For some folks, their nightly routine consists of little hope for falling asleep, thanks to having anxiety before bed. Instead of crawling under the covers and drifting off to dreamland as you'd like to do, you might lie there worrying about the future, or ruminating over all the embarrassing/stressful/negative things from your past. And then suddenly it's 2 a.m.
Sound familiar? If so, you're not alone. According to Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, a sleep psychologist at Yale University, it's incredibly common for people to experience anxiety whilst lying in bed. "Your defenses are down and you have nothing to distract you from worries once you turn out the lights and get into bed," Scheenberg says. "Also, it is very common to have 'dread of the bed' when bedtime nears if you have experienced any difficulties with insomnia."
Since lying in the dark and stressing out isn't exactly a recipe for a good night's sleep, you'll want to do what you can to turn off your nighttime anxiety, relax, and get to sleep. Usually, that starts with establishing good sleep hygiene, which includes turning off your phone/laptop/TV so that you're not distracted (and so that their blue light doesn't keep you awake), and going to bed at the same time each night. But you can also add in a few rituals to help reduce your anxiety before bed. Here are a few great ones experts say can work like a charm.
1. Signal To Your Brain That The Day Is Done, And It's Time For Sleep
If you're prone to anxiety before bed, do yourself a favor and establish a relaxing routine that you always do, without fail. By doing the same thing night after night, "you can start to activate stimuli that send signals to your brain that tell yourself it is OK to go to sleep," therapist Ashley McGirt, MSW, LASW, LSWAIC tells Bustle. "This can be by putting on your pajamas, getting in bed, drinking ... chamomile tea." Stick to your faves, and your brain will start to learn that it's officially OK to cease all worrying for the day, so you can fall asleep.
2. Write Down Five Things You're Grateful For
We've all heard about the magical powers of gratitude lists. But do you know why they work so well? "Our nervous system is wired to have a negative bias, which means that we are programmed to look for everything that is wrong," life coach Tiffany Toombs tells Bustle. "A gratitude practice rewires our nervous system to start looking for the positive things in our environment."
To do it, start by writing down three to five things daily that you're grateful for right before bed. "It’s easy to be 'fluffy' about this and say 'I’m grateful I have a roof over my head,' so I encourage my clients to be specific," Toombs says. "Why are you grateful for a roof over your head? Being specific requires us to be more intentional in our responses — thus allowing the change to occur."
When you're finished, you can get comfy in bed and feel appreciative for the things you have, instead of stressed out over everything else.
3. Do A "Mind Dump"
If your anxiety is causing you to worry about tomorrow, then give a "mind dump" a try. "An hour before bed, dump all your worries onto paper until they are no longer in your head," clinical psychologist and sleep coach Dr. Steve Orma tells Bustle. "Then put it aside and tell yourself you’ll address them tomorrow (you don’t want to do it then because that might increase your anxiety). Then the next day or as soon as you can, address the worries you wrote down." So that you can check things off your to-do list and prevent yourself from having to worry about the same things the next night.
Often, all it takes are a few quick notes in a journal, which you can keep on your bedside table. As Orma says, "This works because it gets the anxious thoughts out of your head, clearing your mind, and preventing rumination that can cause anxiety."
4. Slow Your Heart Rate Down With Music
If your heart is pounding away, soothe yourself with some slow, calming music right before bed. "Music can ... assist with putting our bodies in a somber mood," psychotherapist Kimberly M. Lee-Okonya LCSW, LMSW tells Bustle. "Music that has slowed melodies can keep the heart rate relaxed and get it to its resting rate, which helps reduce stress and regulates your breathing. This is ideal music for bedtime."
And if you don't know what to listen to, all it takes is a quick search online for sleep-inducing music. "Many ... music streaming outlets have ready-made playlists for sleep," she says. "So be sure to check those out as well for soothing melodic tones to help you drift off to sleep peacefully."
5. Have A Light Snack Right Before Bed
If you tend to lie awake at night worrying about waking up a few hours later, then it may be time for a comforting before-bed snack. "Having a little something in your stomach at bedtime makes most people feel relaxed," Schneeberg says.
Some good choices? "The best snacks have some protein and are low in sugar and processed carbs," she says. "Examples [include] string cheese, nuts, [a] bowl of whole grain cereal, or oatmeal cookies with your preferred type of milk (regular milk, nut milk, etc), whole grain toast with nut butter, apple with nut butter and so on." All of these foods are easy to digest, which is exactly what you need as you drift off to sleep.
6. Take A "Sleep Inventory" Of Your Bedroom
By giving your bedroom a once over each night, you can ensure that it's set up perfectly for an optimal night's sleep, while also signaling to your brain to get ready for bed. "Really take a look at your sleep environment and make it the most comfortable for you," psychotherapist Kimberly Schaffer, MSW, LCSW, CSSW, CCS tells Bustle. Get more pillows, spray a soothing aromatherapy scent like lavender, and turn the temperature down to the optimal sleep temp.
Also consider getting a weighted blanket, since they've been shown to help reduce anxiety. "Laying under a weighted blanket can calm the body down and promote the release of serotonin and dopamine, thus calming the brain down, as well," clinical therapist Laura Fonseca tells Bustle. Once you figure out what feels right for you, your room will transform into the sanctuary you need and deserve.
7. Put Your Phone Away
Putting your phone away before bed is important not only because the screen emits a blue light that can make it difficult to sleep, but also because news is not something you need to read while trying to calm down from a stressful day.
"Put away electronics: our phones, tablets, and televisions give off light that interferes with or circadian rhythm and can keep us from getting sleepy when we are supposed to. Plus, we often are engaging with content that revs us up instead of helping us calm down," psychologist Dr. Ilana Blatt-Eisengart, PhD tells Bustle. "Choose a time at least 30-45 minutes before you want to fall asleep and put your electronics away. Do not sleep with them next to (or in!) your bed." Instead, keep them across the room, well out of reach, and read a book instead.
By adding a few of these rituals to your nighty routine, you can ease anxiety and stress, and get a better night's sleep.