After a long day, you climb into bed, close your eyes and… you’re wide awake! Despite feeling fatigued, you cannot fall asleep. Your mind is busy, and your thoughts racing. Try as you may, you cannot seem to slow it down.
Many people experience obtrusive thoughts at bedtime, whether of an unsettling nature or a simple inability to prevent the cataloguing of tomorrow’s outstanding tasks. Yet, a brain on overdrive can have a disastrous impact on sleep. Consequently, a lack of sleep can be a source of frustration and stress and, if poor sleep is ongoing, it can begin to snowball into sleep anxiety – fear or worry about your sleep.
Experts suggest that this kind of stress around sleep is a type of performance anxiety. We all know that poor sleep has a lingering effect on our mental alertness and ability to function, so we get stressed that a lack of sleep will impact on the day ahead. The trouble is, sleep anxiety adds another layer to sleep woes since the anxiety, which triggers the production of stress hormones, makes good quality sleep even harder to achieve. It can then become an incredibly vicious cycle.
If sleep or night-time anxiety is familiar to you, read on to learn five effective ways to overcome it.
Have a regular bedtime
Your body is governed by internal clocks that respond well to routine. When you go to bed at the same time every evening, it enables your body to get into a rhythm of producing the hormones that make you sleepy at the same time every evening. Over time, you will notice that you naturally get tired as your ‘bedtime’ rolls around. Waking up at the same time every day can help too.
Avoid or minimise caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant and when it enters the bloodstream, it triggers the production of the stress hormone adrenaline. If you are feeling stressed or anxious as it is, your body will already be producing adrenaline. Adding a cup (or more) of coffee to the mix will elevate your stress hormone levels even further, potentially leaving you feeling wired and unable to sleep despite your fatigue. If the idea of giving up caffeine altogether feels impossible, try to stick to one cup each day. It is also best to avoid caffeine after midday as its effects can linger for up to eight hours or more.
Begin a relaxing pre-bedtime practice
Slowing your breathing rate down can help relax your body and prepare you for sleep. Incorporating a breathwork, meditation or gentle yoga practice into your nightly routine will calm your nervous system and slow down your breathing. Also, by focusing on your breath, you will naturally pull yourself into the present moment which can help to calm racing thoughts.
Have a notebook beside your bed
If, as you fall asleep, you find your mind cataloguing all the things you did not manage to get accomplished for the day, or all the things you need to get through the following day, you may benefit from having a notebook on hand. When a thought pops into your brain as you drift off, get into the habit of writing it down so you no longer have to ‘hold it’ in your mind. In the morning, you can pick up your list and carry on with your day.
Use a sleep story or relaxation track
Giving your brain something else to focus on can make all the difference. You may like to listen to a sleep story, relaxation music or guided meditation to help you drift off, depending on your preferences. Most apps have in in-built ‘sleep mode’ that allow you to set a timer to switch off after a period of time. If you know you are prone to waking up in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep, keep your headphones close by and pop them back in when you need them.
If sleep anxiety is an ongoing issue for you, it may be of benefit chatting to your local GP about it. While everyone can expect the occasional blip in the quality and duration of their sleep, the cumulative impact of regular insufficient sleep can take an immense toll on your health and should be addressed as quickly as possible.