Sleep Better – Reduce Bedtime Anxiety & Stress

(Last Updated On: March 30, 2016)

sleep betterSleep Better: guest post by Kenny Kline.

Everyone wants – and needs – to sleep better. When I started my first business, I thought about prioritizing sleep from day 1. I had read about the big impact sleep has on productivity, so I promised myself that I would get eight hours a night. However even when making sleep a priority, I was waking up groggy, and experiencing a number of low energy points throughout the day. That’s when I realized I didn’t need to sleep more, but rather sleep better.

Anyone who’s ever tossed and turned in bed while their mind races with worries can attest to the fact that nighttime anxiety can wreak havoc on sleep. It’s a negative feedback loop: Anxiety can provoke trouble sleeping, and a lack of sleep can contribute to feelings of anxiety. You don’t need to have an anxiety disorder in order to suffer from this cycle; everyday stress can trigger it just as easily as a full-blown disorder.

The good news is that this feedback loop can also function in a constructive way: Addressing your anxiety can lead to better sleep, which can in turn lead to decreased anxiety in everyday life. Here are several strategies that I have employed to reduce anxiety before bed and sleep better every night.

Make time for downtime.
Our bodies need transition time between wakefulness and sleep, so rolling into bed right after sending work emails is a surefire way to lie awake fretting. I avoid mental preoccupations that detract from sleep by giving myself some time to unwind before hitting the sheets. If it helps, go ahead and schedule this time on the calendar so that it becomes non-negotiable in your mind.

Identify and address your worries.
If you find yourself lying awake consumed by worry, it can help to identify where that worry is coming from. Are you fretting about an upcoming work presentation, a fight with your partner, the possibility that you might get cancer someday? Locating the source of your worry can empower you to address it. Start by determining whether the worry is solvable or unsolvable: Is the thing that’s causing anxiety currently happening in your life, or is it simply an imagined scenario? Is there anything you can do to address the issue, or is it beyond the realm of your control?

If the former, then jot down a list of ways that you can take action on the issue, and tell yourself that you’ll implement some of those strategies over the next few days. If the issue is simply the result of generalized anxiety, then try to acknowledge that and allow yourself to move on. I find that categorizing my anxieties in this way helps me feel more in control of them, thereby limiting their ability to provoke bedtime stress.

Occupy your mind.
When our brains are unoccupied, they can easily turn to worry as a means of passing the time. Avoid this issue by giving your brain something to do. In the hour before bedtime, turn off any screens and engage your mind via activities such as reading, drawing, writing, playing cards, and so on. You can apply this same principle if your mind is racing once you’ve gotten into bed: Instead of worrying, occupy your mind with mental exercises such as reciting a favorite poem or song lyrics, naming produce items that start with a particular letter, or thinking through the alphabet backwards (my personal favorite).

Ditch alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
While many folks turn to these substances for stress relief, all of them can provoke anxiety and/or insomnia. If you must imbibe, try to do so in the late afternoon or early evening; abstain in the hours leading up to bed in order to sleep better whenever you hit the sheets.

Give relaxation exercises a try.
Many people swear by meditation or breathing exercises, which have been shown to promote relaxation and ease the transition into sleep. Progressive muscle relaxation is also a great way to release tension in your body and promote restfulness before bed.

Be grateful.
Counting your blessings (literally) before bed can help induce a positive mood and promote better sleep by helping you fall asleep faster and stay asleep once you’ve drifted off to dreamland. Jot down a few things for which you’re grateful for before turning out the light, or turn your thoughts toward gratitude if anxiety strikes once the lights are out.

Journal it out.
A few hours before hitting the sheets, write down any anxieties or unfinished business that have been plaguing you throughout the day or that frequently crop up whenever you’re trying to fall asleep. Simply releasing these thoughts onto a piece of paper may help you feel calmer; if you want to take things a step further, consider writing down potential solutions to each of the worries. (You don’t have to make this a big to-do—10 or 15 minutes should do it.) Then, if the worries start to crop up once you’ve gone to bed, you can remind yourself that you’ve already addressed them, so you don’t need to ruminate on them any more.

Address chronic snoring.
If you sleep with a partner who’s frustrated by your chronic snoring, then you may feel anxious about falling asleep and keeping them awake yet again. Snoring has been shown to harm relationships by provoking resentment and reducing intimacy, so it stands to reason that chronic snoring might become a source of anxiety. Luckily, there are plenty of anti-snoring devices that can help you tame snoring so that it ceases to stress you out every time you attempt to sleep. Bonus: Getting your snoring under control will help you—and your partner—sleep better.

Give your senses a break.
Creating a relaxing environment for your body can help your mind relax before bed. Practice good sleep hygiene by keeping the bedroom cool and dark, turn the clock away from your bed so you can’t stare at it and fret about the passage of time, and consider turning on soothing music or a white noise machine to help your mind stay present and calm.

Though trial and error I crafted a personal bedtime routine that takes about 30 minutes to complete. I follow this routine consistently, and since starting it I have experienced a much higher quality of sleep. I suggest testing out a number of the recommendations above to see what actions you can take to improve your personal nightly sleep experience.

What routines or techniques have helped you sleep better?

Author Credit: Guest poster Kenny Kline is a serial entrepreneur and online marketing consultant based in Brooklyn. With a degree in physics and an MBA, he brings a unique perspective to his blogs on business, productivity and health. Find him on Twitter at ThisBeKenny.

