I would hazard a guess that anxiety and a lack of sleep isn’t something that I’m alone in suffering from.
In fact, I’m sure that this is an issue for literally millions of people.
For me, stress and anxiety reared their ugly heads numerous times throughout the day, but for some reason they just wouldn’t leave me alone as I was about to drop off.
You know what I mean – you get into bed, you’re ready to catch a few zzz’s, and then Bam!
Constant overthinking. Stressing about a situation that occurred earlier in the day, Worrying about something that I have to deal with tomorrow.
And these thoughts, they go over and over in my mind.
I glance over at my clock and somehow we’ve hit 2am and I’ve been in bed for nearly 4 hours, but I still haven’t had a wink of sleep.
If only I could turn off this incessant chatter in my head
If so, then you have my heartfelt sympathies.
I know exactly how you feel, so today I’d like to introduce you to a few methods that worked for me in dealing with anxiety and stress when I was trying to sleep (and during the day).
1. Get Out of Bed
Yes, you read that correctly. Sounds counterintuitive I know, but read on.
Believe it or not, it shouldn’t actually take any longer than 15 minutes to fall asleep once your head hits the pillow.
If you’re anything like me, there will be nights when you’re tossing and turning and you can’t turn your brain off, and you’re stressing out about this and that, but mostly about the fact that you can’t fall asleep.
Anxiety and sleep are actually caught in a weird vicious circle.
There may be many reasons why you are anxious, and this will typically bring your mood down during the day. Then, unfortunately this affects your ability to sleep.
You get up in the morning, you feel tired, fatigued, and then your brain goes into overdrive bringing anxiety into your day once again. And this cycle repeats and repeats, over and over again.
Something that took me a long time to learn was that if I’m struggling to fall asleep because I can’t turn my brain off, simply hiding deep under the covers, squeezing my eyes shut as tight as possible, or telling myself I’ve only got 4 hours before I need to be up… 3 hours 38 minutes… 3 hours 27 minute, etc. isn’t helping me one iota.
Your bed should also be viewed as a sanctuary, an area of comfort, the ideal resting and sleeping place. So, as soon as you start to associate it with being unable to sleep, that anxious mind of yours will take over once more.
I typically get up and go downstairs and just sit in a darkened room. There’s no need for me to actually do anything (I mean I don’t want to stimulate the brain by reading or drinking caffeine). I just sit and wait.
My mind is still probably racing at 100mph, but I just let it do what it wants. More often than not, after a while, I feel my eyes getting heavy, my head does the occasional jerk, and I may even let out a massive yawn.
Then I know it’s time to get back into bed. Nine times out of ten I will fall asleep fairly quicker, and undoubtedly a lot faster than if I had stayed in bed stressing myself out even more.
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2. Let’s Get Physical
Probably something else that sounds counteractive, but the benefits of exercise cannot be highlighted enough. This is especially true if you suffer with anxiety and are sleep deprived as well.
I know you’ve probably read and heard about the virtues of exercise in dealing with anxiety time and time again, but there’s good reason for that.
Exercise affects your hormones and releases a number of endorphins, something I like to call the happiness hormones, such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.
Plus, as long as you’re not overdoing it on the exercise and going too intense, you can also decrease the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol (however, please be aware that cortisol can increase with overtraining or pushing yourself far past normal limits of exercise).
I am a great believer in the mind-body connection (although this is just a recent phenomenon for me) and I know that if my body feels good, then my mind often follows suit.
I would suggest that exercising outdoors will provide the greatest benefits, as you can also control your levels of melatonin (the sleep hormone) with natural daylight. But, working out in a gym or indoors will still help to release these “happy hormones” as well.
You will also want to avoid exercising too close to your bedtime, and from my experience you need at least 3-4 hours in between exercising and sleeping.
3. Step Away From the Donuts
As I’ve alluded to above, the mind-body connection plays a pivotal role for both anxiety and sleep, and the same can be said about food and your diet in general.
