When I’m feeling anxious, one of the first things to be affected is my sleep. My body will be tired, but my mind stays wide awake, turning over worries about the future and ruminations of the past. Conversations from the day will play on repeat as I question what I should have said instead.
I’ll toss and turn, wrestling with my bed sheets, feeling irritated by every noise and sensation around me. I’ll tell myself to stop thinking, to let it go and just sleep, but sleep… is a wily fucker. As soon as you try to pin it down and capture it – it slithers away.
Lying awake in bed when the rest of the world is sleeping is, truly, one of the loneliest places in the world.
Our demons love to come out at night. It’s just them and us. So it’s no wonder that many people with anxiety find it heightens at night. The worst part is when you start to worry about not getting enough sleep and then start panicking about that… it’s not a lot of fun.
I feel like I’m figuring out my tools to combat night-time anxiety and while I would be lying if I said they all worked a charm every time, I thought it would be helpful to share what tools help me, in case it helps you too.
The first thing I do when I get into bed, without fail, is to write in my journal. I keep my journaling habits very simple these days, responding to a couple of prompts first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Before bed I write a few lines about how my day was, three things I did well and one thing I’m grateful for.
Most nights I find this is enough to help me process the day and shift my mind to a more positive place before trying to sleep. If you find something is going round and round in your head and you can’t switch off – try writing about it. Ask yourself what you can do about the situation, what you can’t do and your action plan. This should help you feel calmer and better able to sleep.
A chapter or two of fiction before bed is one of my favourite bed-time rituals. I do this after journaling and find a little escapism and immersion into another world really helps me get some distance between me and my anxiety.
I would personally avoid business/career books before bed as this can trigger your mind to reflect, start thinking of ideas etc. which is great – but not conducive to sleep. Try to head to bed a little earlier than normal so you can fit in some reading and see how it affects your sleep.
Listening to something while drifting off to sleep has become a must for me. It’s exactly what I need to stop my mind going into overdrive. I pay a subscription to the Calm app and listen to their whole library of sleep stories (they’ve had people like Matthew Maconaughey, Stephen Fry, David Walliams and Leona Lewis tell stories) but they do offer a number of them for free.
The Headspace app also offers something similar and if you’re looking for more free options, I quite like the ‘sleep with me’ podcast. I’m sure there are plenty of other free options out there to – see what works best for you.
The only downside to listening to sleep stories is that headphones can be uncomfortable. I kept waking up with super sore ears and decided to try something else. I found a headband with speakers sewn in and it is a game-changer. Much more comfortable and wireless. I do still tend to whip them off at some point in my sleep, but it’s much easier to fall asleep with these.
I’ve also seen things like pillow speakers, or of course you could just listen through your phone’s speaker. I personally like my headphones as they drown out any other external noise and I don’t keep Dan awake!
Getting out of bed when sleep doesn’t come
This is one tool I need to use more, but the premise behind this is to stop associating your bedroom with anxiety and wakefulness. If you stay in bed when you’re anxious and unable to sleep, over time you’ll start to link your bed with anxiety subconsciously.
By getting up and out of bed, you can break that cycle. Going into another room, keeping the lighting low and doing an activity like reading or journaling (no screens!) until you feel sleepy is recommended.
Letting go of the fear of not getting ‘enough’ sleep
When I start to feel those panicked thoughts of ‘I’m only going to get X hours of sleep’ and ‘How am I going to function at work tomorrow?’ I remind myself that it will be OK. I tell myself that I will get *some* sleep and even if I am tired the next day – I won’t die. I will manage and I will likely sleep better the following night.
While sleep is important, worrying so much about the quality and quantity we get can make us more stressed. If you’re consistently struggling to sleep and it’s affecting your everyday life, get some professional support – see your doctor and see what they advise.
If, like me, it’s just the odd bad patch of sleep, try to let go of the worry and tell yourself you’ll get back to your normal sleep routine soon.
I hope these suggestions are helpful. Sleep has such a big impact on my mood, so I’m all for trying anything that will help me get there, so if you have any other suggestions, do share them with me in the comments section.
I’ll be back next week with this month’s short story. I hope you have a restful week ahead.
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