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Last Updated on January 11, 2021

How to Get Rid of Sleep Anxiety and Insomnia

How to Get Rid of Sleep Anxiety and Insomnia

Some lay awake at night, thinking, “Will I ever fall asleep?” We tend to stress ourselves over our sleep schedule and put pressure on ourselves to obtain sleep, no matter how difficult or easy it is to get. This may induce sleep anxiety when trying get our nightly Z’s.

Sleep anxiety and insomnia feed off each other, one making the other more powerful. Sleep is critical to our well being, but we don’t always value it or know how to get it. Sometimes, it can even be fleeting. You can toss and turn for a few hours just to wake up well in advance of your alarm clock ringing. It seems like a never ending battle.

Then, there’s sleep anxiety. Just stressing about getting sleep keeps you awake! When you have anxiety while trying to sleep, it can be because you’re ruminating, planning, or reflecting when you should be clearing all of that out.

What Causes Sleep Anxiety and Insomnia?

Silence can be a trigger for thoughts to begin to flood in. Suddenly, thoughts spiral or snowball, and you start to feel anxiety, which leads to further insomnia. All of this leads to impacts on your physical and emotional health, which can lead to difficulty functioning or focusing in general.

Anxiety can be rooted in many mental health disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, PTSD, and more. Insomnia can exist on its own or be worsened by a mental health disorder. A little sleep anxiety or anxiety happens to everyone, but when it starts to take over your life, that’s when you know you have a problem.

Insomnia is an inability to sleep for periods of time. It can look different for everyone. It can be a difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or variations of both. The lack of sleep is the key component of it. There are many forms of insomnia, such as highly distressed to acute or chronic insomnia.

There may be a bidirectional relationship between anxiety and insomnia, one impacting the other and creating more of each other. It can be difficult to know which precedes the other. This causes further upset and sleeplessness, making it seem like a never-ending cycle. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders, and an additional 20 million report occasional sleep problems.[1]

Research has also found that insomnia can worsen the symptoms of anxiety disorders or prevent recovery.[2] Mental health disorders such as anxiety and sleep disturbances overlap and increase one another.

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Scientists have also found that “long periods without sleep are associated with cognitive difficulties, and can produce psychological symptoms ranging from mood changes to psychotic experiences such as hallucinations.”[3] For that reason, mental health struggles can often be alleviated by getting a good night’s sleep.

How to Get Rid of Sleep Anxiety and Insomnia

Sleep anxiety can happen to anyone, and it shouldn’t be ignored when it comes around. Once you can face it, you can do something about it.

How can one overcome sleep anxiety and insomnia?

There is no “one fits all” cure for these struggles, but there are some steps that can help.

1. Log It

One easy thing you can do is to keep a notebook and pen next to your bed to write down late-night thoughts when they start to disturb you.[4] When anxiety comes up, use a log to record your thoughts before you go to bed and while you have trouble sleeping so they don’t ruminate and consume you. You can easily review them the next day.

With your thought log, start to look into and practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This will ease your troubled mind by redirecting your thoughts to more positive thinking. Take a negative thought and change it to something more rational and less catastrophic.

Challenging your thoughts can calm you and help decrease anxiety, which may start to spike when falling sleep. You can determine what thoughts are troubling you so that you can start to address them.

A sleep log is also helpful. How often are you experiencing sleep anxiety? Rate the severity and note the duration. With any sleep issues, you will want to note how often you have trouble sleeping, about how many hours per night you are able to sleep, and the quality of sleep, i.e. whether or not you are waking up constantly or just having trouble falling asleep.

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You may also want to get in touch with a licensed therapist or medical professional and share your findings with them. They may have more ideas of what you can try when they have a record of how severe the problem is.

2. Be Present

Practicing mindfulness is another way to find peace with yourself as it requires you to be absolutely present, bringing awareness to what you think or feel in a different way. Mindfulness acknowledges but does not judge feelings. You can feel more secure with mindfulness and learn to be kinder to yourself.

