How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

Have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or just feeling rested?

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The bad news is that it may be due to personal lifestyle habits. However, the good news is that those are easy to change to help get you on your way to sleeping better, says behavioral sleep medicine specialist Michelle Drerup, PsyD, DBSM.

What do my habits have to do with it?

Some people lay in bed staring at the ceiling in part due to chronic pain, depression, medications or other substances that can interfere with sleep. When you treat those issues, often it will naturally help improve your ability to sleep.

However, despite addressing other medical or psychiatric conditions, sleep difficulties often will persist. People who have chronic insomnia worry excessively about sleep and the effects of insomnia. They also become more and more agitated and tense as bedtime gets closer.

“If you’re very worried about getting good sleep, you can put a lot of effort into getting sleep and have a lot of anxiety at night,” says Dr. Drerup. “This makes you more alert and can keep you lying in bed wide awake.”

Help is available if you’re having trouble sleeping

Dr. Drerup offers some suggestions that can help improve your sleep habits, including individuals who suffer from chronic insomnia. Trying to break some of the patterns that you may have developed is often the key.

1. Keep your sleep schedule the same

You can improve your sleep by ensuring that you have a consistent sleep schedule. Avoid staying up late on weekends and sleeping in, then trying to go to bed at your regular time on Sunday night.

“We call it social jet lag because it’s like you’ve flown to California, and now you’re trying to adjust back to the time zone difference,” explains Dr. Drerup. “So, keep those times as consistent as you can.”

Going to bed early or sleeping in to catch up only leads to more fragmented and poor quality sleep. Typically, you go to bed two hours early and then just lay there wide awake, continuing to associate your bed with not sleeping.

2. Take some quiet time before bedtime

Quiet time is worth its weight in gold. Give yourself at least 30 to 60 minutes of quiet, relaxed time before bed as a buffer. Nix phone screen time and replace it with reading a book, listening to calming music, taking a warm bath or having some decaffeinated herbal tea.

3. Distract yourself if you can’t sleep

If you can’t fall asleep, get up and try to restart by doing something to distract yourself before going back to bed.

“It could be flipping through magazines, calming yoga stretches or some type relaxing hobby like knitting or coloring,” she says. “Avoid anything that’s goal-directed or too physically or mentally activating such as house chores, paying bills or working on a computer.”

While it may be tempting to grab your phone off your nightstand and scroll endlessly through social media, don’t. The blue light emitted from your phone or tablet screen can inhibit your natural melatonin production which is a hormone that is involved in the timing of our internal circadian sleep clock.

4. Learn how to relax

Learning relaxation techniques such as meditation, guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation can go a long way in helping you fall asleep. A sleep specialist can help you learn this as well as ways to calm your mind and your muscles and reduce or eliminate all the racing thoughts and worries. Dealing with stress in a healthy way is important for not only sleep, but your overall health, too.

“Practice the relaxation techniques and develop them as a skill during the day when you feel good and are already calm, rather than trying to do them for the first time at bedtime,” says Dr. Drerup.

5. Keep a sleep log

Think of this as the adult sister to that diary you’ve kept in middle school.

“You can track the details of your sleep patterns and lifestyle habits,” she says. “This can help you see trends in your behavior and will be useful when you discuss your insomnia with your doctor or a sleep disorder specialist. “

If writing things down the old fashioned way isn’t your jam, try smartphone apps or your smartwatch to help you keep a log. The Sleep Foundation has a sample sleep log that you can download and print out, too. Remember, it doesn’t have to be complicated to work.​

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

This article was co-authored by Sari Eitches, MBE, MD. Dr. Sari Eitches is an Integrative Internist who runs Tower Integrative Health and Wellness, based in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in plant-based nutrition, weight management, women’s health, preventative medicine, and depression. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine. She received a BS from the University of California, Berkeley, an MD from SUNY Upstate Medical University, and an MBE from the University of Pennsylvania. She completed her residency at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, NY and served as an attending internist at the University of Pennsylvania.

