Today I will be talking about overcoming sleep anxiety.
For some people, it happens like clockwork: Their anxiety is manageable during the day, but as soon as their head hits the pillow, every possible bad scenario plays out in their mind.
Falling asleep is hard enough during this difficult year, but can feel impossible when you’re constantly letting your worries occupy your full attention.
For a number of reasons, it’s not surprising that most people might have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep on occasion.
There are all the usual tricks to get yourself onto the sleep train: counting sheep, deep breathing, and putting your phone away.
But for those who live with chronic anxiety or deal with intrusive thoughts, getting rest is a different level of challenge that requires a little more creativity and experimentation.
In this post you will learn about ways to calm your mind, how to reduce racing thoughts, minimise the effects of stress or anxiety, and get back to sleep and resolve insomnia with some effective relaxation techniques.
You don’t have to lie awake all night, every night. Here’s how anxiety messes with our sleep, and how you can fight back.
Disclaimer: I am not in any way a certified councillor/therapist, therefore all advice given is from my own experience and should not be taken as medical advice.
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What is anxiety?
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the United Kingdom. Even if you don’t meet the clinical criteria for an anxiety disorder, I’m sure you’ve experienced some of the hallmark symptoms from time to time:
- uncontrollable worry
- trouble concentrating
- rumination or obsessive thoughts
- muscle tension
- stomach aches, headaches, back aches, gastrointestinal problems
- blushing, sweating, trembling
- feeling on edge
Anxiety can also include panic attacks, specific fears, flashbacks, compulsions, or social anxiety.
The symptoms of anxiety at night
No matter the time of day you experience anxiety, the symptoms are usually pretty similar. These can include:
- A sense of impending doom, danger, or panic
- Nervousness or irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- An increased heart rate and rapid breathing
- Fatigue or weakness
- Gastrointestinal problems
If anxiety is making it hard for you to sleep, you may also have symptoms of insomnia, such as:
- Nonrestorative sleep (sleep that doesn’t leave you feeling refreshed)
- Low energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty at work or school
Overcoming Sleep Anxiety – 16 Natural Tips to Help!
There are numerous strategies for relieving night-time stress and anxiety before bedtime. If you’re feeling too stressed to sleep, these approaches can help you relax.
Some people may only use one or two of these relaxation strategies, while others may practice a combination of them.
If stress and sleep are a chronic concern, your physician can help you determine what the best approach is for you.
Engage in mindful activities
There are many practical things a person can do to help alleviate feelings of anxiety. I often concentrate on things such as challenging of maladaptive thoughts and in-turn behaviours, acceptance and mindfulness (just to name a few)!
Mindfulness in particular is often used to engage in something with full awareness whilst being present in the here and now.
This can be incredibly grounding and cause you to focus about what’s happening right now, rather than ruminating on what might happen.
There are myriads of things to that a person can engage in mindfully, such as cooking, meditation and yoga.
These activities be seen as a natural remedy for alleviating feelings of anxiety and the best part is – we often do a lot of these activities anyway!
Meditation is a mind and body practice with a specific focus of attention and attitude that lets thoughts come and go without judgment.
Meditation is a known strategy for treating insomnia. There are several types of meditation.
- Mindfulness meditation is the process of observing feelings, thoughts, and emotions as they pass without judgment. A big part of this is being able to be completely present in the moment, not allowing your focus to wander to other thoughts. If you are just beginning with meditation, this may seem difficult but it will get easier with practice. It has been shown to reduce sleep disturbances in adults.
- Body scan meditation is a technique of slowly concentrating on parts of the body and noticing any sensations or pains. To practice this technique, you should focus on a specific part of your body, one at a time. This can either be a systematic scanning, from head to toe, or a more random scanning of the body parts making a connection with the floor. Let your attention be focused completely on your body.
- Guided meditation is when one is verbally guided through a meditative experience and encouraged to visualise a calming location. These guided meditations can include music and nature sounds to assist with relaxing. You can find guided meditations on many popular apps, including Headspace and Calm.
Meditation can be done any time before bed, and it can also be done during the night if you find yourself unable to relax.
Deep breathing can be another component of meditation as well as a relaxation technique you can use any time. The goal is to take slow, even, and deep breaths.
Though there are many structured practices for deep breathing, including the box breathing exercise, you can begin very simply:
- Step 1: Inhale your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 2: Hold your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 3: Exhale your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 4: Hold your breath (to a count of 4)
- Step 5: Repeat
Different practices may incorporate counting breaths and adjusting the time breath is held before exhaling.
- In a quiet place, sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Take a few gentle breaths, in and out.
- Begin tensing groups of muscles one at a time as you breathe. Hold the tension as you inhale, then release it as you exhale. Take a few breaths as you notice (and enjoy) how relaxed each muscle group feels.
- Start with the muscles in your head, neck and face. Move down to your shoulders, hands and arms, back, stomach, buttocks, thighs, calves and feet.
