It’s 10pm, you’ve had a full day and can’t wait to get to your comfy bed, but as your head hits the pillow the anxious thoughts start coming, and coming… and coming! You toss and turn. You get out of bed, but still you can’t stop worrying. Your mind feels stuck in a loop and worse, you can’t SLEEP!
For many of us this scenario sounds all too familiar. In fact I’ve heard this (or something similar) from my clients over and over again.
So what can you do when with anxiety that strikes at night? Here are a few simple solutions gleaned from articles and interviews with sleep expert Dr. Rubin Naiman. Give them a try and let us know what you think!
Get to bed early – Getting to bed at a reasonable time (before midnight ideally) should provide you with enough time to get the rest you need. This could include the wind down time before your head hits the pillow.
Slow down – During the day we are often preoccupied with work or family or other obligations. This provides us with very little time for our minds to be calm and still. When we do slow down, usually at the end of the day, our minds can descend through what Dr. Naiman refers to as “unresolved emotions” from our days and our lives. So often we try to engage in other activities as a means to distract ourselves from these emotions. We try to preoccupy ourselves with tasks to avoid discomfort, leaving the only time for these thoughts to truly get attention at night while we are in bed. Dr. Naiman encourages us to take time to be with our thoughts, to relax and rest. But it’s important to not mistake rest and relaxation for something that’s really a distraction. Skimming facebook or watching tv, is distraction, not rest.
Keep a journal – A journal or notebook next to the bed is a good place to deposit those nagging thoughts. Making a list or writing a more detailed description of how you’re feeling, even if you’re doing it right before bed, can provide an outlet for worries and concerns. By putting pen to paper you’re telling your mind that these feelings/thoughts are important, and you’ll tend to them later.
Unplug – You’ve heard this before I’m sure, limiting your use of electronics before bed will help you get better rest and it’s true! Blue light (like the one on your computer and phone) suppresses melatonin, that special molecule that tells your body it’s night time and time for sleep. When we don’t unplug at night we’re throwing off our circadian rhythm and confusing our bodies!
Limit stimulants – Just like blue light can keep you up, so can caffeine, sugar and other stimulants. 2pm is the standard recommendation for caffeine cut off during the day. It’s also good to become aware of how sensitive you are to things like sugar and other stimulants as well as any medications you are taking and how they can affect your sleep.
Love your bed – If the thought of going to sleep makes you let out a big sigh, chances are you don’t love your bed (and I’m not talking the quality of your mattress). One night of poor sleep can condition you to believe you’ll have poor sleep again and again, so that whenever you think about your bed you’ll anticipate poor sleep and then you’ll probably have it. Try to rethink your bed, when you’re not in bed attempt to visualize the comfort of your bed, how good rest feels, how good rest is for you! If you’ve developed a negative association with bed and sleep, acknowledging and then working on changing those thoughts can positively impact your sleep.
Depending on the focus of the anxiety, there are a wide range of solutions and aids to help you get some restful sleep. For some individuals creating a healthy sleep routine could be the answer, for others dealing with and processing the anxieties that keep you up could also be necessary and at times, sleep medication can be helpful too. It’s always important to make sure there isn’t a medical basis for sleep problems. For some individuals falling asleep is easy, but staying asleep is hard. This can sometimes be an indicator of sleep apnea or other sleep disorder, which needs to be diagnosed by a medical doctor.
For more info on ways to get better sleep, check out Dr. Naiman’s article “30 Tweets to Better Sleep”
You can also check out our past posts on sleep!