There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Sleep is very important to overall health and well-being. For many people, however, sleep does not always come easily. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, you may begin to worry about being poorly rested and not being able to function the next day. You may start obsessing over the number of hours of sleep you will get or staring at your clock. Ironically, this stress can make it even harder to fall asleep! In order to get out of this vicious cycle, you need to deal with any stress and anxiety in your life, learn how to calm your mind before bed, and make sure your bedroom is optimized for good sleep.

If you are afraid of not being able to sleep, insomnia may become more severe.

You look at the clock, counting out the number of hours of sleep you can get if you fall asleep NOW. But it does not happen.

The next time you peek over at the watch, the number has fallen again. You’re worried about what the lack of sleep can do to you.

“Worrying over lack of sleep can lead to prolonged insomnia,” says psychologist Annika Norell-Clarke at Örebro University in Sweden.

She has studied the sleep habits of about 1,800 Swedes over a period of eighteen months. A little under half of the 5,000 randomly selected people responded to the survey; a further 500 dropped out along the way.

Among those who slept poorly at the beginning of the study, worrying about lack of sleep was linked to long-term problems with insomnia. In other words, the worrying is not just a symptom: it can be a contributing factor.

Vicious circle

The concerns can come at night when lying in bed wide awake and in the daytime when you are tired and not feeling well. It becomes a vicious circle.

“Worrying constituted a larger risk of prolonged insomnia than habits like taking a nap at noon,” says Norell-Clarke.

Those who thought differently often resolved their problems.

“They gave their problems less attention. They spent less time looking at the clock at night, were less concerned about being tired the next day,” says the researcher.

“This is not surprising,” says Bjørn Bjorvatn, Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Bergen and the leader of the National Expertise Service for Sleep Disorders.

“The fear of not getting enough sleep has a negative effect. Other studies show the same thing, but it’s great that the development over time has been documented,” says Bjorvatn.

Don’t worry

There is much research to suggest that sleep deprivation may be harmful.

This does not apply to those who have an occasional sleepless night. Treatment is only necessary when the problem lasts for months.

“Everybody sleeps badly sometimes, especially when there is a lot of stress. That is not dangerous. However, if these problems last, one must seek help,” says Norell-Clarke.

She has defined insomnia as problems falling asleep more than three nights a week for at least three months.

Patients often have to wait more than half an hour to fall asleep. They wake up during the night or very early in the morning without falling back to sleep.

There are many causes of insomnia, such as genetic disposition, anxiety, depression, side effects of medications, heart problems, and pain or metabolic disorders. Drinking coffee, watching television and other habits can contribute. Affected groups are women, the elderly and people with little education.

Patterns of thinking are important, Bjorvatn suggests.

“It is important to avoid worrying, although I can understand that this can be difficult,” he says.

More depression

Bjorvatn believes that people who tend to worry about things are more concerned when it comes to sleep.

Similar patterns of thinking lead to insomnia and depression.

“Both groups think negatively about the future, that there is no hope of recovery,” says Norell-Clarke.

Depressed patients are often sleepless. People with sleep problems have a higher risk of developing depression.

Early intervention

Thought patterns can be changed: Psychological therapy has been proven to be useful.

In a small study of 64 people suffering from both insomnia and depression, Norell-Clarke found that changing thoughts about sleep through cognitive behavioural therapy relieved both problems.

Norell-Clarke believes that concerns about lack of sleep must be taken seriously at an early stage in order to prevent problems from becoming entrenched.

“We ask patients if they feel worried,” says Bjorvatn.

“But our patients already have a definite sleep problem. It will be hard to capture all those people who are worried about sleep deprivation. But it is important to be aware of this when they first come to therapy.”

Reference:

Clarke, A. N.: Cogito ergo insomnis; I think, therefore I am sleepless. Doctoral thesis at Örebro University.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

As anyone who struggles with sleep would know, often the worry that comes with feeling like you’re not getting enough sleep is the exact thing that causes you to get less sleep than you’d like! It’s a paradox that the more pressure you put on yourself to get a good night’s sleep, the less sleep you’re likely to get. But there are some helpful strategies you can adopt to ease your worries and encourage sleep.

