If you’ve ever lied awake at night staring at the ceiling, heart racing, and thoughts running through your mind uncontrollably, you know how damaging it can be to your sleep. Unfortunately, at night, when your body finally comes to rest is when your anxious mind comes alive.
Anxiety affects over 40 million adults and ranges from acute to chronic. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or not, these unwanted thoughts can still rear their ugly head at night, making it impossible to fall and stay asleep. Long-term sleep deprivation can cause a multitude of health issues, from weight gain and diabetes to heart failure and stroke. Sadly, it can also increase depression and anxiety.
In this article, we’ll share tips for reducing those anxious thoughts at night, so you can finally achieve the quality sleep you need and wake to feel rested, rejuvenated, and focused.
Adopt a Healthy Nighttime Routine
It’s essential to prepare for bed the same way you prepare for other significant events in your life. The things you do (and don’t do) before going to bed affect how well you sleep. Adopting a positive, healthy routine can help ease anxious thoughts and relax your body and your mind.
Start by choosing a soothing activity to enjoy about 60 minutes before you lay down. Examples include listening to relaxing music, taking a warm bath, drinking a cup of tea, or reading a book. By practicing these habits routinely at the same time every night, your body will recognize them as queues for sleep. You may even find yourself getting tired as this time nears. As humans, we thrive on routine. Predictability establishes feelings of safety and security, which can help reduce anxious or unsettling thoughts and emotions.
Waking up at the same time each day also helps establish a healthy nighttime routine by aligning your circadian rhythm. This is your body’s internal clock. It regulates when you’re awake and alert and when you feel tired or ready to sleep. When your circadian rhythm is unbalanced, it can cause feelings of distress, uncertainty, and anxiety. For people living with chronic insomnia, CBT-i treatment can help them adopt healthier behaviors that promote sleep.
Create a Bedroom Environment that Promotes Sleep
Your environment dramatically impacts your thoughts, emotions, and anxiety levels. A loud, bright, or chaotic bedroom can increase anxious thoughts, making you feel tense and alert. Strive to make your bedroom a calm, quiet, and welcoming place that promotes rest and relaxation.
Start by eliminating unnecessary distractions, including light and noise. Invest in room darkening shades or a sleep mask to block unwanted light. Turn off the TV and your cell phone (more on this in a minute). White noise machines and oscillating fans are two good ways to drown out both outside noises and intrusive thoughts. Next, choose the right mattress and pillows for your body type. Firm mattresses and pillows offer extra neck and back support for those who need it. Softer bedding is ideal for side sleepers.
Your sheets and blankets should help you maintain the perfect sleeping temperature by keeping you cool enough for sleep but warm enough that you don’t wake up reaching for the covers. Studies show that the ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Turn Off the Electronics
Electronic devices like your smartphone and television do more than just hold your attention, making it difficult to fall asleep. The blue light from these screens interrupts your body’s natural production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. As night falls and the sun sets, your brain produces melatonin to promote relaxation and calm. When you use electronic devices too close to bedtime, your brain confuses this blue light with natural sunlight, sending mixed signals that it’s time to be awake and alert.
The things you view on your phone and television can also cause increased anxiety. Watching the news, true crime shows, or even action films and dramas can all cause distressing thoughts and feelings and increase the chances you’ll have a nightmare. If you’re scrolling social media on your smartphone, you may see images or posts that upset you, triggering troubled thoughts or unsettling feelings. Instead of using an electronic device before bed, try reading a book. Just be sure to choose a light, fun read that isn’t overly stimulating.
Keep a Journal
One of the best and fastest ways to ease anxious thoughts is to get them down on paper. There’s something therapeutic about purging negative or nagging thoughts that keep you up at night. Keep a journal by your bedside and spend a few minutes each night writing in it. Try documenting any anxious thoughts or feelings you might have and ask yourself what triggered them. You can also reflect back on these notes to determine what, if anything, is making your insomnia worse. If you’re taking anxiety medication or an antidepressant for your insomnia, you can use your journal to document how it makes you feel and whether it’s helping to ease your insomnia and anxiety symptoms.
If thoughts of tomorrow’s schedule are troubling you, make a priority list. Write down what you need to do and the order you plan on doing it. An organized plan for the next day can help ease your worries and make you feel more in control of the situation.
Try Meditation or Mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness exercises are two of the most popular and effective ways to calm your mind and body. Often used together, both methods help reduce anxious thoughts, slow the heart rate, and promote feelings of calm and relaxation. Meditation focuses on calming the mind, purging negative thoughts, and becoming aware of “nothing.” Mindfulness, on the other hand, is about accepting your thoughts and feelings and becoming more aware of your surroundings.
There are countless apps and YouTube videos available to help teach you meditation and mindfulness techniques. Sitting in a comfortable spot alone with your thoughts can help you sort them out before bed. Acknowledging these negative thoughts before releasing them helps break the control they have over you and may stop them from keeping you up at night.
Reduce Anxious Thoughts and Welcome Sleep
If your anxious thoughts are keeping you up at night, chances are, it’s creating a vicious cycle of anxiety and sleep deprivation. The more stressed and uptight you become about not being able to sleep, the more likely these thoughts are to interfere with your natural sleep patterns. And anxiety is a major side effect of insufficient sleep—these two factors go hand-in-hand.
By reducing anxious thoughts at night and adopting a more positive, relaxed approach to sleep, you can finally get the rest you need and wake to feel energized, happy, and ready to tackle the day!
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: April Sutphen is a wife, mother, and freelance writer from Florida. She has her MFA in creative nonfiction and over 15 years of writing experience. Some of her favorite topics to cover include health and wellness, fitness, relationships, education, and parenting. When she’s not writing, April enjoys exercising, spending time with friends and family, and reading.
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.
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