The more anxious that I am, the less I sleep. The less I sleep, the more anxious I become. The two feed off each other and create a seemingly never-ending cycle.
I’ve had anxiety and varying sleep problems for most of my life, but I’m still mostly certain that the anxiety preceded the sleep problems. I don’t remember sleep problems when I was very young and nobody mentioned them, but I clearly remember them in my late teens and ever since. I remember signs of anxiety when I was a younger child.
When I can control the sleep issues, it does make my anxiety less potent. But not every kind of sleep is helpful. While most sleeping aids do work to force me to sleep, that sleep does not affect my anxiety. I’m equally anxious during my awake hours with the added bonus of also being groggy because I’m very sensitive to most types of medications.
I have found one sleep aid that doesn’t leave me groggy the next day, but it gives me really bizarre dreams, so I usually only take it as an absolute last resort. I take it when I’m so sleep deprived that I’m struggling with safety (like zoning out when driving) or when I feel like I’m losing hold of reality. That has not been an issue for me in years.
That leaves me with needing to use sleep tools to help manage my sleep and anxiety.
Due to a variety of circumstances, there is a limit to how much control I have over my sleep environment.
I’ve had to find and create tools that help me no matter what else is going on around me. Maybe they will help you, too.
Temperature Appropriate Bathing
My pre-sleep bathing varies with the season. When it is cooler out, a hot bath really takes the edge off a long day and helps me find some degree of relaxation. Use bubble bath or bath bombs if you want to add some calming scents.
When it is warm or hot out, a cool shower is the way to go. Wash off the sweaty discomfort of the day and lower your body temperature.
Whether a bath or shower, try not to let your mind wander to stressful things. Maybe put on some music or an audiobook. Imagine calming scenes.
Appropriate Reading Material
I enjoy reading before bed, but it must be something non-stressful. I stay away from topics that I know will upset me. I read those books during daylight hours.
Find something that you enjoy. Trashy romance or historical fiction. Non-fiction or wild westerns. As long as they are not topics that you know will anger you, the reading will help you relax and will keep your mind fuzzy, instead of angsty.
Brain Clearing Games
This trick will not work for everyone. For some of you, the use of electronic devices will impede sleep and should be avoided. For whatever reason, they don’t bother me or keep me awake.
Some nights I can’t get my brain to shut off. I can’t focus on a book. Laying there just gets my mind spinning with my worries.
One those nights, I have some games on my cell phone that are mostly mindless but do require a small degree of strategy to advance.
Because I have to pay attention and make the correct choices if I want to move through the levels, it forces me to stop paying attention to my anxiety and instead pay attention to the game. I’m very competitive so I feel driven to advance through the levels.
The games are not hard enough to require me to be so engaged that it keeps me awake. I just play them long enough for my anxiety to have receded while I was focused on winning.
The Counting Trick
The previous tricks help me fall asleep, but one of my major problems is waking up during the night and having anxiety kick in and keep me up for the rest of the night.
For that, I have only one trick. I count. Specifically, I count backward.
I start at a fairly high number — like 500 or 1000 and begin to count backward. My mind will try to fight me for control and keep going back to worrying, but as soon as I notice that I’m no longer counting, I pull my mind back to the numbers. If I recall where I was when I when off to stress, I return to that number and keep counting. If my stress tangent went on for so long that I forgot, then I start again at the beginning.
It sometimes takes a long session of brain wrangling, but eventually, I wear down the anxiety or it just gets bored of nothing but counting and I’m able to fall back asleep.
Sleep and anxiety can help or antagonize each other. It is important for your mental health to get as much rest as you can. Work to find your own tools that help you squeeze out extra sleep time. Even if each tool only provides you with a little bit of help, the extra sleep could add up to a significant amount if you work them all together.