Do you lie in bed, reading to go to sleep, and then are suddenly overcome with anxiety? If so, you wouldn't be alone. Anxiety often seems to get worse at night. It may be due to the fact that you're lying there in the dark and quiet, with nothing but space to think about stressful things, and ruminate over your day. Or, perhaps you've experienced something at night that makes you nervous, and therefore, you have a hard time at night.
Whatever the reason is, anxiety at nighttime can be a killer to your sleep. Therefore, it's important to find some ways to relax enough to go to sleep. Continue reading for some tips and tricks to fight rumination!
Regardless of what you do, nothing replaces seeking the underlying issue of why you get anxious at night. This is most successfully going to be done in therapy. There are different types of therapies, with one of the most successful being cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. Other types of psychotherapies, like EMDR or sensorimotor therapy can be helpful in resetting your nervous system and settling an overactive part of your brain known as the amygdala.
Once you begin exploring the root of your anxiety, you may begin to find some relief. The tricks and resources below are adjuncts to that but they cannot replace that kind of work. So, as you read the tips below, understand that they are most successful in the context of therapy.
Breathing exercises are great options for decreasing your anxiety before going to sleep. Taking several slow, deep breaths and focusing all of your attention on air leaving and entering your body can help reduce some of the rumination that is at the base of your anxiety.
While focusing on your breath, focus on other aspects of your environment. What do you see, what do you feel, what do you smell, what do you hear? This mindfulness can help take your mind off the past or future, so you can focus on the present.
There is another tip that you can do known as "file it", an exercise created by Julie Hilton, who is a clinical social worker in Atlanta. This is the process of visualizing a table full of folders, each labeled with the things that is racing through your mind. As you work through your thoughts, imagine yourself filing them into these various folders, and then placing them into a mental cabinet. You do this, with the plan that you will open the drawer and address these issues in the morning when you have a free, and well-rested mind.
Another compartmentalization technique is to schedule worry time. This is time set apart in your day for you to worry and make a plan for addressing those worries. This worry time can be whatever length you need it to be, but the shorter, the better. Also, make sure that it is nowhere near bedtime, or it could interfere with your ability to go to sleep.
Create a sleep routine
You should aim to fall asleep at the same time everyday and wake up at the same time everyday, including the weekends. In order to do this, it may be helpful to create a sleep routine that helps you transition from the daytime to the nighttime. Humans are not good at going from 60mph to 0mph, just like that. So, we require a buffer time before going to sleep.
This sleep routine should start roughly at the same time everyday and follow the same order. This coaches your brain and body that it's time to go to bed. These activities should be calming, non-stimulating, and something that helps relieve your anxiety. Think of things that make you feel calmer, and incorporate them into your routine. These can include a shower, reading, spending time with family, playing a board game, knitting, etc. Whatever helps you relax, and doesn't spike your heart rate or brain activity.
Before going to bed, also try to spend at least one hour before bed not on your phone. Phones can be a great source of anxiety. Therefore, it is most useful to put them away so you can be present in the moment, and go to sleep without that extra anxiety.
Don't lie in bed awake
Once you head to bed, if you struggle to actually fall asleep, the worst thing you can do is lie in bed awake. Lying in bed awake tells your brain that the bed is associated with just lying their. However, you want your brain to associate your bed with sleeping. Therefore, if you are in bed for twenty minutes, but are unable to go to sleep, instead of lying there getting more anxious about how tired you are going to be the next day, try getting up, walking around, and doing something very mundane (i.e. reading the manual to the refrigerator). This prevents you from overstimulating your brain, while also breaking the association of being awake in the bed.
Invest in helpful products
Once you've tried these behavioral modifications, you may need some extra tools to help with your anxiety. Below are some examples of items that can help you relieve your anxiety, and get a good night's rest. Don't go broke trying to find the best solution, but think about what else may cause you trouble sleeping; lack of comfort, lack of physical touch, lack of feeling sleep, overactive mind, etc. Then, find the best product below that addresses those shortcomings.
- Weighted blanket
- Sound machine
- Sleep tea
- Aromatherapy diffuser and essential oil set
- Scented candle
- Bath bombs
- Posture pillow
- Audible subscription
- Meditation guide
If you are having trouble with anxiety that is preventing you from sleeping, then please consult a sleep health professional at our center by clicking the orange button below and taking a free online sleep test.