If you’re like most people, you’ve probably experienced some amount of stress throughout the day. And if you have anxiety, you know that it doesn’t just disappear when you decide it’s time for bed. Getting a good night’s sleep can quickly become an additional stressor, making your anxiety worse and lead to a vicious, unpleasant cycle.
When you’re suffering from anxiety – trying to fall asleep feels like:
- It’s impossible to switch off your thoughts. It’s 3 am. You physically feel tired, but your mind is wide awake. You start overthinking what you said to your co-worker at that meeting this morning and suddenly remembering to schedule your dentist appointment.
- Feeling grouchy, cranky, or tired in the morning. You’re irritable and sluggish, and you can’t seem to think the next day.
- Fear. You may feel scared, worried, or stressed at night, whether you’re coming up with “what ifs” and worst-case scenarios, or you’re scared of the dark.
- Focusing too much on the day (or the next day). You fixate on your worries from the day and anticipate stressful activities for the following day, making it feel impossible to relax.
So how does anxiety affect sleep?
When you’re anxious at night, your body perceives your worries and ruminating thoughts as stress. So naturally, it activates your stress response. This perceived “stress” causes your body to release adrenaline and put you into fight or flight mode.
So, it’s understandable that you don’t feel tired enough to fall asleep when your body thinks it’s in danger of being threatened.
The good news about anxiety and sleep being so closely related is that once you help one issue, you’re also helping the other. So to help you fall asleep and stay asleep, consider the following 6 strategies:
- Develop a sleep routine. Having a wind-down routine can help your body transition from day tonight. Don’t do anything that may be too overstimulating, like scrolling through social media or watching a new tv show. Instead, make your routine calming and quiet. This will signal to your brain that it is time to rest, and over time, your body acclimates to these relaxing cues.
- Keep your bedroom peaceful, dark, and quiet. Create a relaxing environment without distractions. If you prefer to have a TV or computer in your room, avoid using it before going to sleep. The blue light from the screen deceives your brain into thinking it’s daytime.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. The body and mind love consistency. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day follow your body’s natural circadian rhythm-or your internal clock. when you get up and go to bed at different hours, it disrupts the rhythm.
- Learn to be present. Mindfulness changes the way we perceive and respond to our thoughts. Rather than going down a negative spiral of thoughts, practice observing them and allowing them to pass. Consider listening to a meditation app like the One-Minute Pause app or do a deep breathing exercise on your own.
- Set aside some downtime. For many of us, getting into bed is the first time we’ve stopped and pondered on the day we just had. Rather than jumping into bed after a long stressful day, set aside some time to process the day before going to sleep. Jot down any worries or stressors on a piece of paper if you need to. Whatever you do, don’t use this time to do anxiety-inducing tasks like paying bills, or doing work.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep. If you work, watch TV in bed, your mind will start to associate each of those activities with being alert, focused, and awake. If you can’t sleep within 30 minutes, get up and do a dull task. When you feel yourself getting tired, go back to bed. This pattern teaches your mind that your bed is only meant for sleep. Over time, you’ll naturally feel more tired when you lay down, and it’ll make it easier to fall asleep.