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Published on March 12, 2020

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 writer, speaker and activist who promotes the end of stigma for mental health.

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Last Updated on July 3, 2020

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life. To control your thoughts means to influence the way you live your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affects your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive, and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Be someone who can control your thoughts—become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have a few thoughts that are not of my choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in control of your thoughts.

If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create unhealthy and unproductive thoughts.

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words—many times your parents
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples’ expectations
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance, and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is youwhy else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future—in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear, which is often irrational and has no basis. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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3. The Reactor or Troublemaker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration, and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

This person can be set off by words or feelings and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control. He is run by past programming that no longer serves you—if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity, and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You can control your thoughts, but you must pay attention to them so you can identify “who” is running the show—this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind.

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go-to” thoughts in applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

1. For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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You can also have a dialogue with yourself to discredit the ‘voice’ that created the thought—if you know whose voice it is:

“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready.

This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

2. For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally, and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind, and creates anxiety in the body. This may make it more difficult for you to control your thoughts effectively.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above-stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time, you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense. Both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

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Now, take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like! Do it until you feel that you’re close to being in control of your thoughts.

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

For example: If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place.

Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

3. For the Troublemaker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers. But until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain.

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds—just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize. Now, you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior, and you’ll be more in control of your thoughts.

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One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

4. For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher, and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with a replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and thoughts, and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method, I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (closed, of course). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon
  • Shut down your thinking
  • Calm your feelings
  • Simply focus on the present moment

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable, and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. You can be in control of your thoughts. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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