Right now many people have more time on their hands than ever, don’t have to wake up early to go to the office, and yet are having trouble sleeping. Many spend the night tossing and turning, struggling to disconnect from current events. And isn’t it ironic that the awareness of more time to sleep, combined with getting frustrated that we can’t, only makes it harder to sleep?
Welcome to a fresh hell that’s well known by insomniacs. Yes, worrying about, obsessing over, thinking about, and “trying” to sleep only makes it harder.
But there are things you can do to improve your sleep and help get through this stressful and anxious time. You may not like some of them, but they will help. Here are 8 ways to help you sleep better if you’re struggling with anxiety — or anything else!
Consistency Is Key
The most important factor to maintaining a healthy sleep cycle is getting up at the same time every day. Second to that is a regular bedtime. Set an alarm in the beginning if you have to. Expose yourself to bright light immediately upon waking up. This will also help maintain your circadian rhythm. Sunlight is the best. A therapy light is the next best thing.
Use blackout curtains if trying to sleep while it’s still light outside. Ear plugs, white noise machines, fans, and a sleep mask can help too — anything to make you and your bedroom as comfortable as possible.
No Screens 2 Hours Before Bed
Remember, I said you wouldn’t like some of them! The blue light emitted from TV, phone, and computer screens delays the release of sleep inducing melatonin, thus increasing alertness and throwing off your sleep cycle.
I get it. It’s tempting to stay up late binging on Netflix. Or if you’re like most people, your phone is next to your bed. So why not grab it and scroll while trying to fall asleep? Because it will completely wreck your sleep, make it harder to fall asleep, and likely only increase your anxiety — especially if you’re looking at social media or the news. Which, I know you are. What else are you looking at?
Not sure what to do? Pick up a book. Remember those? Go for a walk. Do some stretching, yoga, or Tai Chi. Not sure how? YouTube has tons of free video tutorials and classes. Take a hot bath or shower. Grab a pen and paper and write a letter to your future-self describing how you survived (or thrived) in a pandemic. Keep a gratitude list and add to it every night. (Now more than ever, we can all benefit from a grateful mindset). Write a letter to someone you want to reconnect with (even yourself). Do some writing on ways to find meaning during such a challenging time. Practice some mindful mediation. For more on mindfulness, check out Managing Isolation Anxiety With Mindfulness.
Get Your Heart Rate Going
Just because your gym or studio is closed doesn’t mean you can’t get some exercise to burn off some nervous energy. Go for a walk, jog, or run. Take a bike ride. Check out YouTube to find tons of videos and ideas to help get your heart rate going. Wanna get the kids involved? Search “Go Noodle” and get ready to laugh and move. They have tons of movement and mindfulness videos created by child development experts. But be sure to get the intense exercise done earlier in the day. A post-workout burst of energy can keep you awake. Aim to finish any vigorous exercise 3 to 4 hours before you hit the hay.
Forgo The Late Night Snack
Heartburn is no fun. Especially at night. Plus, the symptoms can often be hard to distinguish from anxiety, which (you guessed it) can lead to more anxiety! Give your digestive system a break 3 hours before bed to give to give yourself the best chance of good sleep. If you really are hungry, skip the complex carbs and dairy.
Skip The Nightly News
At this point, it’s likely all you’re going to see on news is something related to the coronavirus. It’s actually difficult to find articles that aren’t about the current pandemic. Furthermore, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice not much changes in the headlines between 8am and 8pm.
Do a 5 minute check mid-morning and leave it at that. This allows time to let go of anxious thoughts and feelings that arise after reading the updates well before bedtime. For more on managing news and social media consumption check out 6 Ways to Manage Anxiety During the Coronavirus.
The Bedroom Is For Sleep And Sex Only
Experts agree, the bedroom should be for sleep and sex. That’s it. Don’t lay in bed and watch TV, read a book, or sit on your laptop in bed. Go to another comfortable room, dim the lights and read or work if you have to. Everything in the bedroom should be associated with rest and relaxation. Not news. Not work. Not pandemics and collapsing economies.
Monotony Can Be A Good Thing
A bedtime routine is crucial. Each behavior turns into a ritual that sends a message to your brain that it’s time to calm down and get into sleep mode. Even something as simple as the order in which your brush your teeth, wash your face, take a shower, and get changed can help. The more mindful you are in these little rituals, the better they will work.
Block The Clock
Glancing at the clock in the middle of the night is a bad idea. Inevitably your brain will start calculating the remaining hours. Thoughts start racing. Hello anxiety. Goodbye sleep. Put your phone out of reach so you aren’t as likely to look at it in the middle of the night. If you still have an alarm clock next to the bed, maybe it’s time to reconsider its usefulness. If not, find a way to cover it up.
For some, most of these will be easy. For others some of them will be impossible. Patience and self-compassion will go a long way. Do what you can. Just know, the more strict you are, the better your chances of a good night’s sleep.
It’s likely one of your biggest worries right now is getting sick. The good news is some of that is within your control. Maintaining social distancing, isolating, getting enough sleep, maintaining health nutritional habits, exercising, and avoiding excessive alcohol use all help keep you healthy and are within your control. And guess what? When you focus on what you can control, you are less likely to be thinking about what you can’t control. Hello self-empowerment. Goodbye anxiety!
Good luck and sleep tight!
If you’re struggling to sleep due to stress and anxiety over the current times, it’s ok. Many are. If you need help, that’s ok too. We all do in some way. Contact us today for a free consult. Just don’t do it at 3am if you can’t sleep! 😉
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists take control and move From Surviving to Thriving.