You can practice mindfulness while doing everyday tasks or while meditating. There is no real wrong way to do this. Even if you have a busy mind, that’s ok! The idea is to focus as long as possible on some meditation object (breath, sound, body sensations, etc.) and to come back to it when the mind starts to wander. There’s really nothing more to it than that.[5]

Grounding is also a way to be present and is used to help with negative emotions and experiences. You can do this by bringing your attention to your five senses. Note what you hear, see, smell, touch, and taste. When you bring yourself to your senses, you can get to a place where the brain is functioning well and can effectively process what is coming at it. That means you can get back to what you can handle and process without panic. You are back in the present. You are back with yourself. You are back to bed.

A Sleep Meditation

You can try a specific mindfulness meditation to help you get comfortable before bed. Think of a safe space; it can be anywhere, at anytime, with anyone (or alone, which I recommend).

You are standing or lying down in that safe space. For example, you could think of a beach at night with a bonfire going. You are kept warm by the fire while listening to the ocean. You listen to the sound of the waves rolling onto the beach. You can even name it something. Give your place a name and list as many details as possible.

Do this anytime you want, but do it before you go to sleep to relax your mind. You can change the visualization each time or keep it the same, expanding on the details. This will bring you into a place where you feel secure and out of difficult thoughts and emotions to help you sleep. In that relaxing state, you can separate yourself from negative emotions and release the need to engage with them.

This will help decrease anxiety and increase the likelihood of falling asleep at night.

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3. Create a Consistent Sleep Routine

Go to bed at a decent time and try to get up the same time everyday. This will help you establish a sense of routine that your body can get used to. If you stay up all hours of the night on top of feeling anxiety towards sleep and sleeplessness, you will get yourself into an unhealthy pattern that worsens the situation.

Turn off electronics well in advance of going to bed so your brain is less stimulated. This will serve you in starting to get tired, if that is something you struggle with. If you are someone who looks at a clock constantly at night, turn it away from you if you need to.

If you engage with technology and keep yourself stimulated through screens, you will risk ruining your sleep structure and lose the ability to function or fall asleep properly. Sleep anxiety will worsen if you are constantly checking your phone or computer or watching TV as this naturally stimulates thinking.

Make sure you are eating right, avoiding caffeine before bedtime and getting some exercises during the day to help with any restlessness carried over into the night.

Your habits and sleep hygiene make or break your experience of sleep and sleeplessness.

4. Manage Your Environment

Your comfort also controls how you are sleeping. Keep the room dark and decide between silence or sounds that aid in sleep (such as nature sounds). Find what works for you. Make sure you can turn to your bed as a reprieve from the day, that you are comfortable with your mattress, that you have enough pillows, and that you keep your room cool enough. These things will aid in lessening your anxiety towards sleep when you feel it is a safe, comfortable space.

If you maintain your environment for sleep and make sure you’re comfortable, you will fall asleep much faster. It will aid in your recovery from any anxiety disorder or insomnia when your environment naturally relaxes you.

5. Talk to a Professional

It may not be something you want to admit to yourself, but if you have a sleep disorder or mental health disorder, you may need help. A professional may or may not diagnose you, but either way, some solutions will likely be offered.

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The key is knowing that you’re not alone, and you don’t have to suffer in silence when sleep anxiety comes your way. It doesn’t mean you are weak or doing something wrong. It could be a disorder, and there is no shame in that.

Millions struggle with some form of sleeplessness and sleep anxiety. A professional will help you narrow down the reasons for your distress and find more ways to help you than you may be able to on your own.

Final Thoughts

Sleep struggles do not have to define you. Understanding that it isn’t your fault but that there are things you can do is the first step. Let yourself find methods of self-soothing, such as the ones listed in the article, and let your mental health professional or medical professional know what you are going through so they can offer suggestions and help you, too.

Facing sleep is partly relaxation and partly decreasing the rumination in your head that we all suffer from. Simply trying to fall asleep may not be enough for you. You may have to take additional steps to get the help you need.

More importantly, don’t put extra pressure on yourself to get sleep that doesn’t want to come as this can worsen sleep anxiety. Be kind to yourself, take as many steps as you can toward a healthy sleep schedule, and watch the benefits slowly form.

