If Anxiety Is Keeping You Up At Night, Experts Say These 11 Things Can Help You Sleep

by Julia Guerra
Originally Published: 

You know that whole “what came first — the chicken or the egg,” debacle? Well, anxiety and sleep deprivation share a similar relationship. On the one hand, someone with anxiety, who constantly has a train of thoughts traveling through their mind, might find it difficult to fall asleep at night from the get-go. On the other hand, someone who struggles to get a full six to eight hours worth of shut-eye might develop anxiety as a result of that struggle. It’s a double negative for sure, but there are ways to sleep through the night with anxiety; you just have experiment for a little while in order to find the right method for you. But, if it’s any consolation, you can definitely cross counting sheep off your list. That sh*t never works the way it does in nursery rhymes.

In order to tackle a lack of sleep that's caused by anxiety, you have to understand where that anxiety is coming from in the first place. Dr. Michel Mennesson, M.D., a psychiatrist at Newport Academy, explains that, first and foremost, anxiety is fear-based thinking, and that built-up fear can translate to a signal of danger to both the mind and the body. “During survival times, fear protected us from real danger and kept us awake,” Dr. Mennesson tells Elite Daily. And even though these fear-based reactions aren’t as vital to your everyday survival today as they were to your ancestors way back when, “they have the same effect of arousing our nervous system, making it hard to fall asleep,” Mennesson says.

The first step in overcoming anxiety when it presents itself before bed, Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, tells Elite Daily, is to simply acknowledge that you're struggling. As per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States, and affect roughly 40 million adults ages 18 and older each year. According to Glatter, not only can anxiety affect how much you sleep and how frequently you wake up in the middle of the night, it can also affect the quality and duration of sleep as well. "The very task of getting to sleep may be the hardest part of overcoming the anxiety of sleep," he adds.

So where do you go from here? Mental health counselor Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC tells Elite Daily that, once you become fixated on the inability to sleep as a result of anxiety, that in itself can turn into a vicious cycle, too, because it's just another worry to tack onto the rest. One solution, Forshee suggests, is to try switching rooms for a little while if a change of scenery is required. Additionally, she explains, try to work on associating your sleep space with sleep not work, or exercise, or anything that might potentially be stressing you out.

There are countless ways to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night, even if you're battling anxiety in bed. Give Forshee's recommendations a try, as well as the following expert-approved tips.

Whatever You Do, Try Hard Not To Look At Your Clock Or Phone

Worrying about the fact that you aren't getting enough sleep is only going to result in, you guessed it, more anxiety. So rather than instinctively reaching for your phone, or glancing at the clock in order to calculate how much sleep you're missing out on, Mennesson suggests staying away from electronics and screens altogether.

"It’s best to get out of bed if you’re unable to get back to sleep after a bit," he tells Elite Daily. Instead of fiddling on the computer or browsing social media, Menneson adds, pick up a book or flip through a magazine. "When you’re feeling sleepy again, get back in bed," he says.

When In Doubt, Write It Out

Someone who experiences anxiety often has so many thoughts at one time that it can be hard to keep track of them all, according to the ADAA. And if these thoughts are loud enough to keep you up at night, it might be beneficial to get them out on paper.

"Write about your anxieties in a 'worrying journal' and do your best to move on from the fears, leaving them all on the page," Mennesson tells Elite Daily. This way, they're out of your mind, and into the universe. Of course, if it genuinely makes you feel better to think your worries through, Mennesson suggests pairing your "worrying journal" with a scheduled "worrying time," so you can revisit whatever's bothering you and process the information rationally.

Don't Find Comfort In Food

Let's be honest: When you're on the prowl for a midnight snack, it's usually not the healthy stuff your body is craving. Granted, you don't have to convince me that Fruit Loops and chocolate milk always taste better at 2 a.m., but Mennesson says these sugary snacks probably aren't going to help curb your anxiety.

"Stop eating at least an hour before bed, and go for protein or fruit for your last snack," he tells Elite Daily. "Processed, sugar-heavy foods will raise and then crash your blood sugar, making it more likely that you’ll wake up during the night."

Play What's Referred To As The ABC Game

OK, so counting sheep is definitely a no-go, but according to Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, CFT, reciting your ABCs with a twist might do the trick.

"Think of an item that starts with the letter A, like apple. Visualize it and then go to B, like banana," Catchings tells Elite Daily over email. "Visualize it and see its color and then move to C, etc. This activity is so useful that people rarely make it to letter Z."

Add More Magnesium To Your Diet

Do you know what sleep hygiene is? According to the National Sleep Foundation, it refers to little behaviors in your lifestyle that contribute to your quality of sleep — and diet is definitely one of them.

There are certain foods that help you sleep, and foods that disrupt sleep. According to Danielle Keith, a holistic health coach and founder of CodeGreen Wellness, magnesium is one mineral you definitely want to consume enough of if you're trying to guarantee a good night's rest.