- Repeat for any areas that are still tense.
As you go through this exercise, feel the presence and absence of tension so you can spot lingering tension and do something about it.
Write everything down
If you’re feeling anxious or stressed when you first get into bed, try writing your thoughts down to try and alleviate some of those feelings before you try to sleep.
“Think about your day and write down what went well, what didn’t, whether you can do anything about it and what you need to remember tomorrow,” recommends Sue Peacock, consultant health psychologist and author, specialising in sleep issues.
“These factors are usually the ones that keep us awake, but by doing this we have had the chance to process the day before going to bed.”
Create a sleep routine
Try to establish a night-time routine to improve sleep quality, as well as your ability to fall asleep in the first place. This may reduce the likelihood of experiencing anxieties during night time hours.
So, aim to go to bed around the same time each night and get up at a regular time as well. It’s also a good idea to head to bed at a time that will allow you to get 7-9 hours of sleep.
Keep a routine in the day
You may be working from home, or have children who are away from school, but try to maintain some control on your sleep/wake sleep schedule which is important in periods of unrest.
Not only will the routine keep you focused, it really does help to keep the body’s internal body clock in sync.
Don’t nap or sleep in whenever you want. It throws your schedule off track and the extra sleep could make it even tougher for you to fall asleep at night.
Get up and out of bed
You should only stay in bed if you’re planning on going sleep. You don’t want your brain to associate your bed with anything but the impulse to sleep, so if you’re suffering insomnia, get up, sit in a chair, or go to another room.
The Sleep Book: How to Sleep Well Every Night – Is an excellent book on this subject
Exercise during the day
Of course, this requires planning ahead a little, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends exercising a bit during the day to help you fall asleep at night.
According to the NSF, even a single moderate-intensity workout, like a brisk walk, can improve sleep among people with chronic insomnia.
Get as much natural light as possible
Working from home, social distancing or even self-isolating may mean you’re struggling to enjoy being out in the natural light – this in turn can negatively affect your mental and physical wellbeing.
Where possible try to go out for a quiet daily walk, spend some time in the garden and open the windows for fresh air.
If you’re working from home, try to position your work area near to a window. Natural light – even on a cloudy day – helps reset our internal body clock and make us more alert
Bedroom environment is key
Don’t neglect the basics when it comes to sleeping better. Your bedroom environment plays a part in achieving a good night’s sleep.
It should be cool, quiet and dark and make sure you sleep on a comfortable, supportive bed. Keep computers and clutter out of the bedroom – this is a room where you should feel calm and clear headed.
Stay away from devices
It’s well-known fact that we should stop using electronics an hour before bedtime due to the blue light emitted.
However, we also advise you don’t use them as the activities we do on them can keep us awake and alert.
Given the current crisis, you may find watching the news or social media feeds quite distressing or worrying so avoid watching in the run up to bedtime if it’s likely to make you feel more anxious.
Monitor your media consumption
If you feel anxious or worried after reading the news or scrolling through social media, take a mini vacation from your accounts.
Turn off notifications from news and social apps to lessen the temptation to check your phone. If you want to stay informed, set up a timer for 10 minutes in the morning to get caught up.
Otherwise, try to avoid reading articles and posts before bed. Instead, opt for a feel-good book or podcast you enjoy to help you feel more at ease.
Write out a to-do list
If your anxiety is stemming from all the things you need to get done tomorrow or during the week, writing out a to-do list can help, the NSF says.
Instead of allowing your brain go over all the things you’re afraid you’re going to forget, write them down so your brain can relax and let you get some sleep.
Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake
One is a stimulant, and one is a depressant, however both can amplify feelings of anxiety.
Caffeine can trigger feelings of anxiety and alcohol can make the underlying causes of anxiety feel worse.
Therefore, it is important to limit intake of both of these substances to ensure you are not enhancing any feelings you have.
Speak to a professional
If you are constantly experiencing night-time anxiety and are struggling to cope, consider speaking to a professional.
Reach out to your local doctor or psychologist or consider an option like Lysn, who provides access to trained psychologists via phone or video chat which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home.
These types of services can be instrumental in providing the support and strategy needed to help to eradicate your feelings of night-time anxiety.
Overcoming Sleep Anxiety – Final thoughts
It’s not always possible to be at our best all the time. But if anxiety is causing your mental health or your sleep to suffer, then it cannot be ignored.
There are options you can try at home to manage anxiety and improve sleep, but if that’s not enough, then don’t be afraid to seek additional help.
You shouldn’t feel ashamed about taking care of your sleep, or your mental health.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you are doing to change your life in the coming days and years!
If you have any questions please reach out to me via email@example.com. I would love to hear from you!
I really hope you found inspiration in this article.
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Hello! My name is Adam and welcome to my space on the internet. Here you can find me writing about subjects such as spiritual growth, mental health, self-care, self-development and all things wellness. Connect with me on my journey and join the community!