More Tips for Healthy Sleep

Featured photo credit: Kinga Cichewicz via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Sarah Browne

Sarah is a speaker, writer and activist

5 Simple Steps to Cultivate a Positive Mental Attitude 10 Self-Exploration Practices to Discover Your True Self 14 Personal Goals for a Better You Next Year 7 Self-Soothing Techniques for Stress and Anxiety Relief 5 Ways to Help You Get Through Depression

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Published on July 15, 2021

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Are you having trouble sleeping? Or do you feel like you can barely stay awake when you need to? Are you left tired and irritable, lacking the joy and motivation that life once brought? If these complaints are tied to your long or rotating work schedule, you may be suffering from shift work disorder—a common ailment among professions with schedules outside the typical 9 am to 6 pm range.[1]

Why does it matter? Let’s be honest—being tired stinks. It feels terrible and leaves you vulnerable to many health risks that well-rested people aren’t as susceptible to. Not only that, but it can also wreak havoc on your relationships and quality of life.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help manage this, and you can start trying them out today! Some of the solutions may not be what you expect. For instance, you might have linked improved sleep to exercise, but did you know that being compassionate with yourself can also have an impact?

Who Are Affected by Shift Work Disorder?

Twenty-five million people are shift workers in the country, so you are far from alone if you are struggling with this. Shift work disorder is a condition frequently affecting anyone who works a job where their schedule is outside standard business hours. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers are common examples of professions with schedules that rotate around the clock.

Rotating shifts naturally leads to a change in one’s schedule, including sleep. As your sleep schedule becomes more chaotic, your body is unable to adjust and regulate itself and can result in having difficulty falling or staying asleep. This inevitably leads to less sleep, which is where some big problems can arise.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sleep is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of our lives. Enough sleep and good quality sleep are critical to our emotional, mental, and physical health.

Insufficient sleep can lead to a significantly increased risk of physical health problems, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Mentally, being tired contributes to having scattered concentration, difficulty processing information, and being more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Emotionally, the fallout of being chronically exhausted is linked to poor emotional regulation including being irritated more quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.[2]

Any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading for some scientifically-based tips to help you manage your sleep better and get your life back.

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17 Ways to Manage Shift Work Disorder Better

Quality sleep, or the lack thereof, impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most impactful plan of attack against shift work disorder and to regain quality sleep must also reflect that.

I suggest reading through all of the tips and formulating a plan based on what you think will work for you. Start by trying out one thing and build from there as you are able. Remember to construct a plan that addresses your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Let’s start in the most obvious place first:

Your Job

1. Make Your Schedule the Best It Can Be

Randomly rotating shifts has been found to have the worst impact on our health.[3] If you have to rotate your schedule, request to rotate shifts in a clockwise fashion.

For example: work the day shift, rotate to the nights, then to the early morning shift, then start back on the day shift. Sounds silly? It’s not. Studies show that our bodies more easily adjust to changes in schedule when completed in a clockwise manner.[4] This is because of something called our circadian rhythm—24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock that carry out essential functions. The most commonly known of these is sleep. It has been discovered that our circadian rhythm adjusts forward more easily than it does backward.

2. Speak to Your Manager About Keeping Your Workplace Bright

Special lights have been designed to assist with circadian rhythm. It turns out that absorbing bright light that is most similar to sunlight can positively impact regulating our circadian rhythm.[5]

3. Avoid a Long Commute to and From Work

Having a long drive home after working a rotating shift is statistically not in your best interest. It’s been shown that fatigued/sleepy employees are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident and 33% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.[6]

To avoid putting yourself at risk by driving when you’re not at your best, catch a nap before leaving work, pull over to sleep, or stay at a friend’s house nearby.

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4. Speak to Your Manager About Your Concerns

Many companies that operate around the clock are willing and able to make accommodations to those working alternative shifts. Whether it’s helping you find a schedule that works best for you or connecting you with other programs designed to support your well-being, being in good communication with your employer is to everyone’s benefit.

Sleep Attitudes and Environment

5. Change Your Perspective and Start Prioritizing Sleep

Here’s the deal: despite some pretty well-known dangerous effects of not getting enough sleep, somewhere along the line, our society began to think of sleep as a luxury. Some even consider it a badge of honor to “power through” without much (or any) sleep. People have been made to feel embarrassed or lazy if they get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

Here’s the bottom line: sleep is not a luxury.

Let me repeat that—sleep is not a luxury, and getting a consistent and healthy amount does not make you a slacker. Sleep is actually when our body does a lot of repair work on itself—blood vessels, muscles, and other organs. Sleep also boosts our immunity.

