Updated: Dec 8, 2018
As we know anxiety can negatively impact our lives in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons it can also impact upon the quality of our sleep. Sleep, lovely sleep, so vital to our well being. We all know how grouchy we get when our sleep is broken, disturbed or shortened for just one night. Our resilience drops like a tonne weight and we yearn for the day to pass without incident so that we can return to our beds to catch up in the much need resotrative rest.
Normally we can suffer this for a day or two writing off the experince as some kind of glitch. However for those suffering from anxiety nights of restlessness can follow one after another with seriously debilatationg consequesnces. It further reinforces the already negative thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviours we have deepening our condition and reducing the strength and fortitude to combat it.
The following is a kind of How to Guide to highlight some key points in what we can do to make sure we are doing whatever we can to encourage sleep. As ever your thoughts and feelings are most welcome.
Firstly - Pre-bedtime preparation
1. Make sure that you are going to bed at a sensible time.
If you know that you have to be up at 7am, going to bed at 1am is not going to help. Give yourself plenty of time to drop off to sleep. Some people need more sleep than other and you will know what is right for you. Six to nine hours seems common.
2. Avoid eating too late in the evening.
Digestion is quite an active process and laying down whilst this process is going on can make you feel uncomfortable. It takes about three hours for the stomach to empty so no eating after three hours before you are due to go to bed. Similarly with drink avoid alcohol and caffeine but water and a warm milky drink should be fine. Obviously a full bladder whilst in bed isn’t going to help.
3. Activity. The jury is out on this one.
Some believe that a good bit of cardio work no later than one hour before bed is useful and others say to avoid any strenuous exercise at all if your bedtime is 5 hours away. I believe its up to you. Exercising till your tired and exercising so that your all fired up are two different things, so I will leave it to you to know how much activity will work for you.
4. Wash your face and clean your teeth.
I know some people argue that this serves only to wake them up further however this routine can help to reinforce the bedtime ritual as well as make your dentist happy. Its also part of the winding down time. You can do valuable breathing and relaxing exercises whilst cleaning your teeth.
5. Vacate those bowels and bladders.
It will only play on your mind if you don’t.
Secondly – Environment
1. Your bedroom.
I appreciate not all bedrooms are the same. Size and stuff seem to be in a constant battle, however four things to be mindful of and put right are noises, lights, smells and temperature. A quiet, dark, fresh and relatively cool bedroom is ideal.
2. Your bed.
Clean and crumb free. There is no greater joy than sliding in to a clean, freshly made bed. Get in to the habit of making your bed as you are treating it with the reverence it deserves as a place of peaceful sanctuary. Lumpy mattresses can be a big problem, springs, lining and stuffing can, over time, shift around preferring to erupt into your spine instead of lay flat and firm as they should. Pillows! Now a whole book could be written on pillows. Too many, too few, too hard, too soft. Depending on the position you sleep in will dictate the type and amount of pillows you use. I don’t want to enter this debate suffice to say your head is going to be pressed in to it for 6 to 9 hours so make sure its clean, fresh and comfy.
Thirdly - Relax
A distraction would be anything that is overly stimulating that prevents you from relaxing. Watching TV, Working on the laptop, social media updates and reading a particularly racy book all qualify as distractions that will over stimulate your mind making sleep harder to come by. That said though, I have for years on and off drifted off to sleep with my headphones on whilst listening BBC radio 4. It’s a soothing and comforting habit that serves me well. I have my headphones on because my wife doesn’t feel the same way. To her it’s an annoying distraction preventing her from sleeping. Being sensible and mindful about what is going to over stimulate you and what will aide your sleep should be a priority. Listening to a guided meditation can be a very useful tool to alleviating anxiety and bringing about that all to valuable sleep. Anxiety after all is a distraction and those intrusive thoughts, jangling nerves and dread feelings do not make good bedfellows.
It is a good idea to make a statement of intent. You could say to yourself ‘It is my time to sleep and enjoy all the benefits it brings. Even though I have anxiety this is my time. To all those intrusive and unhelpful thoughts I acknowledge you and allow you to rest for the night. I will return to you in the morning. To my jangling nerves I allow you to calm and rest, restoring your strength for tomorrows jangling. To my dread feelings I give you permission to enjoy a good nights sleep along with me.’ Something like that will focus and reinforce your sleep muscle.
Of course, those thoughts can jump in to your head and run amuck when your eyes are closed and sleep is just a heartbeat away. This is again a good time to not interact with them. They are being badly behaved and giving them the attention they are craving for will only encourage them to continue. Observe them. Watch a particular thought.
Acknowledge that thought and in your mind say something like ‘Hello unhelpful thought. I see you. I am going to sleep now. Let me escort you out of my mind and we can play tomorrow.’ What ever the content of the thoughts try not to engage in any other way with them. Those thoughts of ‘what if?’, you can hold off your answer till tomorrow. Those thoughts that are composed of ‘questions’, ‘arguments’, ‘doubts’ and ‘excited tantrums’ can all be observed one by one and the same statement applied to them.
Whether mindfulness, guided or otherwise, anything that focuses the mind and body in to a quiet restfulness is good. The self talk mentioned above is also a form of meditative focus on unwanted thoughts. Headphones playing mindfulness body scans or floaty lovely gentle music are all good. A favourite of mine is something called Brain Breathing, where you imagine your breath coming into your brain as a cool fresh healing energy. I love this mediation as it removes the focus and hold that such active emotional thinking can have on me.
So, there you have it. There should be something there for you to use if not all. It can be awful to suffer from poor sleep because of anxiety and of course it is a vicious cycle where tiredness intensifies anxiety. There are also plenty of life style changes that can be made to tackle anxiety and general health and well being. Id be happy to discuss these with you too if you feel that would help.