How to overcome sleep anxiety – so you can drop off without worry

Do you get anxious before bed time? Do you lie awake with racing thoughts, or even have panic attacks in the middle of the night?

Sleep anxiety is where your rest is frequently disrupted by worry – and it is incredibly common. The pandemic has made it worse for lots of people too.

There was a 5,000% increase in search interest for ‘how to sleep better with anxiety’ between 2019 and 2021. In February 2022, this increased by a further 32% compared to the same month last year, so it’s clear that our wandering minds are keeping us awake at night.

‘Getting a good night’s rest is imperative in order to be able to function at 100% the next day,’ say the experts at SleepSeeker.

‘Unfortunately for many people, getting to sleep and staying asleep isn’t as easy as it should be. If you’re encountering stress in your life, it’s likely that you may be struggling to fall or stay asleep at night. Anxious worries about life can keep your brain from settling down, and the disruption of sleep is likely to keep you feeling more on edge the next day.

‘However, there are some things you can do to keep your nighttime worries at bay.’

Try these expert tips if anxiety is messing with your sleep:

Limit caffeine and alcohol before bed

It’s common sense, but easily forgotten – but drinking too much caffeine or consuming it later in the day can increase anxiety and impede sleep.

‘Having alcoholic beverages close to bedtime can also increase your heart rate which will keep you up,’ add the SleepSeeker experts.

‘It’s best to drink plenty of water throughout the day and stay hydrated, however having too much water before bed could also mean increased toilet trips during the night which disturb your sleep too so it’s important to get this balance right.’

Tailor your environment

It’s important to understand what environment keeps you the most calm and comfortable – your bedroom should be your sanctuary.

‘Controlling light, temperature and sound could be key to keeping worries at bay and being able to sleep through the night,’ they say.

‘Usually, the darker, cooler and quieter you keep your sleeping space, the better chance you will have of sleeping undisturbed, but everyone is different so work out what works best for you.

‘Taking a relaxing bath or shower can also help lower your body temperature so try doing these just before bed and see if it helps.’

Limit screen time before bed

We’re all guilty of going on our devices before bedtime, but the experts say this has an adverse effect on our ability to sleep – the blue light prevents the production of the melatonin hormone, which aids sleep. 

‘Scrolling through work email or doing work right before bed can also trigger anxious thoughts and make it harder to calm your brain.

‘Think about setting an alarm to tell yourself to stop screen time in good time before bed. Instead, consider listening to music or reading a book.’

Calm your mind 

There are many natural calming techniques you can try to quiet your mind.

The experts suggest looking into breathing techniques, mindful meditation and yoga, and trying them out before you go to bed to see if they work for you.

‘However, a relaxing evening walk can be equally as effective for clearing and calming your mind before getting into bed.’

Listen to your body 

With sleep, there is not a one size fits all approach.

‘When you are finding it hard to get a good night’s sleep, sometimes a trial and error approach can be the best way forward. 

‘Eight hours sleep is commonly known as being the optimum time to spend in bed, however the amount of sleep you need is the amount it takes to make you feel awake and alert during the day, whether this be eight or 12 hours.

‘So, a good way to discover what works for you is to keep a journal of the amount of sleep you had and how you felt the day after.

‘There are many other common misconceptions, such as no cheese before bed and more sleep is always better but it’s really important to find the right circumstances for you.’

Daily exercise

Exercise has long been proven to improve mood and reduce feelings of depression, stress, and, importantly, anxiety. 

‘If you’re experiencing anxiety falling asleep, consider introducing exercise into your daily routine, whether that be in the morning before work, over your lunch break, or when you get home in the afternoon,’ says sleep specialist and CEO of Ethical Bedding, James Higgins.

‘Getting moving throughout the day can also help to improve your circadian rhythm, if bad anxiety at night has led to you suffering from an erratic sleep pattern.’

Soak up the morning sun

Whether it’s heading out for a stroll before work, or eating breakfast al fresco during the summer months, spending time soaking up the sun can enhance sleep quality when you head back to bed at night. 

‘When you’re sat in the sun, your body produces serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin as you settle down to sleep,’ says James.

‘The more time you spend enjoying the morning sunshine, the better your body gets at controlling melatonin levels. As a result, you may begin to see reductions in levels of anxiety at night.’

Limit power naps to 20 minutes

There’s no doubt that a quick power nap can be extremely beneficial in boosting alertness, especially if you’re feeling a little lethargic throughout the day. Though it’s important to ensure you’re not sleeping for more than 20 minutes at a time, to get the full benefit out of your nap. 

‘Laying for longer than 20 minutes can mean you wake during a deeper stage of your sleep cycle, and risk feeling drowsier and groggier than before,’ James adds.

‘This interrupted sleep cycle can impact your mood and contribute to triggering sleep anxiety when you finally settle down for the night.’

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