Have you felt your sleeping pattern start to be affected by anxiety? Use these tips to get back on track
Most of us look forward to snuggling up under the covers after a long day. I used to prize sleep over all else in my life. Occasionally, my puzzled friends — determined to remind me that life was more than my cycle of sleep, watch films, work, get more sleep, repeat — would try to get me to go for drinks instead of getting an early night. We're more obsessed with sleeping than ever; I can't even Google the term without Arianna Huffington (rather smugly) reminding me at every turn that she not only gets a perfect sleep every night, she makes a small fortune from it too.
I've always been an anxious person, but it was only when I began to do freelance and shift work that my sleeping pattern began to get affected. Known as 'Tired but Wired' or 'Sleep Dread' I began to fear that I wouldn't fall asleep in time to get enough rest to work properly the next day. The sleep anxiety would set in, and I'd like awake, rigid and exhausted, willing myself into a slumber that never came.
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A recent study said that 87 per cent cite anxiety as the primary causal factor in triggering and maintaining their sleeplessness. And of course, the more you worry about not sleeping, the less you sleep, and the less you sleep, the more you worry about it.
This vicious cycle fuels the biological 'fight or flight' mechanism releasing the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and fuels feeling 'Tired but Wired', which makes sleeping almost impossible. And because worrying can make it challenging to sleep, sleeplessness increases the tendency to worry which means you're likely suffering a combination of general anxiety and insomnia together — they just work off each other.
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So, what can you do to combat it? A visit to your GP is always a good option to see what will work for you. I didn't want to take medication — though many do and it's totally up to the individual — so I formulated my own ways, through trial and error and research, to help with the issue. I'm not completely cured but doing a combination of the below has helped:
Little comforts can help a great deal
Following a normal and regular wind down each night helps to re-train your brain to sleep. Mine is having a hot shower, reading or listening to a sleep app and 10 minutes of meditation using some crystals. I'm not a huge believer in superstitions, but my friend gave me one stone when we last met and told me to place it by my bed to encourage positive energy. Soon, a pain issue I had completely disappeared and I felt it was aided by my lucky charm.
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So I bought more — including a special one for sleep which I placed under my pillow — and whether it was my mind just telling me that they were working or the energy they omitted having a positive effect, I don't know. But I slept and felt better. So, if your routine includes something that you take great comfort from — a candle, a book by your bed, lavender drops on your pillow — use them. You'll be surprised by the positive effects they can have on your mind and body.
Write down your worries
The thought of "keeping a journal," can sound off-putting to some but with new studies suggesting that keeping all our thoughts in one place aids our physical and mental wellbeing, if you can't sleep, you've all the more reason to start jotting things down on paper. If you suffer from any kind of anxiety what will make a huge difference right away is saying the worry out loud or on paper.
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Try this: Write down three bullet points as to why you feel anxious and directly underneath, just two sentences on what you could do to ease the worry. Anything, it can be something minuscule. Seeing the anxiety and a possible call to action or solution written down will instantly help because you're telling yourself that your worries can be solved. Then close the notebook and the next night, write down one point on what you did to try to solve the issue that's making you so anxious. The more you do this (I did it every night for a month), the less the anxiety will seem and the better you'll sleep.
Keep away from technology (seriously)
We repeat it regularly, but it's so important. That pre-sleep Instagram scroll is doing you no favours in the sleeping department. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep — our to-do lists, our inboxes, our anxieties. So, keep the phone where you can't reach it. I put my phone on 'Sleep Mode', and that's my signal that I won't be touching it until the next morning and automatically, my brain knows it's time to wind down.
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Don't be afraid to get a little extra help
And this might mean a visit to a GP, or in my case using a sleep app. I love the concept of Sleepmaker Rain app, the soothing sounds of rain while one is snug, cosy and set to sleep is a great idea and the very premise of how it works. There are 20 audio clips available that range from gentle, medium and heavy sounds of realistic rain falls so plug in your earphones and zone out to the gentle (or torrential if that's your preference) tones of rain. Yes, I know we get enough rain as it is but as a sleeping mechanism, it's on point. In this instance, using technology is permitted — as long as you use the phone for nothing else.
Try to change your thinking
Like many anxieties, a dread of sleep is all about perspective. Rather than dwell on the adverse effects of sleeplessness, remind yourself that it's perfectly normal to have occasional bad nights and that occasional nighttime awakenings are to be expected. This is easier said than done, but once I started telling myself that it was okay to relax — and equally okay if I happened to wake up during the night — the anxiety began to lessen.
I'm dedicated to my work because I love my job, but on the back of this, I know I'm driven by a mild fear that if I really relax, some opportunity will slip through or I'll miss something I shouldn't. So to sleep, I had to repeat to myself daily that it was okay just to be. To just lie still and not think about goals or the future but simply to lie there, cosy and cocooned, feeling safe and warm and focus on how nice it was to let sleep take me away to dream for a little while.