If we could help people feel as proud about sleeping as we do about them working out regularly or sticking to a healthy diet, people might be a lot healthier.

6. Make Your Sleep Space as Conducive to Rest as Possible

This means tweaking your environment so it’s as enticing as possible for your body to go to sleep. Keep the room dark using blackout blinds, reduce the temperature (our body rests best when slightly cool), limit interruptions (phone calls, visitors, noise), and remove electronic devices.[7]

Set yourself up for success by supporting yourself through your surroundings. If you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t frequently surround yourself with cookies, cake, and ice cream, right? Same idea here.

Personal Habits and Choices

7. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule as Closely as Possible—on Workdays and Days Off

This is obviously difficult when your schedule changes on the regular, but the more consistent you can keep your bedtime, the easier time your body has getting to sleep and staying that way.[8]

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8. Allow Yourself Time to Catch Up on Sleep

Having enough days off to rest and recuperate is an important aspect of protecting your health. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive across the country on one tank of gas, right? Filling your own personal gas tank is just as important.

9. Take Naps, but Don’t Overdo It

It’s recommended by the Cleveland Clinic to take a 90-minute nap just before starting your shift and then a 30-minute nap during your “lunch break” at work.[9] Again, this is all about keeping some gas in your tank and not allowing yourself to get to the point where you are running on fumes. Short naps will help you stay refreshed and alert on the job.

10. Limit Caffeine to the Start of Your Shift

Most of us love a good hit of caffeine, especially when we are tired. But overdoing it or having caffeine too late in your shift can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep when you finally have the time to do so. Moderate your intake to help yourself get some quality sleep.

11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Unwinding after work with a drink can be tempting. It can make you drowsy, which many people mistakenly believe will help them get better sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol will actually keep you awake (or wake you up later). This obviously impairs your ability to get the quality of sleep you are looking for.

12. Don’t Smoke

Much like alcohol, people turn to nicotine to “calm their nerves” or help them relax. Also, like alcohol, nicotine has been shown to disrupt sleep.[10] Cut back or cut this habit out as able.

13. Eat Well and Eat Smart

Choose convenient nutritious meals and snacks. Nutritious food is the foundation from which our body creates the needed chemicals for quality sleep. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar have been shown to have the worst impact on sleep.[11]

Also, timing is everything as they say. Eating too much or not enough before your shift can cause you to feel tired.

14. Get Regular Exercise

According to numerous studies, exercise can be as effective in treating sleep disorders as prescription medication.[12] Yes, you read that correctly—regular exercise is the bomb!

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This one can be tricky to convince people to do, especially if they are already tired and short on time. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, take a brisk walk, dance around your living room to your favorite song, or mow your lawn. Despite feeling tired, getting up off the couch and moving around (moderate to vigorous exercise) is best for reducing the time it takes to get to sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

Mental and Emotional

15. Establish Consistent Practices That Help You Relax Before Bed

This can include yoga, deep breathing, a warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, and hypnosis. These are designed to reduce physical tension and quiet your mind from thoughts that are keeping you awake. There are lots of great apps and free videos that can help you with this.

16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it’s known, works by helping you to identify thoughts and behaviors that make sleep worse and then developing new habits consisting of thoughts and behaviors that promote sleep. There are psychologists and life coaches who are specially certified in CBT that can help you with this.

17. Show Yourself Some Compassion

Sounds silly? Well, it’s not. A seven-year study conducted at the University of Mannheim concluded that the daily practice of self-compassion positively impacted people’s quality of sleep.[13]

The concept of showing ourselves compassion is foreign (and uncomfortable) to many of us. Try going easy on yourself for being grumpy, and give yourself some credit for the efforts you are making in tough circumstances. What would you say to your best friend if they were struggling with the same situation? I routinely ask my clients this question as it’s sometimes easier to be compassionate to others than ourselves. This tip might take some practice, but the effort could result in a better night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

Okay, there you have it—17 different ways you can help yourself manage shift work disorder, feel more rested, more like yourself, and enjoy life again. To get started with your plan, pick out a few tips that you can implement today, but remember to choose a well-rounded approach—addressing the physical, mental and emotional.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build new habits. And show yourself some compassion and kindness—you might just be able to sleep better when you do.

Featured photo credit: Yuris Alhumaydy via unsplash.com

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