Anxiety before bed is an incredibly common occurrence amongst everybody from childhood age upwards to the elderly and, unfortunately, our natural response to such nocturnal nerves usually makes the whole thing worse.
The sleepless paradox basically comes down to a repeating pattern of anxiety disrupting a night’s sleep, thereby making you a shambling zombie the next day, which in turn increases your anxiety about getting enough sleep the next night and so on, until you’re driven to the brink of madness.
And nobody needs that. Next time you feel yourself getting anxious before sleepy time, try these clever tips and tricks to drive the anxiety away!
Write a journal
Let’s start with something both therapeutic and incredibly easy to do – keeping a sleep journal. There are two ways to make the diary/journal method work for you; the first is to keep it completely factual: bed times, how well you slept, your mood when you went to bed, your mood when you woke up and so forth. By keeping this habit up, you’ll eventually begin to spot patterns in your sleep schedule and be able to eliminate things that may be causing you night time anxiety.
The second method is a little more relieving – simply write down your thoughts and feelings for the day. Keep it as a sort of receptacle to just offload all of your thoughts, worries, fears, ideas and so forth. Taking such a gigantic brain dump will help you ‘empty’ your mind before going to bed and save you hours of chasing thoughts round in circles when you really want to be learning the new alphabet instead – it goes ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…
Stay out of your room as much as possible
One of the quickest ways to ensure you get anxiety before bed is to spend too much time in your sleeping area during the day. The more time you spend, or the more activities you squeeze into that single room, the more chance you have of associating it with stress or nervousness when it comes to getting some shuteye.
If it all possible, try to keep your bedroom exclusively for sleep and other fun bedtime activities – this’ll help your mind recognize the place as a relaxing, safe space for you to bed down.
Shut yourself off from the world
Around an hour before bedtime, cut yourself off from the outside world. No phones, no television, no social media, no laptops, no tablets – zilcho. Cold turkey. 9pm? You might as well be dead to the world.
This is a fast and simple (if surprisingly difficult) little gesture that stops your mind worrying about ten different things at once and instead begins to signal that it’s getting to the wind-down part of the day.
Not to mention all of those bright lights can trick your body’s internal clock into thinking it’s still day time.
Get up and move
If you find you’ve been lying in bed for an hour or more, tossing and turning, slowly building in anxiety about your insomnia – forget all about bed. Get up and walk around for a little while, maybe read a chapter in your book, do a little bit of cleaning (something manual, that requires no great amount of thought), maybe even try a tiny bit of exercise – nothing too over the top, though.
Engaging the mechanical side of your body is a fantastic way to distract your mind from its worries, whilst tiring yourself out that little bit more. Plus, it gets you away from those tangled bedsheets for a little while… There’s nothing worse.
Yoga Nidra busts anxiety before bed
If you’ve ever looked for a combination of exercise and meditation then yoga nidra is the perfect opportunity for you. This is a very, very old form of yoga practice that strives to blend meditation and ‘body therapy’ into the one relaxing class of stretches and simplistic postures (indeed, most of it involves lying down).
The essence of yoga nidra is to accept the noises and tics of our bodies by concentrating on breathing, thoughts, bodily noises and sensations and incorporating all of this into a relaxed, meditative state of mind which promotes a sense of peacefulness all over.
When successful, it can do wonders not only for sleep issues but mental health as a whole.
Cut out caffeine and smoking
There’s no getting around it, I’m afraid – our lifestyle and diet play a huge part in our mental health and ability to fall asleep. In particular, you want to be wary of drinking too many caffeinated drinks throughout the day (ideally, you’ll cut this out completely), especially toward bed time. The same goes for smoking.
Both caffeine and nicotine can stimulate the mind in a huge way which, of course, is a key component to keeping us awake, alert and anxious before bed. The problem with smoking, too, is that many people have come to rely upon it as a coping mechanism for anxiety, creating a whole new vicious cycle for themselves.
Cutting these simple things out of your diet – at the very least, at night time – can work wonders on a restless sleeper.
