Having trouble falling asleep is a problem that plagues too many of us. And if you suffer with anxiety — or think you might — nighttime can be tricky, because you can start to worry about getting enough sleep before you even get into bed.
“Some of my patients complain that their mind races at night — especially when their anxiety is worse — which prevents them from falling asleep,” Jennifer Caudle, DO, Family Physician and Associate Professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Bustle. “Others wake up prematurely or have interrupted sleep when anxiety worsens.” And with our plugged in 24/7 lifestyle, where we seem to live surrounded by phones, laptops, and tablets, you really have to make a conscious effort to give yourself the best chance at a good night sleep.
And if anxiety is part of the problem, it's important to remember how anxiety works. "Anxiety, in general, is the reaction to situations perceived as dangerous or stressful," Shoshana Ungerleider, an Internal Medicine Physician based in California, tells Bustle. "Some anxiety is a normal response and can actually be beneficial. However, an anxiety disorder is a condition typically characterized by excessive fear (i.e. emotional response to perceived or real threat) and/or anxiety (i.e. worrying about a future threat) that can have negative behavioral and emotional consequences that negatively affects someone’s daily life."
So if that sounds like you, you need to make sure to take care of yourself, especially in the evenings. Here are the things you want to avoid at night if you have anxiety.
OK, first of all, if you get anxious at night and worry about falling asleep, you should give yourself the best shot possible. “A dark and clutter-free environment promotes ‘clean sleep’,” Julia Walsh, a certified sleep consultant, tells Bustle. “Keep screens (TV, phones, tablets, etc.) elsewhere.” So late-night Instagram scrolling in bed is a strong no.
2Focus On The Negative
I can get panicky at night, thinking about everything I need to do or mulling over something that went wrong that day — but that just makes things worse. "Focusing on what is good in your life as opposed to what is going wrong with your life not only calms you down ... but also helps you reflect on your day," says NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW. Even write it in a list if it helps.
3Something Totally Different
If you get anxious at night or have trouble sleeping, a routine is key. "To fall asleep quickly it's important to first have a wind-down routine that you follow at the same time each night," Jamie Logie, a health and wellness coach, tells Bustle. "This lets your body know that sleep is coming and it makes it easier to fall asleep."
If you suddenly try to break that routine, you might make things way worse for yourself.
4Panic That You're Not Sleeping
If you're anything like me, if you find that you can't fall asleep then you can spend hours laying there just thinking about how much sleep you're not getting and how awake you are. That's just torturing yourself for no reason and can send your anxiety through the roof. "You're better off getting up and reading or listening to soft music to help distract your brain and hopefully start the wind-down process again," Logie says. Don't just lay there counting down the minutes.
5Overeating Or Undereating
If your feeling anxious, disordered eating can be a destructive attempt at coping. "Overeating and undereating are both signs of trying to relieve anxiety," Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Elise Franklin tells Bustle.
"For those who suffer from social anxiety, being around a large group ... will [leave you feeling] drained, sometimes both physically and mentally before, during, or after," Aimee Noel, LCSW, clinical director at Sober College, tells Bustle. "Those without social anxiety could feel energized interacting with a lot of people. If your tiredness correlates with these events, it may be a sign of anxiety."
Late-night socializing can zap you completely and, if you get home and start to worry about something you said, it can mean a really long night.
Whenever I have the place to myself, I watch Law & Order: SVU for hours and then cannot sleep at all because everyone is a murderer. But it's true in the more general sense; if you get anxious and worked up, don't exacerbate that with your TV or book choice. "Tell yourself a gentle story — could be a favorite childhood book or movie — and use the same one night after night," says Catherine Darley, ND, of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, Inc. "This is helpful for those people who have an active mind and their thoughts interfere with sleep." Sorry, Stabler and Benson, you'll have to wait until morning.
If you get anxious, nighttime and pre-sleep can feel like a difficult part of your day. But just take care of yourself and give yourself the best shot at a good night's sleep. And if it doesn't go exactly to plan, that's OK too — let yourself off the hook.