The opening and the ending are always the most important parts of any story. The Dusk ‘til Dawn blog series is centred around the idea that the way we start and end our days set the tone for how we feel.
It’s the end of the day and you’re looking forward to snuggling down in your comfy bed and drifting off to dream land. Except when your head hits the pillow you don’t drift off at all. Instead, it kicks up a notch. A million tiny non-thoughts swirl around alongside huge, looming, too-terrifying-to-look-in-the-face thoughts. Your heart starts to race – in sheer defiance of the fact you are lying down – and rather than sinking into blissful sleep you lie awake and count the hours, minutes, seconds until you have to get up.
So, why does it happen?
Some degree of anxiety at night is understandable because your brain and subconscious mind continue to process and deal with whatever you have experienced during the day. But sometimes, the level of anxiety become so severe that you might experience insomnia, night terrors or find yourself woken by panic attacks.
If you suffer with an anxiety disorder, normal end-of-the-day anxiety can be exacerbated, disrupting or preventing sleep which in turn makes anxiety worse. Whatever might be causing nighttime anxiety, not being able to get the rest you need to face the day is exhausting. Here are some little tips on how to cope with and hopefully overcome nighttime anxiety, allowing you to get that precious shut eye.
Keep your sleep space sacred
Try and make your bedroom a space you want to be in. Keep it uncluttered, decorate or furnish it with calming colours, try and maintain a comfortable temperature in the space and refresh the air by opening a window or using a subtle scent. Never take your work to bed- only use it for sleep, intimacy, and other restful activities, such as reading for pleasure and meditation. In this way, your bedroom will be a space associated with calm and rest and this in turn will help you settle down to sleep.
If you find that you are feeling anxious or panicky at night and struggling to fall asleep, try changing location until you feel calmer. Go and sit or lie on a chair or sofa in another room, listen to some quiet music, meditate or write down, stream of consciousness style, the things that are going round your mind. When you feel calmer and more sleepy, return to bed and try for sleep again. By doing this, you take the negative thought patterns out of your sleep space, keeping it a calm and positive place to be, which should hopefully help you feel more relaxed when you return to it and make sleep come a little easier.
Switch off those screens
It’s really easy for us to fall into the trap of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling on our phones or tablets. At night, this can be an appealing distraction. We reach for that phone to take our minds off whatever thoughts are spiralling round in there, but staring at that screen is the worst thing we can do if we really want the sandman to pay us a visit.
At night, light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Exposure to light suppresses the secretion of a hormone called melatonin, which influences circadian rhythms. Although light of any kind can suppress melatonin, blue light at night does so more powerfully. Exposure to this kind of light a night is a huge contributing factor to why so many people don’t get enough sleep and can contribute to both mental and ,physical health problems.
Difficult though it might be, we need to switch off those screens before we go to bed to give ourselves the best chance possible at that good night’s sleep. Try and get into the habit of switching off your devices at least an hour before you go to bed. Read a book or magazine to help you wind down and distract that busy brain, and don’t have your phone on your bedside table to reduce the temptation of reaching for it when you tuck yourself in.
Be food and drink aware
What we put in the tank can have a real impact on those anxious feelings and it’s particularly important to be aware of the food and drink you consume in the evening or late at night. Avoid caffeine if you can – stimulants before bed are the last thing a buzzing brain needs – and go easy on the alcohol as well. If you like a warm drink before bed, try a herbal tea, hot water with lemon, or even a hot cordial – that way you get the comfort but not the caffeine.
Be wary of what food you eat later in the evening as well. Try an eat your evening meal earlier rather than later and if you do end up eating later in the evening avoid heavy or rich foods, and things like cheese or chocolate.
Check in with yourself
Take some time before bed to check in with yourself. You could keep a journal or practice a bedtime meditation or yoga flow. Taking half an hour to just be with yourself – to reflect on how you’re feeling, take note of what’s going on with your brain and body and consciously unwind after the day – can make a massive difference to how easily you’ll be able to fall asleep. It will also help you notice any patterns to your anxious nights or disturbed sleep: Does it crop up on a particular day of the week? After you’ve eaten/drunk something in particular? After you’re been with certain people? Pay attention to those patterns and fluctuations as they may indicate any underlying cause of your nighttime anxiety. If you can identify it, you can start to tackle it.
Find what works
Ultimately, when it comes to tackling nighttime anxiety, you need to find what works for you. Try and establish a routine but give yourself time to adjust to it and play around with what it looks like until it serves you well. Be aware of yourself and the things in your life – be it people, habits or food and drink – that could be contributing to or exacerbating nighttime anxiety, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need to make a change but don’t know how to go about doing that.
Sleep is vital for human survival and if anxiety is stopping you from getting enough then it’s important to do something about it. Speak to friends, family or your doctor if anxiousness and sleepless nights are becoming unmanageable – there are lots of services and strategies that can help.