Can Sleep Support your Anxiety?

Do you get enough sleep?

Do you know why we need to sleep and why it is so important for physical and mental health? Read on to find out how sleep can help you to maintain a healthy mind.



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Are you interested?


Extract from why we sleep (page 107) by Matthew Walker.


How much sleep do we need?

The average adult needs 7/9 hours of sleep a night.

Some people need less, others more.

I need 8/10 hours any less and I am as useless as a chocolate teapot.

How many hours a night do you need?


Sleep Cycles

When we sleep, we go through sleep cycles, Non-REM sleep and REM sleep. The average amount of sleep cycles an adult needs to complete to feel alert and refreshed is four to five.


Non-REM sleep has four stages.

Light, where we drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily. This is the stage where our muscles may twitch as we relax.

Stage two sleep, our brain waves have slowed down. The occasional bursts of rapid waves are the sleep spindles. We spend the majority of our sleep in this stage. Sleep spindles refresh our brain, particularly the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. The greater number of sleep spindles we have, the better our cognitive functioning.

Stage three is deep sleep (1). Our brainwaves are very slow - these are known as delta waves and are interspersed with smaller fast waves.

Stage four is deep sleep (2). We only have delta waves. During this stage, there's no eye movement or muscle activity. If we are awakened during deep sleep, we can't move immediately and often feel disorientated.


REM sleep

We move into REM sleep approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. REM sleep then occurs in cycles of between 90 and 120 minutes during the night. This stage of sleep is when we dream, and our brain speeds up and becomes very active. During this stage, the muscles of our limbs are temporarily paralysed to prevent us from acting out our dreams. If we awaken during this REM sleep, we often remember our dreams.



Tips for resetting your circadian rhythm.

• Going to bed at the same time each night. • Waking up at the same time each morning (including weekends) • Changing mealtimes to adjust your drowsy and alert times. • Daily exercise (avoid 1-2 hours before bed as it can be too stimulating) • Reducing caffeine and alcohol • Bright light therapy • Melatonin supplements. A recent study found that weekend camping can effectively reset your body clock as you align with natural, light, and dark cycles.


Body clock

Our body clock is known as the Circadian Rhythm and follows the natural 24- hour clock.

This internal master clock is controlled by the Suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), situated in the hypothalamus. It follows the natural 24-hour clock. When light hits our eyes, it travels along the optic nerve to the SCN, which governs our hormonal release, body temperature and blood pressure. Messages are sent to other brain regions, including the pineal gland, which switches off the melatonin, which causes drowsiness at night.

The circadian rhythm can be disrupted by - travelling across time zones, pregnancy, shift work, medication, changes to routine, health conditions, mental health disorders, menopause.



Sleep Debt

If we are constantly getting poor sleep or too few hours’ sleep, we can build a sleep debt. This sleep debt affects how we feel emotionally. When we build up a sleep debt, we don’t get enough REM sleep. REM sleep is when our brain processes the events of our day and the emotions we have experienced.




Sleep Deprivation and the Effect on the Brain.

The Amygdala is our emotional control centre, and when we are sleep deprived, it can overreact to negative stimuli. A 60% amplification of emotional reactivity has been found in case study participants. An overactive amygdala can be a sign of sleep deprivation. Still, it can also be a sign of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and insomnia, causing more sleep deprivation, a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation.

The Prefrontal Cortex is the area of our brain responsible for rational, logical thought and decision making. The link between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex is key to having a balanced mix of emotional responses. Sleep debt inhibits the prefrontal cortex from putting on the emotional brakes, allowing us to make rational decisions.

The Hippocampus is another area of the brain that is affected by sleep deprivation. Our ability to memorise new information and for that information to be stored in other areas of the brain requires our hippocampus to be working efficiently. When sleep debt builds up, the hippocampus becomes full, preventing new information from being stored, causing us to feel overwhelmed and our stress bucket to fill up and overflow.

Sleep really is one of the main building blocks for us to lead a healthy lifestyle, mentally and physically. We can’t regulate our emotions, reactions, and thoughts properly if we aren’t getting enough sleep or peaceful sleep.


Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is essential for your physical and mental health. Having a routine helps to normalise sleep as part of your daily routine. The same routine that can reset your body clock also promotes good sleep hygiene. • Going to bed at the same time each night. • Waking up at the same time each morning (including weekends) • Changing mealtimes to adjust your drowsy and alert times. • Daily exercise (avoid 1-2 hours before bed as it can be too stimulating) • Reducing caffeine and alcohol


Why do we dream in metaphors!

As with anything to do with sleep and dreaming, there are a lot of different theories. I have taken inspiration from Joe Griffin from Human Givens. He states that we dream in metaphors, so we don’t take up memory storage and create a memory based on something that hasn’t or isn’t going to happen. By dreaming metaphorically about the events of our day and the emotions we had, we can make sense of our experiences. At the bottom of this blog I have, linked to an article by Joe Griffin to give more information about


The role dreaming plays in our emotional and mental health.

As we go about our daily life, meeting people, talking, driving, shopping, working, we have emotional reactions to everything we do. Some of them we are aware of, and others we aren’t.

These emotional charges are primal, and we have to act on some of them, like eating. You see an apple, you think, ‘I’m pretty hungry, I’ll eat it’, and the emotional charge is released. This primal instinct keeps us alive, but we don’t eat every time we see food.

Imagine you meet a friend for coffee, and you turn down the cake she offers you. You would quite like some, but you are cutting out sugar for a week, so you say no.

That night you dream about a giant cake chasing you down the road and you can’t run fast enough. You had forgotten about the cake, but the emotions were still in the background.

Your brain is releasing the emotions you felt. This is nature’s way of ensuring we don’t get an overload of emotions that we haven’t worked through.

Excess stress, worry, and anxiety can overload the brain with emotions, and lack of sleep, particularly REM sleep, means the emotions are carried over into the next day.

We need, on average, 3-5 REM cycles a night. Which amounts to about 20% - 25% of our night’s sleep. In 7-9 hours of sleep, this is about 90 minutes overall.


Support yourself with:


  • A good sleep hygiene routine

  • Meditation

  • Yoga

  • Exercise

  • Guided relaxations

  • Journaling

  • And, of course, hypnotherapy.

How you can support yourself if you are experiencing poor sleep due to anxiety. When we are experiencing anxiety, our body is in a state of fight or flight, and this can interfere with a restful night’s sleep by keeping the sympathetic nervous system on high alert all night and preventing deep sleep. Lying awake at night worrying compounds the activation of the sympathetic nervous system by keeping the amygdala on high alert.

How can I help you? Hypnotherapy helps to calm down the fight or flight response, working directly with the emotional part of your brain. We can work with why you are experiencing sleeping difficulties or work with the anxiety. Generally, most issues are linked, and by targeting one area of your emotional wellbeing, there will be a knock effect in other areas.

To book an initial consultation with me to find out how I can help you contact me HERE I look forward to hearing from you and helping you sleep peacefully and overcome anxiety or any other issue you are experiencing. Take care Hannah

If you want to know more about why sleep is so important, I highly recommend a book called: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. An eye-opener about the effects of sleep deprivation, caffeine, alcohol and lots more. dreams.https://www.hgi.org.uk/resources/delve-our-extensive-library/dreaming/why-we-dream-metaphor,



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