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How To Sleep When You Have Anxiety
Do you regularly lie awake with your mind racing? You’re not alone. Bethany Fulton figures out how to get a good nights sleep
It’s 3am. I’ve been lying awake for four hours now, and all I can think about is how much I want to sleep, and how utterly incapable of it I seem to be. I might get up and wander the house. Maybe I’ll get up and do some work. But one thing is certain – for the entire time, I’ll be on edge. I SHOULD BE ASLEEP.
Considering sleep is an essential human function, it’s astonishing how many of us struggle with it. Whether you’re tossing and turning until the small hours, or you find yourself kept awake by the worries of daily life, more of us than ever are finding it difficult to dose off.
Sleep can be made even harder by anxiety, something a lot of us seem to suffer from these days. But while there is no magic sleep bullet, there are several steps you can take to ensure you rest a little easier, some of which you should do at bedtime and others you can do throughout the day.
- Cut Back on Caffeine
Reducing your caffeine intake can make a huge difference to your sleep when you have anxiety. Some of us (me included) find caffeine can be a trigger for anxiety anyway, so add in the fact that you’re more likely to struggle to fall asleep and it’s a whole mess of sleepless nights. Whether you cut out caffeine entirely or just try and avoid it after noon, limiting your intake could really help with anxiety in general and promote healthy sleep.
- Avoid Alcohol
While a glass of vino in the evening can help you fall asleep, alcohol is something to reconsider if you’re struggling with sleep. For as much as booze might help with initially knocking you out, it also reduces how long you spend in REM, the phase of sleep which allows your mind and body to properly rest and recover. If you’re waking up feeling tired despite getting the recommended eight hours, it’s likely that you’re not spending enough time in REM sleep. Try and keep alcohol to earlier in the day (I’m taking that as an excuse to day drink, but you probably shouldn’t), or just reduce your alcohol intake in general.
- Get Some Exercise
You may not want to hear it (I certainly didn’t) but exercising during the day can help you to get a good night’s sleep. Regular exercisers fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply, so it might be time to accept that getting sweaty really is good for every aspect of our lives. Thinking about it, I do usually sleep better after my Monday yoga class, so clearly, I need to destroy my poor thighs every day to get some decent rest.
- Bin the Blue Light
You might have read some of the recent reports about the health effects of blue light, which is the type emitted by digital screens. Blue light messes up your body’s sense of day and night, so when exposed to blue light, our body reads this as a signal to be awake. In short, scrolling through Instagram before bed can mean you will struggle to get to sleep, even once you’re done procrastinating by following all of the cat accounts you can find (or is that just me?). There’s also evidence that blue light can damage your skin, so that might be something to bear in mind. As someone who spends 99 per cent of their time looking at a screen, I’m slightly scared of what I’m going to look like in ten years.
- Revert to Routine
A recent Restless article by Charlotte Moore talked about how much easier she slept after settling back into her childhood bedtime routine, and such a schedule really can help with falling asleep when you have anxiety. Having an established bedtime routine means your mind knows the cues that mean it’s time for bed, and it can start slowing down earlier in the evening. I’ll be trying out Charlotte’s book, bath, bed routine later this week!
- Make Bedtime Mindful
Personally, the main thing I struggle with is trying to fall asleep when my mind Just. Won’t. Shut. Up. Mental chatter is a tricky thing to manage, as your brain wants to be active and thinking, yet in doing so, can’t fall asleep. The most effective solution is to walk the line between doing just enough to keep your mind occupied and not so much that you’re kept awake. It’s basically counting sheep, except the tactic that works best for me is counting down from 10,000 in time with my breaths. Not only does it make you more aware of your body and help you to slow down, but mentally saying each number to yourself is long-winded (and boring) enough that it can summon sleep. I know I’ve reached the 7,000s before, but if I stick to it, I always fall asleep in the end. I’ve personally found meditation apps can really help with keeping your mind busy, but not too busy.
- When All Else Fails…
Of course, sometimes you’ve just got to accept defeat and get up. If there’s something in particular on your mind, whether it’s something you need to remember to add to your to do list for tomorrow, or you can’t stop thinking about the fact that you left downstairs untidy (I’m looking at you, Monica Geller), sometimes the best thing is to get up and sort it. It’s one less thing on your mind, and getting up, sorting it and then trying to wind down again might be exactly what you need.
If your anxiety is keeping you awake, it’s worth trying some of these methods before going to a doctor. However, it is recommended that if you’re still struggling after several months that you visit your GP to see if there’s something that can be done to help. As someone who seriously struggled with sleep deprivation for almost a year, and became a pretty angry person because of it, I really recommend seeking help if these aren’t working. Sometimes though, it’s worth looking around you for any obvious sources of stress. Mine was my ex, and now I sleep pretty damn soundly without him…