When your brain feels constantly spinning like a hamster in a wheel it can be hard to feel relaxed enough to go to sleep. This is especially true if your mind is dwelling on worries, feelings of inadequacy, or visions of your life going wrong.
Insomnia and waking up during the night is both a common and debilitating effect of chronic anxiety that can make it more difficult to function. Fixating on your lack of sleep or forcing yourself to try to sleep can end up intensifying your anxiety, creating a counterproductive vicious cycle.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. If you are struggling with a seemingly neverending and unstoppable stream of anxious thoughts that is getting in the way of that, here are some steps you can take to help you get more needed rest.
Keep a schedule:
Going to bed and waking up at the same time helps your body get on a natural rhythm that makes it more likely that you will be able to sleep. Establishing a regular pattern at night will also help you get the maximum benefit from your sleep.
At first you should experiment to find the bedtime and wake-up times that work best for you and your natural cycle. Once you have, sticking to it can help your body feel tired enough to rest when it should be, so you can wake up refreshed and ready to face the day.
Avoid taking naps longer than 30 minutes or later than 2:00 p.m. If you start feeling drowsy before your bedtime, get up and do something active to keep yourself alert and awake, so you’ll be more likely to be tired at the appropriate time.
Have calming rituals:
Before bedtime, you can help calm the mind so it can be better prepared to sleep when the time comes. Eat your meals in such a way that you have a few hours of not eating or drinking before you get ready for bed.
30 minutes before bedtime, avoid looking at any screens, whether from television, a computer, or your phone. These technologies stimulate the mind and the eyes in a way that makes it harder to feel ready for sleep.
Dim the lights around your house, as the darkness produces melatonin and have a calming effect. Taking a hot shower, reading to dim light, listening to calm music or white noise, meditation, and gentle exercise like tai chi or yoga are all things you can try to get in a state of relaxed calm that will make sleeping easier.
Other people find it helpful to write down the things they are worried about and then literally “shut the book,” as a way of letting go of those worries until morning. As your head hits the pillow, take a few minutes to breathe deeply, inhale for 5 seconds, hold your breath for 3 seconds, and exhale for 5 seconds. This simply attentiveness to breath can help you clear your mind.
Sleep in a calm place:
As much as possible, keep work out of the bedroom. Having your bed used exclusively “for sleep” sends the message that lying down is a time to rest, forget about whatever stresses you face in everyday life, and let the body and mind relax and rejuvenate. Keep the bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
Experiment with calming scents, by spraying lavender chamomile, or eucalyptus oils on the sheets. Soft colors, light-blocking curtains, loose pajamas, and a way to cover up the light from your phone or alarm clock are all ways you can make getting ready for bed something that brings calm feelings.
If you do wake up, don’t fight it:
Several hours of tossing and turning in frustration is not going to help you get back to sleep. If after 20 or 30 minutes of lying in bed, you still feel wide awake, get up. Instead of turning a light on, use a nightlight or dim flashlight to go into another room and sit down comfortably in dimmed lights.
In quiet solitude, do meditation exercises, deep breathing, or looking around the room with a soft focus. If you are feeling hungry, stick to something light and food with complex carbs and dairy, like cereal and milk or cheese and crackers. Alcohol should be avoided, since it might help you get to sleep in the short-term, but will make it harder to get true restorative sleep. Go back to your bedroom when you start to feel sleepy.