Too worried to sleep
Everyone has nights where they feel it’s impossible to fall asleep. Starring at the ceiling, thinking about everything that needs to get done tomorrow and watching the clock as the minutes tick by. When nights like these are few and far between, we keep pushing ahead. But what happens when this restlessness becomes a nighttime routine? People who deal with sleep anxiety struggle with sleeplessness night after night.
As humans, we’re creatures of action. We go to work, get the kids off to school, make dinner, do the laundry – you get the point. We look at everything as a task, but sleep is not a task – it’s a nightly event. Although you need to plan for it, sleep isn’t something you can make happen either – because you simply can’t make yourself fall asleep. People with sleep anxiety have the hardest time conquering this concept.
Struggling with anxiety – and sleep
If anxiety is your (unwelcome) bed partner, frustration is more of a nightly event in your life than sleep. Left untreated, sleep
anxiety can greatly affect your health and create problems in every corner of your life.
- Performance issues – Studying for an exam? Polishing up a report? Attention to detail won’t be your strong suit.
- Injury – Struggling to stay awake on the commute home can be one of many scary situations you can find yourself in. Extreme exhaustion increases your risk of injury and delays your reaction times.
- Mood disorders – Snapping at a salesperson, struggling to get along with friends and coworkers, letting little frustrations erupt into quarrels. Nothing turns us into grumpy toddlers faster than exhaustion.
- Health problems – Heart disease, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and obesity are just a few health risks your future self won’t thank you for.
Adios anxiety, hello sleep
Anxiety disorder or sleep disorder – which came first, the chicken or the egg? Anxiety can cause sleep issues and sleep deprivation can cause an anxiety disorder. Whichever occurred first for you, if you provide relief for one, it will usually help the other.
When you really need to get to sleep and the anxiety monster is sitting on your pillow torturing you, try some of these hacks to help you change your behaviors to encourage sleep and kick that monster out of bed.
- Meditate – Focus and visualize your happy place, a vacation, a childhood memory, or use a meditation play list to get yourself to there. Try breathing exercises that encourage calmness and sleep. Use the 4-7-8 breathing technique to find your way to dream land.
- Exercise – Regular exercise is good for you physically, but also emotionally and mentally, increasing mood-enhancing endorphins. Keeping a weekly workout schedule makes your body physically tired, which will help you sleep. If physical activity is a struggle for you, try yoga to promote the same good vibes.
- Prioritize – To help reduce the anxiety of everything that needs to get done, prepare a to-do list before you go to bed. Organize tasks to conquer what’s really important and break down larger tasks into smaller projects. And remember to delegate when possible. You can’t do everything on our own and asking for help can ease stress in a multitude of ways.
- Create a sleep sanctuary – Make your bedroom only a bedroom, not an office, theater or eating space. Your bed should be for sleeping, and that other “S” thing we do in bed. Create an environment that promotes sleep by making your room cool, dark and quiet. If you need background noise, consider playing soft, calming music to lower your blood pressure and help relax your body and mind. And of course, always make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable enough for you to fall asleep without comfort issues.
- Avoid triggers – Avoid stimulants close to bedtime such as coffee, chocolate, and nicotine. Electronics are also stimulants that
hinder sleep. Turn off all screens at least 30 minutes before laying down, turn off the TV, plug your phone in across the room and put the tablet away. Avoid tasks that may induce stress and anxiety before bed such as paying bills or calling the relative that always puts you in a bad mood. Also, at all costs, try to avoid looking at the clock, in fact, it may be helpful to turn your clock away from you so you won’t be tempted.
- Direct stress away – If you feel yourself carrying a heavy load of anxiety do what you can to redirect that energy. Distract yourself with a hobby, keeping your hands and mind busy is a great way to filter stress out of your body. One of my favorites that have become quite popular is adult coloring books – you can do this with the kids too. And as mentioned before, exercise is a superb way to reduce anxiety.
- Talk to someone – Let your family and friends know how they can help and if it gets to a point where you can’t control it yourself any longer, contact a sleep doctor or professional therapist.
Anxiety and sleep disorders can be serious conditions if not regulated properly. Anxiety attacks can occur at night and wake you up from sleep, leaving you confused and scared. These are called nocturnal panic attacks and are more common than we realize. If you find yourself having continual issues sleeping due to stress and anxiety, please reach out for help.