How to deal with sleep anxiety
If you’ve experienced increased insomnia lately, you aren’t alone. But there are ways to get better sleep.
If recent life changes, like homeschooling your kids or working from home, have you up at night, don’t despair.
Our mental health expert explains why you might have trouble sleeping right now — and what you can do about it.
Anxiety: The rest-stealer
“Right now, we’re all experiencing changes that can be uncomfortable,” says Dr. Shahida Fareed, clinical psychologist at Geisinger. “We’re all trying to adapt and figure out how to navigate through these differences. These sudden changes may bring on feelings of stress and anxiety, which can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.”
Extra stress can increase tension, raise blood pressure and even cause anxiety. These anxious feelings can make it difficult to shut off our brains.
It’s also common to experience physiological distress, like racing thoughts and/or physiological symptoms of anxiety such as increased heart rate, which can make falling asleep hard, difficult, when you’re physically exhausted.
“Not being able to fall asleep can create more anxiety, which, in turn, makes it hard to sleep," Dr. Fareed explains. "It’s a vicious cycle.”
The good news is that sleep anxiety doesn’t have to rule our lives. When insomnia strikes, there are things you can do to get back to bed.
Simple ways to help insomnia
While there’s no one magic trick for getting the deep sleep your mind and body need, following a few simple tips can help you get good rest.
- Physical activity – Even as little as 10 to 15 minutes a day of exercise, like walking, running, swimming or weightlifting releases endorphins, which can help you sleep better at night. Just be sure to avoid exercising within 2 hours of bedtime or those added endorphins may make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
- Let the light in – Exposure to natural light during the day helps regulate our natural sleep-wake cycle. You can do this by opening windows in your home or by spending a few minutes outside each day.
- Wind down before bed – After a long day, it can be tough to disconnect. Taking time to unwind before bed can help you relax and prepare your body for sleep. Consider setting a downtime routine: Change into your pajamas and brush your teeth, spend a few minutes reading or listening to soft music, and allow yourself to decompress. You can also consider using mindfulness-based relaxation to wind down and relax at the end of the stressful day.
- Wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day – Yes, even on weekends. Getting on a consistent sleep schedule helps you get better, more restorative rest.
- Limit use of electronics before bedtime – Light from your computer, tablet or cell phone screen can disturb your sleep. Put the devices down at least an hour before bed for optimal rest. And, if you’re having trouble falling asleep, resist the urge to put on the TV or scroll through your news feed—it can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Stop eating 2 hours before turning in – Although you may not physically feel it, digestion is actually hard work on your body. If you’re trying to digest a big meal close to bedtime, it may translate to trouble sleeping. Eating dinner earlier in the evening can help.
- Limit alcohol or caffeine – Both have been known to disrupt sleep, especially if you have them too close to bedtime. Try to avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages 4 hours before bed.
- Talk to your doctor – If you’re experiencing disrupted sleep on a regular basis, you may want to speak to your doctor to rule out any underlying medical issues.
“If you’ve found yourself unable to sleep after 20 minutes, try again,” advises Dr. Fareed. “Get up for a few minutes and read or sit quietly until you feel sleepy. Then go back to bed.”
Make an appointment with Shahida Fareed, PsyD
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