We’ve all experienced a restless night during stressful periods in our lives – but when sleepless nights become a regular occurrence, they can have a damaging effect on our day-to-day lives. If you feel as though you can’t put your mind at ease and “switch off” before bed, it’s possible that you’re experiencing a sleep disorder.
You’re not alone. Millions of people suffer from chronic sleep disorders, and whether or not stress or anxiety is the cause, anxiety can certainly make the disorder worse.
You might be wondering how to sleep with anxiety.
Types of Sleep Disorders
If you’re unable to fall asleep with ease, find that you wake up during the night regularly and can’t get back to sleep, wake up too early in the morning, or wake up feeling as though you haven’t really rested, the clinical term for your condition may be insomnia.
There are a range of other sleep disorders that can have an on-going detrimental effect on your health, including…
- Sleep apnea, a tendency to stop breathing due to an obstructed airway, which also typically causes loud, disruptive snoring;
- Sleepwalking, walking or carrying out other activities while asleep; and
- Narcolepsy, a chronic disorder in which you experience powerful, drowsy phases during the day and spontaneous episodes of sleep beyond your control.
Anxiety and Sleep Disorders Are Interconnected
The relationship between anxiety and sleep disorders runs in both directions. If you have an anxiety disorder, this can easily escalate to cause sleeping problems, and if you have a sleep disorder, the additional physical and mental stress of being unable to rest can make you much more likely to suffer from anxiety. In fact, studies have concluded that having a sleep disorder significantly increases your chance of developing anxiety disorders and depression.
If your insomnia seems to occur as a result of being unable to clear your mind while trying to get to sleep, it is worth considering some of the following techniques for help on how to sleep with anxiety. It’s important to remember that your circumstances are unique to you, and not every tip will work in every case. However, trying a combination and “forgiving” yourself when techniques don’t help is an important part of the process of managing your anxiety.
Tried and Tested Techniques: How to Sleep with Anxiety
While there are a number of ways to relieve anxiety, the following are specifically focused on maintaining control of your anxiety when you’re trying to get to sleep.
1. Literally throw out your worries.
A recent study published in Psychological Science tested a method that might make you feel silly at first, but their results were overwhelmingly positive. Try writing down the concerns, worries, and stresses that are keeping you awake onto a sheet of paper, and throw that piece of paper out. If you feel the need to keep the paper to review as a to-do list the next day, that’s fine too – but the act of writing out your worries and protecting your thoughts can have a powerful impact. Try it next time your mind refuses to go to sleep and instead cycles through an endless list of worries as you toss and turn in bed.
2. Get out of bed – and stay out until you’re ready.
If you’re trapped in a cycle of going to bed and tossing and turning without sleeping for hours and hours, it’s possible that you’ve begun to associate being in bed with panic and wakefulness. Try to disrupt this pattern by actively getting out of bed if you can’t fall asleep within half an hour.
3. Exercise to run down energy levels.
Adding exercise to your daily routine can have a huge impact on your anxiety, particularly when it comes to getting to sleep. Tiring yourself out with exercise is a powerful way to help you switch off at night as your body’s needs may trump the power of your mind to keep you up with worry. It is also worth evaluating your diet and incorporating elements of an anti-anxiety diet into your life.
4. Avoid screens at all costs.
When we’re unable to sleep, we’re quick to reach for cellphones, tablets, laptops or the TV remote. However, study after study has shown that the light from these screens confuses our brains and leads them to believe that it’s daytime. The artificial lights stimulate your brain to be more awake, alert, and active – which is precisely the opposite of what we want at bedtime. Try to avoid all screens and bright lights at least an hour before you plan to sleep. It’s a small, simple change that has a large and immediate impact.
5. Engage your brain somewhere else.
If your anxiety is pushing you into a worry spiral, giving in to your brain’s active state can be harnessed for good. If your brain won’t “switch off,” try putting it to other activities. Read a book, listen to calming music, or try practicing meditation. You should still avoid bright lights from screens, but refocusing your mental energy will help to relieve panic and stress until you’re ready to try to sleep again.
6. Create a routine, and stick to it.
Do everything in your power to create a regular, unshakeable sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night, and set your alarm for the same time every morning – even if it’s the weekend or you have a day off work. With a bit of tweaking, you should be able to find your natural sleep cycle and fit your schedule to it. Our minds love patterns and routines, and when you have a regular routine for sleep, your mind will start to “gear down” for sleep all by itself.
Always Remember that You Have the Tools to Manage Your Anxiety.
There are a range of sleep disorders that are directly linked to anxiety. With the right mindset, acceptance of your anxiety disorder, and a set of tools to cope when anxiety strikes, you can take back control of your sleep cycle and find ways to have a full, refreshing, and restful night’s sleep – regularly.
Have you struggled to get to sleep as a result of your anxiety? Do you find that writing down your worries, setting up a routine, and avoiding bright screens helped you to get to sleep? Tell us about your experiences and top tips in the comments.