Image Credits: “Taking a Nap” from The Print Shop 2 Collection. Not for download or reuse.

Comments

Sleep Better – Reduce Bedtime Anxiety & Stress — 1 Comment

  1. I feel very fortunate that falling asleep at night has always been easy for me, and I tend to sleep soundly too. However, there is a chicken-and-egg issue here that muddies the waters. Am I doing something “right” that promotes that situation? It’s possible, so I’ll mention a few things I do which are related to sleeping in case some of these are actually responsible for my fortunate situation, or in case they are helpful for someone else. All of the things I am going to describe are mentioned in this very helpful posting by Kenny so I’m just giving my specific implementation of his comments.

    First, with regard to preparing myself for sleep … I do have a regular routine. I used to read my most-current book when I went to bed but about 2 years ago I switched to e-books for multiple reasons. There are those who advise that the bright light coming from a tablet interferes with sleep, but in the Kindle app for iPad there is an option to display the book with white letters on a black background, which I find minimizes that problem and also makes it easier on anyone else you may be sharing the bed with since you don’t require a bedside light to read. I read until I find my eyes starting to close, which usually means I’ve begun backing up a paragraph or two as I realize I’ve lost the logical thread of what I’m reading … then I put away the tablet, turn out the lights, and I’m usually asleep in less than 5 minutes. My reading material is always light fiction, never anything requiring my logical processes to be heavily engaged, and it’s now a habit pattern that supports and reinforces the progression to sleep.

    I also try to avoid eating, or drinking alcohol within a few hours of going to bed, since that seems to interfere with sound sleep but that may just be me.

    Since I retired (pause for quick calculation) 15 years ago, I no longer have an alarm set to go off at the same time every morning, so my actual time-to-wake is whatever I require for sleep, and dependent on when I go to bed. I find my body reliably requires 7 hours if I allow it to take its natural course and nothing wakes me prematurely. I strongly suggest you learn what your own body requires, because you want to allow that much time to sleep whenever you can.

    Even though I’m retired, I still have events that require me to set an alarm (early golf tee times, doctor appointments, etc) so I have found it helpful to have an Excel workbook set up to make accurate estimates linking one day to the next. That might seem overkill, but when there are 10 things you want to do before leaving the house the next morning, it’s helpful to individually address how much time each step takes because otherwise the total time required to get ready to go somewhere adds up and can get away from you. I keep several templates available in that Excel workbook, each in its own tab for recurring events so I can just pull up that one tab in Excel for that activity and have it pre-loaded with all the steps to do that thing, so I don’t forget anything. On every tab in this workbook there is a specific “pinned” time — like the time an appointment begins, the tee time for a golf day, or the time you have to meet someone, and all other lines in the workbook are offset from that time by calculations in the worksheet, using the individual step-time estimates. That means changing a time estimate for one step will automatically ripple through the sheet and show you the revised time when each linked step begins and ends. Among the items in every tab is time set aside for preparing for bed, time allocated for reading, time for sleeping, and then the specific day’s events follow, laid out in lines below that. Doing this allows me to not only know the time to set my alarm for the next morning but also assures that I have set aside enough time to read as well as get enough sleep. It’s remarkable how useful that workbook has been over the years … I use it several times a week, and I no longer have days where I realize in rising panic that I didn’t allow enough time to do something before I have to leave.

    Another sleep-related issue … I can wake up in the middle of the night and have a Eureka moment, or perhaps it will be something more mundane such as thinking of something I don’t want to forget to do the next day. If you allow your mind to kick into gear and begin either trying to make a strong enough “note” to yourself so you won’t forget that item when you wake up, or (worse) start to think through all the ramifications and logical follow-ons to your great idea, I can pretty much assure you that restful sleep is over for you for that night. Alternatively, I think of some small thing which is linked to another small thing, and to another, and before I realize it I can build a complete bridge of thoughts I really want to remember the next day. If I don’t find a way to “offload” my brain, I’ll toss and turn and eventually surrender by getting up to get on my computer and try to regurgitate the whole set of linked items.

    To protect myself against such situations ruining my sleep, I keep a small handheld voice recorder by my bed when I go to sleep and when these thoughts occur I reach over (in the dark) grab the recorder and rattle off whatever it was that was going through my head, so I can quickly dismiss it. I can do this verbally in only a few seconds, but if I have to write on a notepad it will require sitting up, turning on the light, taking longer to transcribe the “great thought” than doing it verbally, and my chances of reentering a restful state suitable for sleep is almost zero. Likewise trying to type such thoughts on my tablet would be even less suitable for going back to sleep. Of course talking into a recorder might be intrusive if you don’t sleep alone … which might result in an unhappy now-also-awake partner to deal with, but perhaps you can whisper instead of talking out loud when making a note.

    By the way, I take the voice recorder with me in my car whenever I’m driving somewhere, for similar reasons. If you think of something you don’t want to forget, the voice recorder gives me an easy way to record such thoughts and then dismiss them, allowing me to keep my attention on the road. I have thought of using my iPhone for that using Siri, but it’s actually much less convenient than a voice recorder with single-button start/stop recording controls.

    Finally, I will second the comments Kenny made about anxiety. It’s a vicious circle if your are feeling anxious about anything going on in your life, and if it exists long enough it WILL feed into your sleep, either in the form of restless sleep or in dreams. Consider restless sleep a warning … something you SHOULD address in some fashion, because anxiety is similar to inflammation in the body … a little can be beneficial, but chronic anxiety over a long period of time can be destructive to your health.