress. Explore our selection of premium mattresses right here on our site, or explore our blog for more updates about the latest sleep news and advice.

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