Feeling anxious is a horrible feeling. You can feel alone and it can be worse at night when you’re trying to sleep.
Six years ago the Mental Health Foundation reported 8.6 million cases of anxiety in the UK. As we live in an ever-increasing pressured and switched on world, this amount can only have increased. Add to this the pandemic we find ourselves in and anxiety levels have probably reached an all-time high.
Feeling anxious can leave you feeling hot, agitated, restless, with your mind racing and unable to relax. Anxiety and sleep is a vicious circle. Anxiety can cause sleep problems and sleep deprivation can cause anxiety. But there are some things you can do to enable you to sleep so you can break the cycle.
Getting your sleep hygiene right is an excellent basis to start from. Not drinking caffeine 5 hours or so before bedtime and getting exposure to a decent amount of light during the day can all help. As well as exercising regularly but not within 3 or 4 hours of going to bed and taking care not to eat foods that are too rich at dinner time, these all help your body to be in the best possible shape for sleeping.
Writing everything down
If your mind is racing, then getting everything down on paper is one way you can quiet it. Write a to-do list and write everything down that’s racing around your mind just before you go to bed.
Keep a routine
Going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning is the key to setting your internal clock along with getting a decent amount of light during the day. This will help your body know when it needs to sleep. Flooding your home with natural light as much as possible during the day and sitting by the window when you can are great ways to ensure you get enough light when you can’t get out of the house very much at the moment.
Keep your bedroom for sleeping
When we watch TV or do work in our bedrooms our brains start to associate the room with those things.
This isn’t great if you’re anxious about work or something you’ve watched on TV, like the news. By keeping your bedroom for sleeping and sex and nothing else, you associate it with sleeping, and any anxious thoughts aren’t triggered when you go into your bedroom.
Take your clock away
Knowing the time during the night can lead to worrying about waking up. We begin to think about how long we have until we need to get up or clock watch and worry about how long we’ve been awake. Taking your clock out of your bedroom stops this as all you can do is wonder, and as you don’t know, you can more easily get back to sleep.
If you need an alarm you could invest in a Lumie clock where the time can be turned off or use your mobile phone but put it on the other side of the room, so it’s not tempting to look at it in the night.
Stay away from anxiety-inducing activities before bed
Looking through social media, looking at your bank account, or watching the news before going to bed can trigger anxiety and can stop you from getting to sleep. Stay away from doing any activity which triggers your anxiety for an hour or two before bed. If you’re finding that difficult because there are other people in your home watching the news or talking about what is going on, talk to them about how you’re feeling and explain that it triggers your anxiety. Tell them that you’d like to stay away from everything for an hour or so before bed. Maybe you can sit down and watch a TV programme you enjoy together or read that book you meant to get to.
If can’t sleep don’t lie in bed awake
Lying in bed tossing and turning won’t help you get to sleep.
If you find you’re lying there for 20 minutes or you’re getting more agitated, then get up and go to another room. Keep the lights low and do an activity that doesn’t involve looking at your phone or laptop. Read, tidy up, write your thoughts down with paper and pen, or any other activity that you can do that won’t increase your anxiety or keep you wide awake. When you feel sleepy go back to bed.
When we lie in bed unable to sleep we come to associate our beds with lying awake and it can become harder and harder to get to sleep. By getting up and going to another room you’re breaking that association.
A couple of tricks to try
Being able to relax or take your mind off your thoughts is one way to get off to sleep.
You can do this by trying the following things.
Tense and relax – work your way from your toes to your fingertips. Tense each muscle as hard as you can for 10 seconds and then relax.
Start with your toes, work your way up one leg and down the other, then back up and to your torso, down one arm and then the other. By tensing and relaxing your body, you’ll feel the tension leave your body as your muscles need to relax after being so vigorously tensed.
Tapping – give your brain a pattern to follow and it can’t resist. Tap each thigh with your hands in time with a ticking clock.
Bring your breath in time with your tapping, breathing in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 4 or whatever feels comfortable. After a minute or two start to slow your tapping down and concentrate on keeping the rhythm. Keep your breath in time with your tapping. By focusing on the rhythm of the tapping and your breath, you can’t think about anything else and before you know it, you’ll be falling asleep. Keep at it if it doesn’t seem to work the first night you try, as it can take 3 or 4 days.
If you’re feeling anxious night after night you may find that you need to give it a week or two before it’s possible to sleep well again. It’s important not to chop and change what you’re doing but stick with the same things night after night to give them a good chance of working and for you to see any changes.
Remember, being unable to sleep will only make you feel tired the next day so it’s not the end of the world if you can’t sleep. Your inability to sleep tonight isn’t something you need to start worrying about. Tomorrow is another day.