It’s deep into the night, but you just can’t fall asleep. You keep thinking about the barista that didn’t smile at you this morning, or your friend that didn’t text you as usual, or how you accidentally pushed a person on the way home.
There are dozens of mistakes and misunderstandings, and now, when you’re supposed to rest, they come back to haunt you.
Anxiety is the name of this demon, and trust me, you’re not the only one fighting it.
Studies show that in the United States, anxiety disorders affect almost 20% of the population every year, making it the most common type of mental illness. According to a report from 2017, anxiety disorders take the first place worldwide as well, with over 280 mln (almost 4%) diagnosed.
But that doesn’t mean, of course, that you have a fully functioning disorder as well.
Anxiety is a natural response of your body to a dangerous or stressful situation, a so-called “fight or flight” reaction. Your brain thinks you’re in danger, so it doesn’t give you time to think it through and immediately sends you into a fighting mode.
And if you were in danger, I bet you wouldn’t want to stop and assess whether that car is going as fast as you think it does. In some situations you should act before thinking.
More even, feeling anxious and nervous before meeting your partner’s parents or traveling to an unfamiliar country for the first time is completely normal as well. When you don’t know what to expect, your mind automatically prepares you for the worst by keeping you alert and restless.
But stress is, well, stressful for the organism – you can’t keep going like this for long. Your body has a limited amount of energy and resources, after all.
The problem with anxiety starts when your brain refuses to relax and sees danger in things (real or not) that aren’t, actually, harmful. Talking to a stranger, submitting an assignment, spilling water at a cafe – these things shouldn’t make you feel nervous, not in the long term.
They shouldn’t keep you up at night – but if they do, here are a few ways to calm them down.
You’ll find 8 simple and straightforward tips on how to fall asleep with anxiety down below. However, I’m not a medical specialist nor a therapist, so don’t take my words as an actual remedy. If anxiety interferes with your daily life, check with a doctor before following any advice on the internet (including mine).
Symptoms of Sleep Anxiety
But before we dive deeper into the causes and treatments, let’s figure out if your experience counts as sleep anxiety. After all, maybe you just had a rough day at work?
Of course, it’s hard to confuse nighttime anxiety with anything else because it’s all there in the name. It’s anxiety that takes over you at night, no more, no less. To keep it clear, though, let’s recap the most common symptoms:
- Intrusive thoughts
- Restlessness, feeling on edge
- Excessive worrying
- Increased heart-rate
- Difficulty breathing
Notice that these are the symptoms of regular anxiety and aren’t enough to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, at least not after a one-time occurrence.
But in this post, I’m not talking about the disorder per se but about any nervous feelings that keep you up at night. So, these will do as well.
What Causes Sleep Anxiety
Now, where does it come from in the first place?
Again, the best and only way to be 100% sure is to get diagnosed by a medical professional. But you can take a look at your lifestyle and find a possible reason on your own.
The first and biggest clue would be a diagnosed anxiety disorder, of course. If you have a general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobia, or any other anxiety-related illness – confirmed by a specialist – then there’s nothing more to search for.
Another common mental illness that may keep you up at night is, of course, depression. If you feel hopeless, unable to concentrate, or exhausted without a reason and for a prolonged period of time, it’s time to check with a therapist.
Other, non-health-related causes include everything about the night itself. We love it for its quiet and calm atmosphere, don’t we?
The night is the time with the least amount of distractions and stimuli around you. When you turn the lights off and go to bed, it’s time for you to let go of responsibilities and allow your thoughts to run free. Sometimes they bring you sweet dreams, but sometimes they find darker places.
How to deal with it then? How to take control over your thoughts when you’re too anxious to sleep?
Well, to be honest, there’s no good way to do it. (What’s this all about then, huh?)
You can’t control your thoughts – but you can help your mind relax and unwind before bedtime. You can redirect all your stress and worries into healthy and helpful habits, and here it’s time to learn more about them!
How to Fall Asleep With Anxiety
Alright, all this theory is great, but what to do when you’re already in bed and the thoughts are already racing through your mind? The day might’ve been all pleasant and fun, but how to beat anxiety at night?
Here are a few simple tricks that will help you destress and wind down.
Don’t Stay In Bed
As counterintuitive as it may sound, yes, the best way to fall asleep is to get out of bed. Not for the rest of the night, though, only for the time being. Until you feel sleepy and ready to rest again.
Don’t let your mind create a bed-anxiety-no sleep chain.
If you can’t fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Maybe read a book, play with your pet, or drink a glass of warm milk.
But beware and stay away from bright lights and screens – or your mind will decide it’s morning already. Although, if you’re reading this, I guess it’s too late for a no-screen night.
