It is always difficult to cope with insomnia. It is especially draining when you suffer from anxiety. Anxiety sufferers who spend many of their waking hours in states of mental and physical distress cannot afford to lose sleep to anxiety-related insomnia. To give your body a chance to recover from the extra stresses, you are at risk for having to deal with every day it is essential for you as an anxious person to learn to manage your insomnia.
The following article will cover ten things you can do to help yourself sleep when your anxiety and insomnia would rather keep you awake.
Is Your Insomnia From Anxiety?
Insomnia can both cause anxiety and be caused by anxiety. Our free 7-minute anxiety test can help you score your anxiety severity, how it compares to others, and how to stop it from keeping you up at night.
Insomnia is Controllable
One of the problems with insomnia is that it often feels like it's something out of your control. Certainly, there are going to be times in life when you simply can't sleep - if you're uncomfortable, or you feel sick, etc., then you may not fall asleep for reasons that are not necessarily anxiety related.
But most insomnia can be controlled with the right strategies, and if you reduce your anxiety and stress during the day, you can get some relief at night as well. Take my free 7-minute anxiety test to find out more.
10 Tips for Managing Sleeplessness
The following are some of the more effective, simplest strategies that you can start doing today to curb your insomnia and start sleeping better.
- Go Running - Don't run right before bed, since it will get your heart rate up and send lots of oxygen to your brain which may keep you up late thinking, but do run a few hours before (ideally before dinner). This will work your muscles and keep them in shape (which is good for preventing the chest-muscle aches that can be caused by the tension and rapid heart rate experienced during panic attacks), while also tiring them out and giving your brain a good reason to want to shut down for the night. Running also releases endorphins in the brain, which are your brains happy chemicals and can help balance out any sad or anxious chemicals your brain may be prone to producing.
- Eat Lighter Dinners - Try eating a more substantial lunch during the day, and a less substantial dinner before bed. In Mediterranean countries, which are known for their healthy lifestyles and eating habits, lunch is always bigger than dinner. That is because eating a large meal before dinner gives your stomach too much digestive work to do while you sleep to allow you to rest comfortably. This habit can also be good for your figure, as a smaller meal at dinner gives your body less fat to hold onto (you burn more fat when awake and active than you do while you're asleep). Improving your physical health by eating properly is an excellent way to reduce your anxiety by reducing any extra strain unhealthy eating was putting on your body.
- Drink Decaffeinated Tea - Drinking caffeinated beverages in the evening when you have insomnia is never a good idea (you should keep yourself caffeine-free for at least 4 hours before bedtime). However, you can drink decaffeinated tea with a soothing flavor such as chamomile or peppermint. The warmth of the tea can have a comforting effect as well, as warmth causes your muscles to relax (whereas cold causes them to tense up and shiver to send more heart-warmed blood to heat your extremities). There are also special blends of tea designed to help you sleep, such as Sleepytime tea, all of which can be found at your local supermarket. Just be sure to check that they are non-caffeinated.
- Set a Regular Bedtime and Stick To It - If you go to bed some nights at 10 pm, some nights at 2 or 3 am, your body will get confused about when to be tired and when to stay awake. A routine of going to bed at a certain time can be comforting as it becomes familiar and a mark of accomplishment as you triumphantly click the light off at the time you have set for yourself and will train your brain over time that it needs to shut down when you want it to.
- Turn Off ALL Lights - This means your TV, your phone, your lamps and everything else you can: covering anything that has a glowing red or green light with tape is a good idea, too. If light is coming in through your windows, get thicker curtains or pin up a blanket as a short-term solution. The less light in the room with you, the less your eyes have to catch and interest them. Zero visual stimuli are proven to improve the quality of sleep.
- Keep a Journal - Writing in a journal before you go to sleep is a great way to work through the troubles and concerns you may have encountered over the course of the day. Write down anything that is bothering you, along with a possible solution for each one. You can also jot down any urgent thoughts you have while getting to sleep that you need to remember for the next day so that the idea of forgetting them doesn't bother you either.
- Do Mental Exercises - Counting sheep is a popular mental exercise, but sheep don't have a lot to do with anxiety. Instead, try lying calmly and bed and thinking of nothing. Every time a negative thought crosses your mind, acknowledge it, and imagine putting it in a mental trunk and locking it with a key to keep it safe until the next day when you can take them out and look them over. Another good mental exercise to do is to relax every part of your body, one at a time. Start with your toes, and concentrate on completely relaxing every one of them individually. Move to your ankles, and then your calves, your knees, and on up to your head (if you get that far, remember to relax each of your facial features individually). Once every part of your body is slack and relaxed, simply breathe evenly until your mind relaxes into sleep along with your body.
- Stay Away From Screens Well in Advance of Sleep - Which means stop watching TV and close your computer early. As hard as it may be to tear yourself away from those magical screens, it might be better to think of them as insomnia boxes. The internal light from these problematic boxes sends signals to your brain that it is still daytime and that it needs to stay awake and alert. True, exhaustion can claim you as you lie in front of the TV screen or computer, but this generally happens only when your body is desperate. Trying to transition from day-brain to night-brain without any period of darkening and transition in between takes extra time and may make you feel sleepless as you wait for your brain to accept the idea that it is night. For centuries the human brain slowly transitioned to sleep-mode with the help of twilight. Now, while we spend all our time indoors and in front of our insomnia boxes, our brains need a little extra help making the leap.
- Read by Candlelight - Not only is this kind of fun and a very "green" way to conserve energy and protect the environment, reading by candlelight provides the soft light your brain needs to suggest that it may be time to start shutting down. Get a pretty or scented candle (some candles have scents specifically designed for relaxation), make sure to keep it in a jar or on a plate to keep it from melting everywhere or starting a fire if you fall asleep without blowing it out, and read a book of poetry or some other book you find soothing. The effort of comprehension and of reading the words in the dim light will have the effect of tiring your brain, as well as filling it with pleasant imagery and rhymes that will hopefully carry over into your dreams.
- Control Room Temperature - If you get too hot or too cold in the night, get a fan or a heater to help regulate the temperature. If your body is comfortable while you are unconscious, it will be easier for it to reach REM sleep. It may also be a good idea to get some extra blankets (both heavy and light) to keep in the room in case you want to switch. Other ways to maximize comfort throughout the night include making sure you have a good pillow (not too flat or too lumpy), enough space on the bed (clear the bed of any unnecessary objects or junk), keeping a glass of water beside you in case you sweat in the night and become dehydrated, and/or investing in a comfortable sleep mask to keep light from waking you too early.
Another bonus strategy that you should strongly consider is buying a new mattress. The reality is that a lot of our body's discomfort going to bed is the result of where we sleep. Studies have shown that a new, comfortable mattress improves sleep and sleep quality dramatically, in ways that are hard for most people even to believe until they've tried it. Some people with anxiety find that they fall asleep in minutes when it used to take them hours, simply because the mattress is so comfortable they cannot help but drift off.
Following the above instructions will encourage your body to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. If you still have trouble getting or staying asleep, talk to your doctor about the possibility of using stronger measures such as herbal supplements or medications to help you get the sleep you need. Anxiety can take a lot out of you, and getting the sleep you need is crucial to maintaining your functionality on a daily basis.
You'll also drastically improve your chances of getting a better night's sleep if you learn to control your overall anxiety levels. I've helped thousands of those suffering from intense anxiety control their symptoms. Start with my free 7-minute anxiety test. This test is a powerful tool for learning more about your anxiety and how to stop it.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 30, 2017.