Helping You Calm Yourself Before Bed
Anxiety and insomnia are inextricably linked. Excess worry often manifests during evenings, making falling and remaining asleep more difficult, while sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety. This negative cycle can significantly impact someone’s overall mental health.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions in the United States (1). Not getting enough sleep can have enormous ramifications on physical and psychological health. If you’re struggling to sleep because of anxiety, worry or fear, here are some of the best steps to help you fall asleep while battling against anxiety.
What is Sleep Anxiety?
Sleep anxiety mimics many of the symptoms of performance anxiety, where a cycle of anxious and sometimes intrusive thoughts dominates your mind before you go to bed. This can provoke a cycle that includes a fear of going to bed, anxiety-induced insomnia and a racing mind before waking up feeling extremely anxious. Some common symptoms of sleep anxiety include:
- Trouble falling and staying asleep.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Feeling restless and nervous.
- Gastrointestinal problems.
- Nightmares or terrors.
Breaking this cycle is critical to improving mental and physical health through sleep. This can be difficult without recognizing whether your anxiety or your insomnia is driving anxiety. While finding an answer to that conundrum can be challenging, following simple steps before bed can help ease you into a deep, restorative sleep pattern.
Falling Asleep with Anxiety
Several strategies can help ease the impact of anxiety at bedtime and help ease yourself into sleep. Changing your sleeping habits won’t automatically translate into lower anxiety levels overnight, so it is essential to persevere and remain patient. However, with time, these changes may help you fall asleep and significantly lessen your anxiety.
Good sleep hygiene
Changing your habits during the day, particularly in the lead-up to bedtime, can help the quality of sleep and lower anxiety levels. This is all part of practicing good sleep hygiene. Some ways to achieve this include:
- Limiting screen time before bed.
- Not undertaking strenuous exercise more than 3 hours before bed.
- Not consuming caffeine or alcohol near bedtime.
- Not eating anything close to bedtime.
- Taking on Vitamin D through sunlight during the day.
- Limiting naps to 20 minutes.
- Having a dark and cool bedroom.
- Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine.
Meditation has been proven to help claim anxiety, particularly when practiced immediately before bedtime. Research has shown that deep breathing relaxation techniques using the diaphragm can massively reduce anxiety before bedtime and help anyone that practices meditation techniques like this to enjoy a good night’s sleep (2).
Several excellent podcasts and apps have meditation techniques that can be followed to relax the body and mind. Sitting quietly and focusing on breathing for 10 to 15 minutes daily can reduce anxiety levels. Focusing on deep breathing helps to silence your mind, allowing you to navigate stress and let worries seep away.
While exercising a couple of hours before bed is a no-no, regular exercise throughout the day helps calm bedtime anxiety by lowering the production of stress hormones such as cortisol. A moderate-intensity workout, such as a brisk walk, can help ease symptoms of chronic insomnia.
It is recommended not to undertake strenuous exercises, such as five-a-side football or an intense cardio session late at night too close to bedtime.
Write Down Your Worries
Anyone who has experienced sleep anxiety will often cite a racing mind as one of the most challenging symptoms to overcome. Sometimes, a racing mind involves overthinking anxieties and taking them to extreme and irrational conclusions.
Writing down your thoughts, to-do lists and worries on paper is an excellent way of helping your brain plan for the following day without the thoughts continually swirling around your head. Stream of consciousness journaling immediately before you fall asleep, where you write down whatever comes to mind as it appears in your head, is another excellent way of helping to clear your mind.
Another well-known symptom of bedtime anxiety is laying in bed awake. If you’ve tried sleeping for 20 minutes but remain as sharp as ever, having a complete reset can often help. Take yourself out of your bed and let it air, move into another room or a chair with a book. This is known as stimulus control, which can often reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.
Stimulus control often works best outside your bedroom environment by allowing your brain to reset for a short period, reducing anxiety and falling asleep quicker.
Limit Screen Time
Laptops, cellphones and tablets emit a blue light that plays tricks on the brain. Blue light suppresses melatonin because the blue light tricks the brain into believing it is daytime. (3)
Most phones have a light filter setting that reduces the amount of blue light; however, the best way to help you get a good night’s sleep without anxiety is to avoid screens for one to two hours before bedtime. Not only will you fall asleep quicker, but you’ll also experience a night of much less disturbed sleep.
Get a Comfortable Bed
Creating a comfortable environment for your body is essential to helping ease anxiety and allowing the body and mind to fall soundly asleep. Finding a supportive mattress and pillow reduces pressure points in the body, relieving stress and stopping you from tossing and turning.
Finding a mattress with cooling technology helps your body regulate its temperature, meaning you won’t be overwhelmed with anxious night sweats as your body overheats.
Following these simple steps can be the first step on the road to breaking the anxiety/insomnia cycle. While it may take time and perseverance to see the benefits of all of these steps with lower anxiety levels and experiencing undisturbed, restorative sleep, these lifestyle changes can reduce the need for medical intervention.