What To Do When You Cant Sleep: 9 Tips
Prioritizing a good nights sleep isnt just important for your general health, it can also help with feelings of anxiety, as your body is less likely to feel overwhelmed or on edge when youve slept well.
However, falling asleep can be difficult, so its important to build a strategy for a better nights sleep. Below are some tips to try in order to improve your chances of falling asleep naturally.
So What Can You Do To Calm Down So You Can Actually Sleep
Well, first off, theres no substitute for seeking help from a mental health professional.
An anxiety or trauma therapist, in particular, can help work with you to reduce your anxiety and panic symptoms.
According to Hahn, there are specific treatments, like EMDR or sensorimotor psychotherapy, which can be helpful in resetting your nervous system and settling your overactive amygdala thats causing your anxiety disorder.
Falling Asleep And Anxiety
The time before you go to sleep is a difficult one for anxiety sufferers. This is because all the worries you have accumulated over the course of the day choose now to float through your mind. Being alone in a dark room doing nothing but lying there with your worries allows you no distractions from them, which often allow them to seem to grow bigger and bigger and spiral out of control.
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What To Do If You Can’t Sleep
The relationship between sleep and mental health is cyclical. If you have poor sleep, you’re likely to feel tired the next day, which can make things even more difficult and stressful, which can make anxiety worse and result in another night of disturbed sleep. If you are struggling with anxiety and have trouble falling asleep, though, there are steps you can take.
Complete A Relaxation Exercise
Breathing deeply, doing yoga, completing a body scan or a repetitive prayer these are all examples of exercises that can help relax your mind.
Its beneficial to practice relaxation throughout your entire day. These exercises are effective ways of bringing your thoughts back to the present moment, calming your mind, and de-stressing. Even practicing one of these exercises for a couple of minutes each day can be helpful. The key though is consistency you want to be checking in with yourself regularly, noticing when youre becoming overwhelmed, and implementing self-care continuously.
Before bed, a relaxation exercise provides the calmness your mind is craving.
Read more: Guided Imagery For Stress + 6 Free Exercises
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Ways To Relieve Nighttime Anxiety
So, how do you actually relieve the anxiety at night? I have a handful of tips and pieces of advice here to help you get your sleep and relieve the anxiety at night, and encourage you to investigate for yourself what helps and what doesnt. Everyone has their own unique experience, so remain open to different practices and methods. Feel into your experience and investigate. Remember, if you are having trouble with any of these you can always work with a therapist online or in person to help you reduce night time anxiety.
Ive separated this list out into things you can do at night while youre experiencing anxiety, and overall changes you can make during your day that may help reduce anxiety once you get into bed.
Dont Worry: You Can Learn How To Calm Anxiety At Night
It is exactly 3:27 a.m. You know because, in between tossing and turning and racing thoughts about problems at work, youâve been checking the clock compulsively. With each passing minute, your mind is tabulating the sleep youâre losing, and soon ânext-day exhaustionâ makes its way to the top of the list of anxious thoughts keeping you awake.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you probably know first-hand what it feels like to be caught in this vicious cycle: anxiety disrupts sleep, and sleep loss worsens anxiety.
Unfortunately, anxiety at night is all too common â and especially pernicious. Because when left alone with its thoughts â with no one to talk to and nothing to distract it â the brain often seizes the opportunity to get caught up in the anxiety of a concern or situation. Itâs easy for minor worries to snowball into major problems. When catastrophic thinking triggers a stress response, the body gets flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. After your nervous system gets pushed into overdrive, is it any wonder you’re having a hard time falling asleep?
While there may be a number of different ways to break free of this cycle, the various approaches usually fall into one of two categories.
1. Address and work on anxiety issues.
2. Improve sleep hygiene to get the sleep you need.
Read Also: How Does Anxiety Feel Like
What Are Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are sudden, unexpected episodes of intense anxiety, which can cause a variety of frightening symptoms. These include:
- Feeling out of control and disconnected from your surroundings
- Feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
- Chest pains and shortness of breath – a tightness of the chest and feeling as though its a struggle to breathe
- A racing or pounding heart
- Numbness and tingling, for example, tingling lips and numbness in your fingers and toes
- Fluctuating body temperature feeling very hot or very cold
These symptoms can be so severe they sometimes make first time sufferers believe theyre experiencing a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. Over time, panic attacks can become more frequent, and the fear of having a panic attack becomes embedded, resulting in a vicious circle.
Night time panic attacks, also known as nocturnal panic attacks or night terrors, happen while youre asleep and wake you up, often with the same symptoms as day time panic attacks. However, while these nocturnal attacks usually only last for a few minutes, it can take a long time for you to calm down enough to go back to sleep after having one. This, coupled with worrying about whether youre going to have another panic attack, may lead to insomnia.
Tips For Beating Anxiety To Get A Better Nights Sleep
Many people with anxiety disorders have trouble sleeping. That’s a problem. Too little sleep affects mood, contributing to irritability and sometimes depression. Vital functions occur during different stages of sleep that leave you feeling rested and energized or help you learn and forge memories. Sleep usually improves when an anxiety disorder is treated. Practicing good “sleep hygiene” helps, too. Here are some steps to take:
For additional tips and strategies for living with anxiety, buy Coping with Anxiety and Stress Disorders, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
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How To Help Children And Teens Through Anxiety At Bedtime
The relationship between anxiety and sleep is a complicated one. Sleep strengthens the brain against anxiety, but anxiety at bedtime stops sleep. Anxious thoughts will intrude at bedtime when the world is still, and bodies are still, and when young minds are meant to be still but a lack of sleep will make anxiety worse, which will make sleep the next night tougher, which will make anxiety worse.
