As I write this I had an awful night’s sleep last night which prompted me to want to write this post. I was feeling incredibly anxious before bedtime and I woke up about 4:30am after drifting off at some point and found it so difficult to get back to sleep. My heart was racing, I was hot and felt sweaty and was in a negative state of thinking. I hadn’t had a night like this for quite a while so I was not prepared for it and had slipped out of any good habits I had formed to combat them. I want to share some tips that I’ve worked out for myself, that I’ve heard have worked for others and that I learned from my course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) last year.
- Wake up at the same time every day. This one I was told by my therapist and can be very difficult to commit to but in my experience it did help. I’ve slipped out of this now and plan on getting back into this routine. It can be really hard at the start as it might involve you getting up when you’re still tired but fight through the short term inconvenience and it will pay off. You can also help yourself by going to bed at the same time every day too.
- Try to exercise in some form every day. An obvious one but it can and does help by burning energy and giving you a distraction. Walking, yoga, at home aerobics, running or gym, it could even be vacuum cleaning the house and dusting round – I know that tires me out!
- Speaking of yoga… Try yoga! If you’re feeling anxious or panicky come evening time, some yoga might do you good. My favourite is Yoga with Adriene on Youtube. She has videos to address anxiety, stress, depression, sleep, self doubt and even self love.
- Consider putting your phone away one or two hours before you intend to go to bed. You need to disconnect and don’t clock-watch on your phone if you’re struggling to drift off, leave it alone.
- Have a bedtime routine that can signal the lead up to sleep. This might be getting into PJs, doing your skincare routine, cleaning teeth, having a hot drink or even having a bath. You might then read a book or magazine or do some colouring or art.
- Write a to-do list for the next day or a schedule for the week ahead. Uncertainty is a huge trigger for me so I sometimes find this a helpful thing to do before attempting sleep.
- Avoid caffeine after about 4pm. I try to avoid completely (aside from a green tea in the morning) as caffeine heightens any agitation for me!
- Avoid alcohol
- Don’t eat a big meal late in the evening but equally don’t go to bed hungry. I try to eat my tea/dinner, whatever it’s called, before 6pm every day, and if I do have a little snack afterwards I don’t have it any later than 8pm.
- Pillow sprays or essential oils like lavender or camomile might help you relax and feel comforted. They don’t really work for me but it is nice to have as part of your bedtime routine.
- Go to the toilet right before bed. This might be a bit weird to suggest but I think it’s worth mentioning as us anxious people need to do all we can to avoid our body waking us up once we’ve finally drifted off to sleep!
- Keep your bedroom tidy and a place you feel happy and relaxed in. My bedroom needs a real sort out tbh! It’s starting to feel cluttered and it’s stressing me out.
- Breathing techniques might be helpful if you’re laid in bed feeling anxious as they can give you something to focus on and control your breathing. There are numerous techniques, like breathing in for 2, holding for two, breathing out for two, holding for two, repeat. This is known as castle breathing. Or breathing out more than you breathe in. The advice to take deep breaths to calm anxiety and nerves is a misconception, breathing out is the key to relaxing your breath. You can do this by breathing in for a count of 4 and then breathing out for a count of 7. Try breathing from lower down by breathing from your stomach instead of your chest. My favourite calming breathing technique however is alternate nostril breathing. It’s very soothing, especially when you have Adriene guiding you.
- Mindfulness apps like ‘Headspace’ might calm and soothe you and give you something to focus on. This does involve getting your phone out which is slightly counterproductive though.
- If you wake up in the night worrying about things or you’re lying for ages trying to get sleep with thoughts racing, get a pen and paper and write them all down and get it all out. This is something my therapist recommended and I ended up having to do this last night as my mind was all over the place and I was getting quite distressed. I recommend keeping a candle and one of those safety gas lighter sticks somewhere easily accessible in the dark so that you can reach for it and put a candle on so you can write down all your thoughts. I think this is better than putting a lamp or room light on or reaching for your phone as it’s a natural and very subtle light so you don’t get further woken up by unnatural lights. By writing your thoughts down it feels like an outlet and somehow the worries don’t feel as consuming and overwhelming.
These are just some ideas on what might help improve your sleep in you’re suffering with anxiety. Unfortunately, even doing all these things might not always stop the odd, awful night where anxiety is just off the scales. To any one reading this, keep going and know you’re not alone and I hope there’s something here you can try.
Love Nicole xxxx