We’ve all had the experience of feeling anxious about something, to the degree that it keeps us up and makes it hard to fall asleep. If you’re a worrier by nature, your fears and concerns may regularly cause you to lie awake in bed for hours, tossing and turning. When this happens frequently, one naturally begins to feel anxious about bedtime as night approaches, making it even harder to wind down. The good news is that anxiety can be successfully treated. Often through simple things you can do yourself, the vicious cycle can be broken and you can reduce anxiety.
1) Take deep, relaxing breaths
Taking deep, relaxing breaths can calm the nervous system and decrease general tension. When you notice yourself starting to worry or tense up, take several slow deep breaths in a row (breathe in through your nose, and exhale your fears and worries out your mouth). I also use this technique whenever I have a difficult time falling asleep.
2) Avoid caffeine to reduce anxiety
If you’re a worrier, stay away from caffeine, particularly in the latter half of the day. If you must have something in the morning, choose green tea as it contains an amino acid, L-theanine, which promotes serenity and calm.
3) Try guided relaxation techniques
Find a guided, relaxation recording that you like (for example, via an anti-anxiety app like Mindshift), and use it daily. Learn to shift from tension to relaxation by listening to the recording when you’re stressed, or in bed at night to reduce anxiety and help you fall asleep.
4) Write down your worries
When your fears run around familiar tracks in your mind all day, it can be hard to gain control of them. Stop the cycle of chronic worrying by writing your fears in a journal. What is the worst that could happen? What is more likely to happen, optimistically? What can you do to improve the situation? When you examine your fears, they usually lose their power.
5) Exercise to blow off steam
If you’re feeling really keyed up, try going for a run, a brisk walk or go to the gym. You can reduce anxiety by consciously shaking off your fears and worries as you do it. Physical activity releases stress and also improves depth of sleep at night.
6) Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Anxiety is often a result of poor thought habits such as fearing the worst, focusing on the negative, inaccurate assumptions and negative self-talk. CBT techniques can change your habitual ways of seeing the world. If your anxiety is significant, consider seeing a professional therapist trained in CBT. Alternatively, there are CBT self-help tools and worksheets available online that can help you work through your worries.
7) Get enough sleep
Ironically, the less sleep you get, the more anxious you’re likely to be. It’s also harder to manage stress. If you’ve been feeling anxious, the last thing you want to do is cut corners on sleep. Get to bed earlier, to give yourself the best chance at a solid night’s rest.
Finally, if you’ve been feeling anxious for a long time and it’s affecting your sleep significantly, it’s important to let your doctor know about it, in addition to trying these tips.