There’s nothing quite like your head hitting the pillows on your bed after a long, hard day. It’s a euphoric feeling that eases your body and mind into a state of absolute peace and serenity before you go to sleep. For some, sleep comes easily. For others however, sleep is an elusive concept that’s overshadowed by an overwhelming sense of panic and anxiety. This feeling can last from minutes to hours and leave you feeling battered, beaten and exhausted from the lack of rest.
Experiencing a higher level of anxiety before bed is something people often experience. This moment of restlessness can be caused for a variety of reasons, but the most common one is due to our mind’s inability to fully process our thoughts and actions during the busy day. When we are multitasking and moving from activity to activity during the day, our mind has difficulty distinguishing the emotions and events of the day. As we wind down towards the end of the day, and our bodily systems respond to our body’s resting position, the mind is able to slow down and reflect on the events of the day or can often lead to pandering thoughts of what tomorrow will bring.
Just the simple process of relaxing the body sets your mind into a heightened sense of awareness and allows it to wander and think of things you would have otherwise ignored. Often times these thoughts are incredibly deep, emotional and meaningful and for most people they are negative and can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. The constant reflection of negative thoughts can also cause the following:
- Restlessness: Spending hours tossing and turning isn’t because you’re trying to find a comfortable position, it’s because your body can’t relax and is reverting to a form of fidgeting. The constant movement can activate other bodily systems and cause you to feel more alert and awake, thus making it difficult for you to reach the state of calm that you were originally in. Restlessness can lead to a lack of sleep which in turn has many negative physical and mental side effects.
- Nightmares: Once you do manage to fall asleep, you will often times find yourself experiencing nightmares. This is because your mind was heavily fixated on negative thoughts that in turn manifest within your dreams. Nightmares can disturb your sleep by waking you up, and if the dream was especially frightening it can keep you awake and even cause a panic attack.
- Panic Attacks: The culmination of negative thoughts can lead to sweating, an increased heart rate, rapid breathing and chest pain that either feel or trigger a panic attack.
There is no simple ‘off switch’ button for our thoughts, but there are ways to trick our mind into a restful night of sleep. Because sleep is so essential for our health and to combatting your stress and anxiety, it’s important to pick up these habits to help you find the much needed rest your body and mind needs.
- Acknowledge that sleep is essential.
First and foremost, prioritize the need for sleep. For many, sleep is the last thing on their minds and it is the first thing that is sacrificed during times of high stress. Once your realize that sleep is important to living a healthy life, you mentally prepare yourself and acknowledge the need for it, thus helping you place sleep higher on your ‘things to do’ list.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule.
Getting up and going to bed at the same time every day is key to good sleep. By developing a consistent sleep cycle you help sync your sleeping patterns with your internal clock, thus helping you rest easier at night.
- Develop a pre-sleep routine.
Our bodies crave routine and likes to know what’s coming. By creating a pre-sleep ritual you can establish a clear association between sleep and other activities. This distinguishing act can greatly impact your sleep routine. Some examples of a pre-sleep routine is taking a shower, brushing your teeth and getting into bed with a book. Your body will instantly recognize that it’s time to slow down and relax. You can also listen to calming music or performing stretching and relaxation exercises to help prep your mind. If you need to watch television or use the computer before bed, be sure to watch a relaxing program and avoid shows or websites that will highlight the news or are action packed.
- Jot down your thoughts earlier in the day.
Sometime in the late morning or afternoon, take about 10 to 15 minutes a day to write down what’s on your mind and what you are doing about it or plan to do. By keeping a journal log or notebook of the thoughts that bother you and how you plan to tackle them, you can create a mental checklist for yourself. That means when your bed hits the pillows and those thoughts resurface, you can immediately check it off and say “I’ve dealt with that” or “I’m dealing with it”. This will help create a sense of relief and thus help keep you relatively calm.
- Use your bed exclusively for sleep and intimacy.
Create a clear relationship between your bed and sleep. Doing other activities in bed such as reading, using the computer, texting on your phone or paperwork will make your brain thing that the bed is just another workspace. You need to avoid this sort of association and only let your bed be recognized as a place of rest and (intimate) fun.
- Create an optimal environment.
Make sure your bedroom is set up for relaxation. Turn the lights off, make sure the temperature in the room is right and invest in linens and pillows are comfortable. Some people also use scented candles to help ease their mind or play ambient music or white noise. Setting the stage for rest is important and includes more than just your bed.
- Focus on the positive.
While this is sometimes easier said than done, focusing on happy events or good memories are essential to setting the stage for relaxation. If you focus on negative thoughts you’ll find your mind will linger and lead to your restlessness.
- Participate in physical activities.
Exercising regularly helps with sleep and is also a major anxiety –reducer. Be sure to space your exercise to a few hours before bedtime because physical activity can be stimulating.
- See a sleep specialist.
If you have truly tried everything and to no avail, consult a sleep specialist in your area. Your inability to sleep can sometimes be a deeper, underlying issue like a sleeping disorder that needs to be addressed. There are very specific treatments for sleep and a specialist can help build a program that’s right for you.
Your sleep should never be compromised or sacrificed. Remember to maintain it as a priority in your life and it will help you perform at your best and be healthy. Consider what habits or activities may be increasing your anxiety and try the techniques listed above to help you relax and get ready for bed.