"Magnesium has a natural calming, anxiety, and stress relieving effect," Keith tells Elite Daily. Foods like avocados, dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, and legumes all contain a generous serving of the essential mineral. But if these types of items aren't for you, Keith recommends popping a magnesium supplement before bed for good measure.

Concentrate On Passing A Small Object Between Your Hands

I realize that bedtime isn't recess, but according to hypnotist, wellness coach, and chronic pain educator, Clara Rey, this sort of mindless activity isn't so mindless at all. In fact, it's a hypnotic technique that can make you feel very sleepy, she tells Elite Daily in an email.

To start, Rey explains, put each of your arms in an L shape by bending 90 degrees at the elbows. From there, grab a small item, be it a pen, tennis ball, etc., and pass it from one hand to another. Over time, this small exercise "allows both hemispheres of your brain to have to work together," Rey says, "ensuring a way to lower anxiety quicker."

Drink A Hot Beverage And Enjoy The Process Of Slow Sipping

Anxiety is part fear, part busyness, and the more commotion there is in the mind, the harder it is to calm down long enough to fall asleep. Prior to bedtime, it's important for someone who struggles with anxiety to ease the busyness that's taking place in the brain, says social worker Angela Di Paola, author of the upcoming book That's Life... Or Is It?. In order to do that, she suggests engaging in soothing activities that essentially nudge your brain to make that transition from hectic to collected. One of these exercises, Di Paola says, is drinking a hot, decaffeinated beverage.

"A hot beverage has to be sipped and drank slowly," the social worker tells Elite Daily over email. "This can help slow your body down, and in turn slow the mind down." So invest in some sleepytime tea (my personal favorite is Lipton's Bedtime Bliss), and sip yourself to sleep. You'll know it's a foolproof blend if you fall asleep without finishing the entire cup.

Focus On Your Breathing

I know it's super cliche of me to say the key to calming your mind, body, and soul is through mindful, diaphragmatic breathing, but this isn't just me being a total yogi, OK? Licensed psychologist Ashley Smith, Ph.D. agrees: Deep belly breaths are excellent for relaxation.

"Some people find that mentally counting while they breathe in and out (In, 2, 3, 4, Out, 2,3, 4) is helpful, while others may prefer to visualize air coming in and going out," Smith tells Elite Daily, adding that focusing on a mantra might help here, too. As long as you shift your attention to your breath, and only your breath, your body should calm down soon enough, and your brain will likely follow suit.

Create A Bedtime Beauty Routine That Doubles As A Wellness Ritual

I know myself, and after a long day, going through the motions of 17 different skincare steps just isn't reasonable. But just because you don't have time for a lengthy routine, that doesn't mean your nightly beauty ritual shouldn't have value. In fact, Annie McDonnell, L.Ac., of Joy Alchemy Acupuncture, tells Elite Daily that the few minutes you spend washing off the day can double as a wellness practice, too.

"Use a jade/rose quartz roller or gua sha tool after you put on a serum/moisturizer," McDonnell suggests, and gently sweep the tool across your forehead, up your jawline, cheeks, and along all the angles of your face. This sculpting practice is also used as a relaxation technique, McDonnell explains, working out any tension in the face to ensure that both your mind and your body feel more at ease.

Set An Overall Positive Mood For Your Mind To Rest Easy In

Anxiety is a negative emotion, so in order to combat negative thoughts, it only makes sense to try and focus on the positives, right? Dr. Sujay Kansagra, Mattress Firm’s sleep health expert, explains that the energy you put out, is the energy you internalize. In other words, if you go to bed in a negative state of mind, there's a good chance you could wake up in the middle of the night intensely feeling those same anxious emotions. The solution, then, he says, is to fall asleep on a positive note.

Every night before going to bed, Kansagra suggests listing three good things from your day — like maybe you ate a really tasty sandwich for lunch, or had a pleasant conversation with a co-worker, or avoided traffic on the ride home. "Listing the positives at night has been shown to help you stay positive mentally," he tells Elite Daily.

Dim The Lights, Especially The Blue Ones

The blue light coming from your smartphone, e-reader, laptop, and TV are all melatonin killers, aka the hormone that helps you sleep. Trust me, I know how tempting it is to fall into a social media black hole at 3 a.m. because you've woken up suddenly and just cannot fall back asleep, but sleep science coach and founder of SleepZoo, Chris Brantner, highly advises you do everything in your power to resist the urge.

"If you can't get back to sleep after 20 minutes, consider doing something boring," Brantner suggests, such as reading a dense book or listening to a dull podcast. However, if you have to use your phone to access said podcast, "consider dimming the screen," Brantner tells Elite Daily, "or using a nighttime mode if your phone offers one."

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