Anyone with anxiety knows that trying to get to bed while your heart is racing and your thoughts are reeling can seem impossible at times — and it doesn't help to think about how that lack of sleep will make you feel worse tomorrow. Luckily, there are a number of tricks that can help you sleep when you have anxiety, and although there isn't a one-size fits all cure for everyone, trying out a few of these tactics might be able to help you at least a little bit.
"Anxiety stimulates the sympathetic nervous response—fight or flight—which is biologically programed to keep us alert long after danger has passed," says insomnia expert Sondra Kornblatt over email. "The mind's fearful stories, images, and thoughts about the future create tension in the body. And that physical tension fuels more scared stories — a horrible escalating spiral of fear at night."
Of course, it's important to start off by eating a healthy diet, working out, and engaging in a number of other anxiety-reducing activities to help you fall asleep at night. But if you do all that and none of it is working for you, you might want to consider these 11 tricks to help you sleep when you have anxiety.
Breathing might not be able to fix all your troubles, but it can help your body relax so you can more easily dose off to sleep, according to Psychology Today. Lay on your back and take big, deep breaths, expanding your belly rather than your chest. Count to four or five, and for each count, imagine one side of a square being drawn. Here's how Psychology Today suggests completing the square:
"Breathe in for 5 seconds and imagine the side of a square being drawn. Then hold your breath for 5 seconds as you ‘see’ the next side of the square being completed. Exhale for 5 seconds, watching the third side of the square being drawn. And, hold for 5 seconds, watching the full square take form."
Paying attention to your breathing and "building the square" can help distract you from the thoughts running through your mind.
2Creating A To-Do List
Keep a pen and paper by your bed to jot down anything that comes to mind when you're trying to fall asleep. "This technique allows people to mentally work through their list of unresolved responsibilities before bed," says sleep-health consultant Dr. Sujay Kansagra over email. "In the fast-paced world, sometimes lying in bed is the first time we are actually able to think about what is on the list. By creating a list of tasks, and even writing down worries, you can prevent yourself from thinking about it excessively just before bed."
3Unplugging An Hour Before Bed
Not only will looking at Instagram and Facebook stimulate your mind, but the light from your computer or cell phone screen can make it harder for you to fall asleep. "To fall asleep fast and soundly, avoid any and all screens, including your smartphones, tablets and TV, within one hour of bedtime, as it emits daytime spectrum blue light," says Kansagra. "The brain decreases its natural sleep hormone, melatonin, when exposed to bright light at night. Unplugging for an hour before bed will help set your brain into relaxation mode."
"Mindfulness practices like pre-bed yoga or in-bed meditation can help quiet the mind and encourage sleep," says Jordan Tishler, MD over email. Research published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who practiced mindfulness meditation had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression compared to people who just learned different sleep techniques. There are many ways to meditate, but what's important is becoming mindful and shifting your focus away from your thoughts onto the present moment. If you can't figure out how to meditate on your own, there are various apps that can help you through the process.
5Listening To Slow, Classical Music
Lying in bed in complete silence can bring all your attention to your thoughts, so put on some soothing, classical music instead. Listening to music can relax your mind and body, including slowing your pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing levels of stress hormones, according to multiple studies.
6Cooling The Room Temperature
Dropping your body's temperature can actually help encourage your body to get to sleep, according to WebMD. Most experts recommend a temperature between 65 and 72 degrees, but choose whatever feels most comfortable to you. Heat can also trigger anxiety, according to Health Central, so it's important to stay cool when it's time to get into bed.
7Putting Your Worries In A "Drawer"
Mental tricks can be useful for dealing with nighttime anxiety, and one thing you can do is to picture setting your worries aside. "Imagine a chest of drawers, and imagine putting symbols of the source of anxiety in it," says psychologist James I. Millhouse, Ph.D. over email. "Close the drawer, and at that time, make a commitment to deal with it at some specific time after the sleep period."
8Creating A Sleep Schedule
It's hard to feel tired at night when you're anxious, but you can train your body to get ready for bed a certain time each night by sticking to a strict sleep schedule. "Everyone has a natural cycle of hours which provide the most restful sleep," says psychiatrist Dr. Ayo Gathing, MD over email. "While our daily activities do not always allow us to stick to our favorable cycle, staying as close to those hours as possible when we can promotes healthier sleep."
8Creating A Winding Down Routine
A wind-down routine is a ritual that you perform before bed that sends a signal to your mind that it is time to relax before sleep. "Having your mind calm at bedtime allows for improved onset of sleep, as it recognizes that it is time to be still," says Gathing. "Your routine can include any activity that relaxes you such as light reading, a warm bath, or listening to soothing music."
9Drink Some Herbal Tea
There are a number natural herbs that can help reduce anxiety and induce sleepiness for bed. Chamomile, lavender, peppermint, and more can all help relax you, according to multiple studies. Just avoid any tea with caffeine, as that can stimulate you and even exacerbate existing anxiety.
10Get A Weighted Blanket
A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine found that participants who used a weighted blanket showed a reduction in nighttime levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which lead to better sleep quality. A weighted blanket provides a deep pressure that's similar to human touch. This releases serotonin, which can help regulate sleep and mood, making you able to relax and fall asleep, according to Medical Daily.
11Surround Yourself With Plants
There's a reason people escape to nature to help them heal. Spending time around greenery can have a number of psychological benefits. The benefits of having potted plants in your personal space include lowered blood pressure, lower levels of anxiety, and improved wellbeing, according to Psychology Today.