Anxiety Depression and Poor Sleep

19 February 2017

ARE YOU UNABLE TO sleep at night because your mind won’t stop racing? Perhaps you fall asleep but dream all night? Or maybe you think you’ve slept well, only to wake feeling exhausted next morning? These are all very common symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The thinking styles of both anxiety and depression involve a lot of ruminating; that is, endlessly going over the same thoughts in much the same way as a cow chews the same piece of grass for ages. This constant negative thinking is usually intense enough to raise emotions, but those emotions are never acted upon, and that’s the key.

Emotions

Have you noticed how things that make an emotional impact tend to stick in memory more easily than those that don’t? Think back to your schooldays for a moment...  Is it the dull and boring lessons that you remember, or do more emotionally rich memories spring instantly to mind?

The mind seems to give a lot of importance to emotions. Anything that aroused emotions during the day needs to be committed to longer term memory before it can switch off and rest at night, and three components seem to be required.

  1. The situation.

  2. The emotions that were present.

  3. The action that was taken.

Components of a memory: Situation - Emotions - Action

Components of a Memory

For example, you:

  • Sense danger experience fear run a way.
  • See a friend feel happy give them a hug.

Each time the emotion resulted in some sort of action being taken, and the mind has all it needs to store that event in memory.

Situation + Emotion + Action

Ruminating, however, gets as far as the emotional arousal stage but often no further, and the cycle never completes. The mind cannot tell the difference between a real or imagined event, and considering it to be real, wants to save a complete snap shot of it, because:

Emotions = Something important

However, it doesn’t have all the pieces because no action was ever taken. It knows it was important but doesn’t quite know what to do with it, hence it cannot switch off and rest until all those incomplete cycles have somehow been resolved. This is what happens when you dream. The mind replays those same events again in order to follow through (in the mind) with the action that didn’t happen earlier, thus completing the cycle.

“But my dreams are weird; not like real life,” I hear you declare.

Metaphorical

Dreams are metaphorical; that is, they’re representations of the thoughts you were having during the day. It’s like the way a young child takes all sorts of everyday items to represent people and objects in the games and stories they play. Your mind does something similar as you dream; drawing on people and events from memory to ‘represent’ the thoughts it’s trying to resolve. So while the content of your dreams may appear quite random, the underlying sentiment will often relate to the thoughts of that day.

All this dreaming is exhausting business, and not the restful sleep you need at all. The brain is extremely active and is creating all the same emotions you were having while ruminating during the day, and you know how tiring and stressful that was! The same is happening at night too.

With both anxiety and depression, a person can have many unresolved thoughts during the day; therefore the mind has lots of incomplete emotional cycles to process before it can finally switch off and rest. That’s why you often wake from a night’s sleep feeling utterly shattered. Effectively your mind and body have been active all night.

This lack of sleep causes no end of physical and emotional problems, including an increase in stress levels and an inability to cope. This leads to more problems, more ruminating, and more feelings of hopelessness the next day, and the whole depression cycle continues.

Rumination/sleep cycle: Ruminating - Poor sleep - Inablilty to cope

Rumination / Sleep Cycle

Breaking the cycle

This may at first seem like an impossible cycle to break out of, but the secret is to recognise the one element you can control. Poor sleep and the difficulty coping that follows are inevitable consequences, and nothing can change those.

The one thing you can control is the thoughts that start the ball rolling. When you have more realistic thoughts about a particular situation, you experience more realistic emotions, and some kind of action can usually be taken.

Or if the situation isn’t immediately important, why not have no thoughts about it at all? Now there are no unresolved emotions to keep you feeling bad during the day and your mind working overtime at night.

Self hypnosis

If you still have difficulty sleeping, something else to help quieten all that anxious mind chatter as you lie down to sleep, is self hypnosis. Hypnosis naturally gets the mind and body into a relaxed state, which just so happens to be exactly the right state for sleep.

Listening to one of these hypnosis downloads also diverts your thoughts away from ideas of being unable to sleep, which, if you dwell on them, will keep you awake.


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