In fact, the more I have learned and managed to understand nutrition, the further I appreciate the benefits it has in controlling my anxiety levels and ensuring that I get a good night’s rest.
Unfortunately, I’ve always been one of these people who can easily overeat, and oftentimes I will continue to stuff my face until I finally realize that my belly cannot handle another morsel.
I will also openly admit that I do enjoy what I guess most people would term “junk food”, and I still have the odd-takeaway, or pizza, or burger, every now and then.
However, I am now far more aware of the effect that these types of food have on my overall mood, and of course when it comes to that time to go to bed.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional treat, but if you are someone who regularly suffers from anxiety and sleepless nights, then you probably need to look at the foods you are putting into your body.
We are now aware that consuming less fiber, more saturated fats and sugar throughout the day will lead to a far lighter, and less restorative sleep at night.
The exact same can be said if you are an overly anxious person, and a poor diet can even lead to, or increase the symptoms of anxiety.
In fact, consuming what is considered the “wrong foods” can lead to headaches, light-headedness, feelings of panic, digestive issues, and low blood pressure.
I would say that any of these symptoms would make any stressful thinking ten times worse. If you suffer with anxiety you should try to avoid foods, such as artificial and refined sugars, caffeine, processed foods, alcohol, fried foods, dairy, carbonated drinks, and gluten.
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4. Just Chill Out and Relax
Something that has been of great help to me in overcoming anxiety (or dealing with anxiety I should say) and getting a better night’s sleep is practicing mindfulness.
Now before you completely dismiss this idea, let me tell you about mindfulness from my point of view.
Initially I avoided things such as mindfulness and meditation like the plague. They were just all too new-age (even if they are centuries old), hippy, and Buddhist monklike (is that a word?) for my liking.
I was never going to be someone who would sit in a darkened and quiet room, on the floor, with my legs crossed, holding some beads, and chanting a mantra.
As it turns out, I didn’t have to do this, and neither do you (although if this does sound appealing to you, then please go ahead).
Mindfulness I discovered was about focusing the mind in the present moment, something that anyone with anxiety never actually does.
I don’t know about you, but my mind is constantly caught in the past – if only I’d done that differently. Did I upset so-and-so with what I said? Could I have made a better job of doing this? The list goes on.
And if I’m not thinking about past events then I’m panicking about something that hasn’t even happened yet. More often than not I’ll create scenarios in my mind that absolutely horrify me, and sink me further into anxiety and depression.
To top it all off, as I’m about to go to bed this swirling vortex of thoughts simply makes it impossible for me to get any shut-eye.
Mindfulness or mindfulness meditation as I have come to know it, isn’t an immediate cure for anxiety and a lack of sleep, but something that you build up over time.
The main aim is to concentrate on the here-and-now, whether that’s your breathing patterns, an inanimate object, or simply visualizing happy scenarios.
If any thoughts do come into your mind, and they will, trust me, you simply let them pass by without judgment.
I will say the practice of mindfulness was a difficult one for me at first, so I took to listening to guided mindfulness meditation audios, which I found increased my levels of concentration and understanding.
I found that whenever I went to bed and the anxiety started raging through my mind once more, I was able to put into practice the techniques I had discovered, and literally calm and quieten my mind down.
Sleepless nights and an anxious mind have been an enemy to me for more years than I care to remember.
And I typically struggled on for many years without actually doing anything about them. In fact, I made the situation far worse by convincing myself that this is just how things were.
However, by implementing the simple strategies I’ve mentioned above – getting out of bed when you can’t sleep, ensuring I exercised regularly and watched what I ate, plus practicing mindfulness and focusing on the present moment – I found that I was a lot less stressed out and this in turn gave me a great night’s sleep.
If you are struggling with an over-anxious mind and you’re having great difficulty sleeping at night I urge you to implement at least one, if not all, of the above approaches, and see if it makes a difference to you.