As a younger child, I struggled with sleeping alone. Not because I didn’t like the dark, not because I was bored, or hungry, or didn’t like my bedroom. The anxiety I associated with sleep was for no apparent reason; it often happened in the holidays, where there wasn’t a strict routine, or when bedtime was a little more relaxed.
I remember one Easter that I cried myself to sleep every night after a mouse we had tried to rescue from the cold died the night we took it in, and for the entire two weeks I was anxious, tired and the thought of sleep would induce anxiety attacks. My parents were supportive if confused and not completely understanding, and we tried everything. Herbal teas, relaxing music, my parents would even sit with me until I fell asleep.
So what was making me so anxious? The space between going to bed and falling asleep is a space that allows the brain to potentially think about things that wouldn’t come to mind if you were preoccupied or busy. This means that you might overthink or stress when struggling to fall asleep as you simply have extra time on your hands and nothing to fill it with. It isn’t just me, though – it’s estimated that around 63% of people with anxiety may be suffering from insomnia-like symptoms.
This post is designed to inform you of ways you can alter your nightly routine to fight that anxious feeling, get a night of better sleep and feel less tired.
- Drinking tea helps the sleep cycle, as it relaxes the body before falling asleep and is also very healthy and can reduce stress – meaning you forget to worry about the forthcoming exam and get to sleep faster.
- Having ‘worry time’ or a short space of time allotted to talk about how you’re feeling is definitely good – this is a tip I’ve been using on and off for years. However, have it before you go to sleep so you can refocus and stop thinking about your anxiey before you attempt to fall asleep. Evening time is ideal but its best to have that talk around an hour before bed time (especially useful for younger children, who are more likely to be anxious at bedtime without someone in bed with them).
- Using a few breathing exercises before you fall asleep is a great way to lower your heart rate and alleviate stress, thus making it ideal to add to your routine. I have recently applied this tip and although I haven’t seen a huge difference in my sleep cycle, it has made me less anxious before heading to bed.
- You should aim to complete any revision, homework or screen time around an hour before you go to bed. Reading, writing (for fun, not for a deadline) or colouring are all good ways to replace things like watching TV that will also help you get into the mood and fall asleep faster.
- Move around a little until you feel comfortable; forcing one position can become painful for your body and a natural sign that your body is ready for sleep is changing positions, so don’t stay stuck on one side of the bed.
- Wearing an eye mask can help (but I hate it as the lack of your most prominent sense is taken away and it actually makes me feel less safe as I am unable to see). However, many people swear by these helping them get to sleep earlier and they are inexpensive and easy to incorporate into your nightly routine.
- It’s best to stick to some sort of schedule. Have a certain time you should be in bed by at the weekend and an earlier one for the rest of the week, and try to stick by it. Similarly, don’t wake up much later than 10am on weekends as this is a quick way to through your body off balance.
- If you find yourself lacking the ability to fall asleep quickly and your day doesn’t include much physical exercise, go out and take 30 minutes to work up a sweat and stay fit. This has huge health benefits as well as being good for your sleep because the exertion will make your body tired, resulting in faster sleep.
- Drink coffee no later than 5pm, and the same goes for coke. Caffeine is bad for your sleep as it provides your body with energy, resulting in a quick boost. Coffee and coke both contain enough to keep you up late, so it’s best to limit your intake and also drink it earlier in the day, when you won’t be needing some rest. If you like taking a hot drink up to bed with you, replacements could be herbal tea (peppermint works for me) or water as they are both good for you and low in sugar, meaning you won’t have an energy rush.
- Similarly, eating large amounts and in particular salty foods can also put your body off sleep. You should aim to eat your last meal of the day at least two hours before going to bed, and if you’re a sucker for late night snacking, foods with low salt intake are best.
- Naps are a sign your body is tired and in need of sleep. You should limit the time you nap for as they can disrupt your sleep at night, so less than half an hour is suggested. You should also avoid napping in the evening and prepare for bed by doing something relatively acting, such as taking a short walk, feeding a pet or doing the dishes. This means when it comes to sleeping you’ll be tired and ready to rest.