Two Tips for Sleeping with Anxiety
Sometimes when you live day in, day out with anxiety you learn how to manage life at the same time. You know what situations to avoid and how to help yourself feel the fear and do it anyway. Sleep however is another issue and you have no idea how to calm anxiety at night. The exhaustion affects everything, your work, social life, ability to make decisions and function as you wish. Below I explain two tried and tested tricks that help many people who find sleeping with anxiety troublesome. These two techniques will help you to fall asleep or get back to sleep each night.
How to Sleep With Anxiety
While research shows that the age-old method of counting sheep does not help people to fall asleep more quickly or easily there is something we can take from it. When we feel anxious, we dwell on different problems. I like to call these problems the ‘what ifs’ of the past or future. This roundabout way of thinking heightens your body. You reignite the fight or flight response and your body tries to keep you safe by stopping you from falling asleep. When you stop your anxious thinking you give your body the opportunity to relax and drift into a sleep state. Of course, stopping thinking and relaxing is far easier said than done!
Rather than counting sheep I like to use a walking down a staircase technique. I ask you to imagine yourself at the top of a ten-step staircase. If you feel imaginative enough create your paradise at the bottom. Using your mind imagine yourself stepping down the staircase. Number the steps from 10 to 1 and say each number to yourself as your foot hits the step. Whenever you notice your mind has drifted to another thought bring yourself back to the top of the staircase. Just like the muscles of your body, you have the potential to train your brain. Continually bringing your mind away from the anxious thoughts to the present moment trains your brain to remain in the present, leaving you more relaxed and able to sleep. I challenge you to reach the bottom step.
The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the autonomic nervous system that manages the fight or flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of the autonomic nervous system that regulates bodily functions like digestion, wound healing, sleep and dream cycles. When in your best state the two branches of the autonomic nervous system work closely together to keep you in an optimal state of engagement with your environment and yourself.
As you inhale you stimulate your sympathetic nervous system which increases your heart rate. When you exhale you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which decreases your heart rate. In a healthy state your inhalations and exhalations create a steady, rhythmic fluctuation. Measuring heart rate variability gives a measure of basic wellbeing.
When your autonomic nervous system is well balanced you have a fair degree of control over your response to minor frustrations and disappointments. This enables you to make calm assessments of situations. Changing how you breathe improves problems with anger, depression and most importantly for you, anxiety. The use of breathing in yoga makes yoga a beneficial exercise for anxiety.
If you cannot attend a yoga class you will find apps on a smartphone to help improve your heart rate variability. At the time of writing a recommended one is Inner Balance by Heartmath, although you will need to connect it to a heart rate monitor.
For this reason, when you breathe with an exhale that is longer than your inhale you slow your heart. A racing heart is a symptom of anxiety and something that become a vicious circle as the fear it creates generates more anxiety. Use this breathing technique alongside abdominal breathing to ease your body into a peaceful sleep.
Sleeping with Anxiety – What else?
I hope the above tips help you to know how to sleep better with anxiety. Lack of sleep is so disruptive to life it is a method of torture. Sometimes writing a journal before you lay your head on your pillow helps to relieve your mind of any lingering thoughts. Some people struggle to fall asleep through fear of forgetting what they need to remember the next day. If this is you, write those things down too. If all else fails and you still struggle sleeping with anxiety please contact me for some hypnotherapy sessions. We will explore the root cause of your sleep disturbance. Regardless of what we find, hypnosis is a wonderful way to settle your mind and reenergise your body.