If you are anxious and worry a lot, you are more likely to have difficulties sleeping. Worse, if you have developed a pattern of sleepless nights, you begin to worry about not sleeping. Lying down in bed and trying to get to sleep itself becomes another source of anxiety. The hours tick by, morning marches closer and closer, and you are still not sleeping …
Some Facts and Statistics
More than 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems. According to the National Institutes of Health, an additional 20 million suffer from occasional difficulty sleeping or staying asleep.
A large study investigating sleep disorders found insomnia often occurs with mood disorders (40%) or anxiety disorders (38%).
With mood disorders, often the mood disorder occurs first and is followed by an inability to sleep. With anxiety, sleep and anxiety problems usually develop at the same time, but sometimes, the sleep disorder appears after the anxiety disorder.
The relationship between anxiety, mood, and sleep disorders can be bi-directional. Anxiety can cause sleep problems, or sleep problems can lead to anxiety.
4 Strategies to get you sleeping again
1) Write down your thoughts before bed
Given that poor sleep is associated with anxiety, allowing yourself to ruminate about your worries while trying ot sleep keeps the fight or flight system active in your body. An active hind-brain inhibits our ability to sleep. To counteract this, writing is a tool we can use to reduce anxiety levels before it’s time to sleep.
The goal is to take a pen or pencil and write everything down on a pad of paper as information flows into the mind. Just release your thoughts onto paper in a freestyle way. Little attention should be paid to the grammatical rules of writing, just getting as much information down as possible is the goal.
This method of sitting and writing can give us the sense that we are attending to the issues that are troubling us. We’ve done something with them, (written them down) and when we are finished, we write the statement, “in order to solve these problems, I need to be well rested and energized, therefore, these issues can wait.”
Then, place the pad down and go to sleep.
This strategy works because it creates a cathartic effect. You give yourself the opportunity to pour out all the troubling thoughts from your mind. This clears the mind and allows you to fall asleep.
2) Advanced writing strategy
The third strategy I recommend is a mindfulness practice.
This is a process of quieting the mind and taking deep breaths.
Take a long, slow, breath in and hold it for 10 seconds before slowly exhaling. Repeat this process for a total of twenty breaths. Count each completed breath cycle from one to ten and then from ten down to one. So for example, for every breath, you take in, hold for 10 seconds, before slowly exhaling, will count as one breath. This practice de-activates the stress response and calms your nervous system.
For some people, it can be difficult to quiet the mind. One technique (developed by Eckhart Tolle) is to place your attention into your hands without looking at them. This allows you to pull your attention away from the racing thoughts in the mind and moves it into the body.
Research has shown us there are many benefits to meditation. Helping sleep and controlling anxiety are among the benefits of meditation. To get started, there are many helpful videos that can be found online such as this one here:
It is important to understand that anxiety and mood disorders are treatable. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, therapy can help. If you are having difficulties getting to sleep at night, reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression can help.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach specializing in social anxiety. If you would like to learn more, call and book your first appointment or fill out my contact form and click Send.
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