Going to bed is far more complicated than simply hitting a light switch. When anxiety is high the ability to sleep is often disrupted. Insomnia (inability to sleep) is a common condition that deeply effects the mental health of those who suffer from it. With insomnia, the nervous system is highly stimulated and needs help quieting down. You can take steps tonight to hush the noise and reset your system.
A Word About Sleep Hygiene
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness. Interestingly enough, these practices also decrease stimulation that effectively manage anxiety and it's ill effects. When anxious, taking simple steps are often overlooked but carry a powerful and effective result.
1. Keep a Schedule:
Keeping a routine schedule is important to decrease stimulation and create predictability. Anxiety thrives on uncertainty. When we keep a routine we are inviting our system to find some comfort in consistency. The bedtime routine should start 1-2 hours before bed, remain consistent and predictable. This is where you start to decrease the noise in and around you and switch gears from stimulation to stillness. Start by dimming the lights an hour before bed, play calming music, take a warm bath etc and think about what calms you as this helps to clear your mind. Your nighttime ritual can be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Stick tightly to your routine until your sleep returns to normal.
Regular exercise is a key component to decreasing anxiety and promoting sleep. Whether it is a brisk walk during the day, a swim, a bike ride or a run, remaining active decreases stress anxiety and allows the nervous system to calm. Avoid rigorous exercise 3 hours before bed as a workout will serve to stimulate and energize you and make it difficult to wind down and sleep.
3. Power Down Electronics:
In today's world, embracing communication technologies that enable us to be in contact 24 hours a day is a great temptation. It seems our screens compete for our attention and a remedy for insomnia is lack of the glow that comes from our devices. Not only does the content often stimulate and awaken our interests (social media) but also the glow of the screens send conflicting messages to our brain. The glow gives the message that it's time to wake up, pay attention, be focused and gather information instead of turning off and inviting rest.
Health Central advises to cut off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before your set bedtime. Besides keeping your mind stimulated, the lights from an iPad or other electronic devices can make your mind believe it is still daytime. Make sure to keep these devices in another room, turn them off or cover up the blue light displays. This includes digital clocks and televisions.
4. Stay away from Caffeinated drinks and Alcohol.
Health Central suggests eliminating caffeinated drinks and foods after 2:00 P.M. Caffeine affects people differently, so your cut off time may be a little earlier or later, but start with 2:00 P.M. and adjust as needed. The National Sleep Foundation identifies caffeine as a source of insomnia as well as anxiety, excessive urination, irritability and rapid heartbeat. While an alcoholic drink at night may help you fall asleep at first, you don’t get the same quality of sleep after drinking and you may find yourself awake in an hour or two. This then disrupts your sleep cycle and you find you are awake for hours and struggling to sleep.
5. Breathe Deeply
Diaphragmatic breathing is an essential part of calming the nervous system. When you lay in bed, take a few minutes to breathe deeply. Inhale slowly for 5 seconds, hold for 3 seconds and then exhale slowly for 5 seconds, repeating 10 to 15 times. Pay attention to your breathing. This will help you relax, clear your mind and shift your anxious breathing to a more "rest and digest" breathing pattern rather than a rapid "fight or flight" one. This breathing pattern tells your body/brain to calm down and let go of anxiety
Although simple, these techniques are powerful and effective in calming the nervous system and bringing stabilization which decreases anxiety and prepares the body to sleep. Take some time tonight to adequately prepare yourself to come down off your day, decrease anxiety and ease into your nighttime rest.
For more on managing anxiety read blog post "From Anxiety to Peace: Taming the Beast of Anxiety" on www.kellykaitson.com