You can try any of the activities that usually help you relax – down below are my own suggestions.
Yoga is a well-known tool for relaxing muscles and relieving the mind from stress and anxiety. It has a lot of long-term health benefits, of course, but even one time will be enough to help your sleep.
Start with something light and simple. Something that doesn’t need taut muscles or high energy but will help you redirect your thoughts and focus on yourself.
I’m in no way a yoga expert, so won’t give you examples of exercises. But you can check Google or a short video from Yoga with Adriene – her soothing voice and clear instructions will guide you back to the dreamland.
But if yoga is not for you – or you’re not a fan of bedtime exercise – try its close sibling. Yoga and meditation often go hand in hand, because they’re integral parts of one another along with mindfulness that connects them both.
I already talked about the great benefits of meditation I found for myself – and one of them is stress relief. Accompanied by easier sleep, so two points for one.
When you meditate daily, it changes your response to stress and anxious thoughts. But even one time will be enough to calm down and let go of the worries in your mind.
I’ve been using Medito app every day for over 8 months now, but you can try other apps or resources as well. Just don’t rely on articles – find a guided meditation that will allow you to close your eyes and follow the voice.
Here’s an example of a sleep meditation video from Goodful – you’ll find plenty of similar videos on the web. Just search for guided or sleep meditation and choose whatever catches your eye.
I don’t like journaling. I talked about it in detail in my post on bullet journaling, but I don’t assume that you read it, so here we go again.
I don’t like journaling – but I acknowledge it and remind you that it’s good for your mental health. When your thoughts are out there on the paper instead of roaming through your head, they lose their power over you.
Whatever bothers you, write it down. It doesn’t have to be a journal – a piece of paper, a planner, a phone in your hand. Anything good enough for a brain dump.
Don’t think about what to write, just do it with the first thought that popped into your head as soon as you grabbed a pen. Everything else will follow on its own.
Write until your mind gets clearer and every thought is already on the paper. Trust me, it helps. After all, I keep a journal as well.
It’s better to take care of this one before you head to bed in the first place. But a calm atmosphere will be helpful at any time, even after you realize you’re too anxious to sleep tonight.
Remember I talked about the night being the time with no stimuli and distractions?
Well, you can use it for your own good. Enhance your bedroom with things that’ll pull your mind out of the whirlpool of anxious thoughts but will be calm enough to not wake it up.
First of all, lights. Don’t use bright lamps or screens around bedtime and especially if anxiety keeps you up at night. Opt for warm, dim sources of light, like a bedside lamp or even candles (in an extra safe holder, of course – never fall asleep leaving a candle unburnt).
You can also add a soothing note to your room with an essential oils diffuser. Lavender, ylang-ylang, chamomile, marjoram – there are plenty of plants that have relaxing properties. Their oils are essential (excuse the pun) for a good night’s sleep.
Other ways to make your bedroom more relaxing and suitable for sleep are weighted blankets, cozy pajamas, fresh and cool air, and minimum to zero noises.
Ideally, your bedroom should be used only for sleep and relaxing activities – then your brain will know where is the best place to sleep.
Set a Sleep Schedule
And, to give it a clue about when is the best time, establish a sleep routine. This tip goes beyond the things you can do to fall asleep right now – but it’s still something you should pay attention to.
When you go to bed at different times, your mind doesn’t know when is the time to relax and get ready for sleep.
If you don’t have a stable sleep schedule, nighttime anxiety would be a great reason to start one. You can find more information about how exactly a daily routine can help you feel and sleep better here.
Pay Attention to What You Eat
Not only coffee is a bad nighttime drink. Alcohol, tea, sugary drinks may affect your sleep (and not in a good way). Another drink to avoid is, weirdly, orange juice – it’s super-healthy, of course, but also too acidic for your stomach.
The foods to avoid before bedtime include chocolate and other sweets, spicy and acidic foods, fried, fatty meals, and products with high amounts of water.
If you feel hungry around bedtime, choose light and healthy snacks such as nuts, fruits, yogurt, or herbal tea with honey.
Look After Your Mental Health
If you have problems with anxiety, it’s only natural to take care of your overall mental health state. When you’ll feel calmer during the day, nights will turn easy and pleasant as well.
Mental self-care should be an important part of your life regardless of how your anxiety levels look like.
You can find a few helpful tips in my post on depression and self-care, but to put it simply – look after your health. Keep a healthy diet, stick to a daily routine, find joy in simple things, and, of course, consult with a therapist if you feel the need.
Take care of yourself, and your anxiety will step away.
Hope you’ll have only good nights from now on! But if you find yourself sleeping too much rather than too little, head to my post on how to deal with oversleeping – I covered you there.