It is often a vicious cycle"worrying and anxiety keep you awake at night"your lack of sleep increases your anxiety during the day. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential in fighting anxiety but the constant worrying has you lying awake in your bed. Or maybe you climb into bed and quickly fall asleep, only to be awake and hour or two later, unable to fall back asleep. You know you have to sleep and yet you can’t turn off the constant stream of thoughts, even when you are completely exhausted.
Insomnia and waking during the night are common complaints of those with anxiety. The following are some tips and ideas to help you get a good night’s sleep. Try different methods and strategies to learn what works best for you.
Keep to a schedule. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends. Experiment with different bedtimes and wake up times to find your natural sleep cycle.
Eliminate napping. If you must take a nap, try to keep it to 30 minutes and take your nap in the early afternoon. Later naps may interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night.
Cut off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before your set bedtime. Besides keeping your mind stimulated, the lights from an iPad or other electronic devices can make your mind believe it is still daytime. Make sure to keep these devices in another room, turn them off or cover up the blue displays. This includes digital clocks and televisions.
Start dimming lights around the house several hours before bedtime. Change a few lightbulbs to a lower wattage; that way you can turn off the brighter lights and still have some light. The lower light level will signal your body to produce melatonin and get ready to go to sleep.
Stay away from alcoholic drinks. While a drink at night may help you fall asleep at first, you don’t get the same quality sleep after drinking and you may find yourself awake in an hour or two.
Eliminate caffeinated drinks and foods after 2:00 P.M. Caffeine affects people differently, so your cut off time may be a little earlier or later, but start with 2:00 P.M. and adjust as needed.
Quit smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant and can interfere with sleep. Until you do quit, limit your cigarettes in the few hours before you go to bed.
Keep your bedroom for sleep and sex. The room you sleep in should be a relaxing space. Avoid working on your computer, paying bills or doing other work in your bedroom. You may also want to remove the pets from your bed. Besides triggering allergies, movement might prevent you from falling or staying asleep.
Add exercise to your daily routine. Exercise helps reduce anxiety and depression and improves sleep quality. You should exercise early in the day or, at the latest, 3 to 4 hours before your bedtime. Yoga or tai chi done before bed may help you sleep though.
Pay attention to nighttime snacks. Large meals late at night may interfere with sleep. Stick to snacks that are complex carbs and/or dairy, such as cereal with milk or cheese and crackers.
Avoid having anything to drink a few hours before bedtime. This helps eliminate the need to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.
Use white noise. Many people find the sound of a fan or static to be soothing and cover up other night-time noises that are keeping you awake. Today, there are white noise machines or apps you can put on while you are falling asleep.
Create a pre-sleep ritual. Find ways to help calm your mind before going to bed. This might be reading (make sure it is a light book that you won’t mind putting down), meditating, taking a warm shower, listening to music. This helps clear your mind. Your nighttime ritual can be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
Use guided imagery to help you relax. There are a number of apps (if you use an app, remember to cover your phone or iPad with a dark cloth so the light is not visible) for guided imagery and meditation that can help you relax and fall asleep.
Write down your worries. Write down everything you are worried about and then shut the notebook to say good-night to your worries. Then allow yourself to put them aside until the morning.
Keep a sleep journal. Write down what time you go to bed, how long it takes to fall asleep, how many times you wake up, what time you wake up in the morning, how you slept. You also want to record what you ate the night before, what activities you did close to bedtime, how much exercise you got, etc. Keeping track may help you see patterns and realize what types of activities/food keep you awake and which help you sleep better.
Talk to your doctor about your medications. Some medications can contribute to insomnia. If you are not sleeping right, talk to your doctor about adjusting doses or changing the time of day you take your medications.
Keep your room cool. Most people find they sleep best when the temperature in their room is between 65 degrees and 75 degrees, but everyone is a little different. You might want to write the temperature in your sleep journal to see if temperature affects your sleep.
Use a flashlight or nightlight if you wake during the night. Bright lights signal your brain that it is time to wake up. Instead of turning on the lights when you need to use the bathroom, keep a flashlight by your bed and use that or keep a nightlight on in the hallway and bathroom so you can see without using bright lights.
Experiment with different scents. Some scents, such as lavender or chamomile help you relax. Spray scents on your pillow (lightly) or use a sachet under your pillow to see if a certain scent helps you relax.
Breathe deeply. When you lay in bed, take a few minutes to breathe deeply. Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 3 seconds and then exhale for 5 seconds, repeating 10 to 15 times. Pay attention to your breathing. This should help you relax and clear your mind.
Cover your clock. There is nothing worse than watching the minutes go by and realizing that you still aren’t asleep. Instead, cover your clock so you can’t see what time it is.
Make your bedroom comfortable and peaceful. Use soft colors and cotton or silk sheets. Wear comfortable pajamas (or nothing at all.) Use light-blocking curtains to keep out unwanted light.
Get into natural sunlight as soon as possible in the morning. Bright light tells your body it is time to wake up and can help you regulate your internal clock. Usually, 14 to 16 hours after you wake up, your body will signal it is time to get up.
Avoid becoming sleepy after dinner. Drowsing on the couch after dinner often leads to not sleeping later. Keep yourself occupied with mildly stimulating activities. Clean up the kitchen, do the laundry or get your clothes ready for the next day.
Once you go to bed, don’t become frustrated because you can’t fall asleep. If, after 20 to 30 minutes, you are still wide awake, get up. Sit in a quiet place, with dimmed lights. You don’t want to start working, looking at television or turning on your computer as these activities will stimulate your mind and keep you awake. Instead, sit quietly in a chair and do relaxation exercises, such as meditation or deep breathing. Once you start to feel sleepy, go back to bed.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.