Anxiety has a wonderful habit of hitting us harder, and sometimes out of the blue at night time when all we want is to be able to wind down and go to sleep. As frustrating as night time anxiety can be, it doesn’t have to become the norm for us and there are steps we can take and things we can do in order to stop it in its tracks so we can happily drift off to dreamland. No, these things won’t always work and sometimes we just get anxious but even if we can’t stop it, we can learn strategies to cope with it and deal with it and hopefully, with a little practice, we can equip ourselves with a toolbox of tricks to stop night time anxiety from being our full time nemesis.
No, I’m not talking about your bathing habits here. Sleep hygiene refers to the practices you partake in in order to wind down and get ready for bed. It may be a simple ritual of turning off your screens around two hours before bedtime, having a hot bath or shower and hour before, and then reading, journalling or doing something quiet that you enjoy to get yourself relaxed and ready for bed. Whatever your sleep hygiene routine is, if you stick to it for a while it will become habit and over time you will unknowingly retrain your brain to get ready to wind down at set times and in response to set rituals, and lo and behold, if you establish a routine and your brain is on board with it, you’ll be less likely to fall victim to night time anxiety.
Put Pen to Paper
If your mind is whizzing with worry, putting pen to paper and getting the thoughts out of your head and into words can help you to both make sense of them and also gain control. If you know what you’re worrying or getting anxious about, write it down, and if you’re generally anxious but not sure why, freewriting (writing for a set time with no goal in mind) may help, or you may prefer to colour (which can be a great distraction to help calm you down). Even scribbling on a piece of paper with reckless abandon can be extremely therapeutic, especially if you feel like you have a ball of pent up nervous energy stuck inside you.
Leave the Room
Being anxious whilst in bed regularly can actually make night time anxiety worse. Much like with sleep hygiene, we learn habits and behaviours and react to them so if you’re regularly anxious in bed, you’re more likely to be anxious in bed more regularly. If you’re feeling yourself getting stressed or anxious, get out of bed and go to another room. You may want to go to have a bath or shower or you may want to go somewhere to watch something or listen to music; whatever you do and wherever you go, make sure you do something that you know will help you to calm down and only go back to bed once you’re calm and ready to sleep.
Create a Haven
Try to keep your bedroom as clutter free, tidy, and true to you as possible. If you create somewhat of a haven of calm in your bedroom, you’ll naturally feel more calm in there. I’m not going to tell you what colour palette to use or what furniture you should and shouldn’t have, as long as you’re happy with how it looks and it’s as free from clutter as possible, you’re good. The same goes for how you treat your bedroom, sometimes living arrangements mean we spend more time in our bedrooms than we’d like to but as far as possible try to keep your bedroom as a room for sleeping and winding down. At very least, remove anything work related that you can from your room as that is likely to create unnecessary stress and exacerbate your night time anxiety. Your bedroom should be your haven, not a prison.
As much as it’s good to face our issues head on, sometimes distraction can be the best tool we have. If you’re anxious and trying to sleep, try to distract yourself. You can try something simple like counting backwards from 100 in multiples of 3 or if that doesn’t cut it, watch or listen to something familiar. Familiarity is important as it not only makes us feel comfortable, but it also makes us less likely to become accidentally sucked into a Netflix black hole of bingewatching. If you have the Calm app, there are also sleep stories on there read by various people, Stephen Fry included, which are lovely, they’re calming stories read in such a way that it helps you to drift off and calm down. You get them all if you buy a subscription but there are also a fair few available even if you just have the free app. (I’m not sponsored or paid to tell you this, I just think the app and the sleep stories are wonderful)
There are many ways to combat night time anxiety and this list is by no means exhaustive, but these are the things that help me. I hope they help you too, or at least give you a starting point to help you find your own methods of putting night time anxiety to sleep.