Anxiety is more common than ever – especially with everything going on in our lives and around the world. Anxious, racing thoughts not only interfere with our comfort and focus during the day, they often also keep us from getting the kind of quality sleep that we desperately need.
The number of antianxiety prescriptions dispensed have increased by over 35% during this pandemic including those for Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan. Medications for sleep disorders increased by 15%. Though these drugs act fast and do work, they are usually used short-term and at the lowest effective dose closely monitored by a health care provider.
Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, and Valium are all benzodiazepines (a class of sedating drugs), which can cause a host of issues including memory problems, drowsiness, confusion, and addiction. They can be very difficult to discontinue and should not be stopped abruptly as severe withdrawal syndrome can develop that can include anxiety, irritability, and seizures in some cases. When combined with alcohol or other sedating drugs, overdose can occur.
Drugs such as Ambien and Lunesta are used by many, but they also have many downsides. They can limit REM sleep causing a hangover effect, brain fog, and memory problems. Most people have also heard the stories of episodes of sleep walking, sleep driving, and other odd behaviors that can occur. This can happen at any time during use. People have no recollection that they did these things the following day. Both benzodiazepines and the above sleep drugs carry the FDA’s black box warning for serious side effects.
Is there a better way? After all, sleep is important for our body, mind, and spirit!
First and foremost, don’t wait. If you are having sleep problems, take action now!
Here are some tips to improve sleep quality.
- Because sleep is so important, MAKE IT A PRIORITY.
- Address any biological issues that affect your sleep such as chronic pain, sleep apnea, acid reflux, untreated thyroid issues, heart conditions, etc.
- Treat mental health conditions and substance use disorders that you’re aware of.
- Go to sleep when you are truly tired.
- Go to bed and wake up on a regular schedule.
- Develop good sleep hygiene.
- Create a restful sleeping environment
- Your bedroom should be a peaceful place for rest.
- Control comfortable temperature, lighting and noise
- If you have a pet that disturbs you, consider having him/her sleep elsewhere.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable – not too soft or too hard, not too small.
- Exercise regularly, but not too late in the day as it will keep you alert.
- Eat light at night. Too much food or drink at night can keep you up.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep.
- If you’re going to nap, do it early in the day.
- Try to relax before bed.
- Warm bath or shower, quiet music, a good book (not exciting), meditation, gentle yoga, etc. to relax mind/body/spirit.
- Are you a worrier? Write down every concern that comes to mind before going to bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night ruminating on worries, write them down at that time, too!
- Try sound therapy (soothing sounds to lull you to sleep)
- Keep technology out of your bedroom.
- Keep your clock out of your sight.
- If you simply cannot sleep, get out of bed and occupy yourself with something relaxing.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) uses techniques that specifically address the root cause of insomnia.
- Consider natural supplements such as melatonin, magnesium, l-theanine, GABA, and 5-HTP to help calm the brain and promote healthy sleep. Talk to your healthcare provider about them. Be aware, however, that some physicians may not be familiar with these supplements and their effect on sleep.
Seek professional help if these tips are not working for you. Sleep disorders, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and other mental health issues are not things to put off. Your mental well-being is extremely important, especially with all the stresses going on right now. Waiting to get treatment until the pandemic is over could make you feel worse over time.