With the caffeine cull in mind; why not replace one of these bad habits with something a little healthier, but within the same wheelhouse, like herbs for sleep? You can sip them as teas or use them as herbal essences around the bedroom.
Some simple and delicious herbal teas can make all the difference in the world – especially if you slurp down that warm, relaxing drink just before bed. Try Valerian, Chamomile, Lavender or green tea (the most common and widely available herbal teas) and see if your insomnia improves any.
If tea isn’t quite to your taste, then try aromatherapy for sleep with scent packages or oils – some of which can even be applied directly to the skin or your pillow, and then washed off later. As well as the more common types; herbal remedies such as peppermint, lemon balm, passionflower, hibiscus and kava kava are also well known for their sleep promoting properties and relaxing/calming effects over anxiety and nerves.
Increase your exercise regime
Many health practitioners recommend an increase in exercise for patients suffering from depression, anxiety and other common mental health ailments – the release of endorphins as well as the distracting physical exertion can promote calmer, happier and relaxed emotions.
As mentioned above, though, try not to do anything too strenuous or overly energetic too soon before bed otherwise your mind will soak up the stimulation and struggle to turn off for bed time (although a little walk or something similar is generally safe).
Repeated, daily installments of exercise can greatly improve your body’s overall health to boot, which can only serve to dampen anxieties and worries over health concerns – which always seem to bubble to the surface at night time.
Right – be warned, this might require you to embrace your masochistic side… If you haven’t heard of acupressure mats, then you’re not even trying with this whole sleep thing are you? Acupressure mats are essentially small rolls of fabric, covered with plastic ‘needles’ (don’t worry they’re dulled points) which press into particular points on your back, neck and shoulders.
The result is meant to be an improved blood flow, an easing of bodily tension and a feeling of fully body relaxation. It essentially works as a blending of acupuncture and massage therapy and has been known to produce a clear state of mind and sometimes a warm, sleepy sensation when used before bed time.
There are a great many different brands and types of acupressure mat on the market, with all manner of trinkets and accessories to boot, so if you’re inclined to lie back on the ‘bed of nails’, you have a lot to choose from!
Avoid eating before bed time
Try to avoid any sizable meals before bedtime – it’s kind of obvious when you think about it, but it takes a fair bit of energy to digest lots of food and your body finds it difficult to shut down and relax when you’ve got a belly full of pizza at 11pm on a Monday night. So I’m told.
Aside from anything else, hitting the hay on a full stomach can be quite uncomfortable, which just adds another horrible aspect to the restless symptoms of anxiety before bed.
These days, a lot of reformed insomnia sufferers will tell you that there’s nothing better than white noise to send you off to the promised land of really cool dreams where you can fly, but also play stadium-raising guitar solos at the same time and then…
Sorry, what I mean to say is – white noise is fantastic at blanking out disturbing noises in the night which your mind may fixate on, and consequently keep you awake and alert, ready for those anxious thoughts to filter in.
Bonus points for it being a welcome, gibberish distraction: no matter how much you try and focus in on or recognize patterns in white noise, it’s simply not possible. You’ll tire yourself out in moments!
Keep your bedroom chilled
Stop, stop, stop. Put the pitchforks down. I’m not saying your beloved bedroom has to be turned into an ice cavern to fight off anxiety before bed – just that one of the biggest causes of night time insomnia and anxiety is that a room is too hot. Often without us even realizing it.
Roughly speaking the golden median for pleasant night time snoozing is between 65 and 75 degrees. Any hotter and you’ll be throwing those covers off you every few minutes for a breath of fresh air and any colder, you’ll be fighting for space in the bed with the penguins.
So, although night time anxiety may sink its claws into most of us at some point or other, you can rest assured that you’re both not alone and not helpless. There are plenty of handy little tricks and gimmicks you can employ to calm your nerves and enjoy a healthy night’s sleep.
In the words of the great Douglas Adams: Don’t Panic!