The part of the brain most sensitive to a lack of sleep is the amygdala the seat of anxiety. When the brain is tired, the amygdala will be more likely to read non-threats as threats and ready the body for fight or flight. This fuels the physical symptoms of anxiety, which will fuel anxious thoughts I feel like something bad is going to happen, so something bad must be going to happen. This will then fuel anxious behaviour fight or flight .
The intrusion from anxiety into sleep can magnify its intrusion everywhere else. Sleep is such an important part of the foundation that gives children what they need to be happy, healthy, and brave.
When To Contact A Doctor
Occasional anxiety is common, especially during times of stress. However, chronic anxiety is a medical condition that often does not get better on its own. Delaying treatment gives the anxiety time to spiral out of control, potentially affecting other aspects of a personâs life.
A person should see a doctor if they experience any of the following:
- anxiety that causes physical health problems
- anxiety that does not respond to home remedies like exercise
- anxiety that is so severe that the person is unable to sleep
People should also contact their doctor if they experience a recurrence of anxiety while undergoing treatment for anxiety. The doctor may recommend adjusting or adding to the treatment plan.
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Proactively Reduce Stress During The Day
Sometimes our anxious thoughts are simply the remains of a stressful day.
By taking a positive approach to your day and doing as much as you can to eliminate stress, you can create a peaceful night.
Some of the best ways to deal with anxious thoughts at night are to reduce the stress you have to deal with during the day, says Benjamin Ritter, a coach and consultant specializing in personal and professional leadership development. You can avoid stressful people, be more open and honest about your feelings, and most importantly plan and strategize areas of your life. Reduce the number of decisions you have to make during the day and you’ll have more left over in your brain bank to deal with stress and anxiety at night.
How To Relieve Racing Thoughts
In order to turn off a racing mind, you have to deny it the fuel it needs to start spinning in the dark. This can be accomplished by managing stress, spending some time unwinding before bed and using distraction and relaxation techniques.
It can be very helpful to set aside some time during the day to address your stressors. This is sometimes called scheduled worry time.
Every day, take some time to identify, list, and work to resolve what causes you stress, anxiety, tension, or worry. This may be done by spending some time each afternoon creating or reviewing a list of the things that contribute to stress in your life.
Write them down. Then, in a second column, provide a few action items that will allow the stress to be addressed and relieved.
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Make Wake And Sleep Times Ritualized And Routine
According to a release from the National Alliance on Mental Illness that outlines mental-health coping strategies to invoke during this pandemic, having regular routines can be crucial for combatting stress and feelings of anxiety. That means, regardless of whether you’ve committed yourself to one before or not, now is a great time to start a morning routine and bedtime routine. Likewise, having a regular bedtime, is absolutely essential, but there’s a right and wrong way to go about it. Generally speaking, you want to make sure that you’re only using your mattress for sleeping time.
“Make sure to get up at the same time every morning sleeping in is only going to worsen things,” says sleep specialist Shelby Harris, PsyD, author of The Womens Guide to Overcoming Insomnia. “Dont get into bed until youre actually sleepy. If youre not sleepy or sleeping, staying in bed complicates things as well. Get up and do something quiet, relaxing, and in dim light with no screens until you are sleepythen get in bed.” It might take some trial-and-error experimenting to set your new wake-and-sleep times , but once you find the two slots that you’re comfortable with, stick with them.
Do A Bedroom Makeover
Another helpful trick is to make your bedroom a place for nothing but sleep. For some people living in small loft apartments, this might be tricky, but by putting up a divider or curtain, you may be able to simulate a similar separate room effect.
Regardless, redecorating your bedroom for a more comfortable and quiet environment can do wonders for your sleep health. Consider decluttering the room and regularly changing the bedding or adding a rug to make the space more appealing and comfortable.
If you come into your bedroom and still cant sleep, dont just lay there and wait for slumber to hit. Instead, get up after 15 minutes and work on some small projects until your body naturally feels sleepy.
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Download Your Thoughts To Allow You To Fall Asleep
Bedtime can turn into a time when you start to think about all the things you need to do tomorrow, creating a never-ending list of tasks swirling around in your brain. Stop the thought tornado by writing down all the things youre trying to remember. With them safely recorded, your mind can be more at ease and you can deal with them upon waking.
What Causes Anxiety Before Sleep
According to clinical psychologist Emily Knott, Anxiety before bedtime often takes the form of a phenomenon referred to in psychology as pre-sleep arousal.
Knott says that pre-sleep arousal may cause the body and nervous system to enter a state of heightened awareness that may take the form of problem-solving, thinking about your own thoughts, focusing on stimuli in the environment such as noise and light, and ruminating about the consequences of not being able to sleep.
While there hasnt been extensive research conducted on sleep and anxiety, there are a few reasons why your anxiety may be worse at night. Here are possible causes.
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How To Reduce Anxiety At Night: Our Familys Personal Experience
Needless to say we have tried many, many things in our attempt to get more sleep in our household, and I want to take the time to lay it all out and share what weve learned: the good, the bad, and in-between.
The good news? There are definitely some excellent, non-pharmaceutical options that often help. It often takes trial and error, but if you find the thing that works for you, its so worth it!
For each of the tools that I list below Ill explain what they are and how they are theorized to work, followed by my personal take and experience.
Youll notice as you read through them that some of these are more potent as an in-the-moment trick while others are more powerful when used over time to nudge the bodys natural mechanisms back to functionality.
Ill be honest with you its difficult to break out of the modern pill for every ill mindset where we expect instant results after popping a pill . Nevertheless, its worth checking ourselves in this regard, and being open-minded about a synergistic, slow, long-term approach that supports the intricate functioning of the human body.