Read on to learn more about the link between sleep and anxiety and to get some tips to help you worry less and sleep more.

The link between anxiety and sleep

The relationship between anxiety disorders and sleep disorders goes both ways. Anxiety causes the brain to go into overdrive, keeping you alert and awake well into the wee hours. On the other hand, sleep deprivation can exacerbate anxiety, creating a loop of sleeplessness and worry that can make your sleep time worse.

If falling asleep isn’t hard enough for a person suffering from anxiety, anticipation and dread as bedtime approaches can make it extremely difficult for a person who struggles with sleep to relax and prepare the body for sleep.

Worrying about insomnia

Insomnia is typically associated with health problems such as heart diseases, depression, suicidal thoughts, fatigue and diabetes. But interestingly, a study about ‘insomnia identity’ found that people who believed they had insomnia experienced these symptoms to a greater degree than people who did not believe they had insomnia. This was regardless of whether they slept well or not!

The findings of the study suggest that insomnia may not be the only contributing factor to these kinds of negative health outcomes – they are physiological components at play too. That’s because people who believe they have insomnia tend to worry more about their sleep, and it is, in fact, this worry that may lead to these long-term health problems.

How to stop worrying about sleep

So we know that there is a link between anxiety and insomnia, and that the worrying may actually be leading to worse health problems than the insomnia itself. But how do we break the cycle between worry and insomnia to get a better night’s sleep?

To help you overcome your fear and reduce the dread associated with sleep, try some of these methods:

1. Firstly, avoid self-diagnosis

Whether it’s playing ‘Google Doctor’ after a few basic searches, or simply reaching a conclusion based on your own feelings, we all tend to resort to self-diagnosis as a coping mechanism. In most cases, the impact of self-diagnosis is harmless (if not positive), but when it comes to sleep conditions, it may worsen the problem, as suggested by the study into insomnia identity.

Try to remember that sleep is not always perfect. Struggling to get to sleep on occasion doesn’t necessarily mean you have chronic insomnia, and self-diagnosing yourself with the disorder might only make it worse.

2. Remove the stigma associated with lack of sleep

People suffer sleep problems for a range of reasons, but some (unfairly) consider lack of sleep to be a character flaw associated with poor self control or bad lifestyle habits. When one starts internalising these stigmas, it can often lead to low self-esteem, shame and embarrassment, all of which detract from healthy sleep. Stigmas don’t help anyone so your best bet is to realise that your sleeping habits concern only you (or perhaps your partner).

3. Have some perspective

Don’t dwell on the negative. Try to change your thinking patterns and remove some of the dread around bedtime by looking at sleep from a new perspective. Yes, you may struggle with sleep, but it will help to accept that sleep is not perfect for everyone. Normalise your sleep patterns – just because you wake up in the night or struggle to fall asleep does not mean you’ve failed. Thinking this way will only increase your anxiety and make it harder to get to sleep!

4. Overcome unhelpful thoughts

It will help to reframe and de-catastrophise any negative thoughts you might have about your sleep. For example, thoughts like “I can’t get to sleep so I’ve ruined my day tomorrow” aren’t helpful and will only exacerbate sleep anxiety. Take a realistic look at any negative thoughts and try to rationalise them. Have you slept poorly before and did this really ruin your day or have you managed to cope? It’s all about taking negative thoughts and reframing them in a more positive or realistic way. It can also help to write these negative thoughts down to help you clear your head before bed.

5. Set realistic expectations about sleep

The study into insomnia identity found that people who self-diagnose insomnia are also more likely to have unrealistic expectations about sleep. People who have experienced bouts of insomnia before are hyper-vigilant about any signs that could indicate its return. This could turn 15 minutes of tossing and turning before sleep into an anxiety-inducing catastrophe. The result is that sleep becomes an activity surrounded by dread and fear, two emotions that are in no way conducive to relaxation and sleep.

6. Associate your bed with sleep

It’s important to reinforce the link between your bed and sleep. If you can’t fall asleep in the first 20 minutes after you go to bed, don’t just lie there staring at the ceiling. Get up and do something relaxing. Only return to bed when you’re feeling tired. Your brain needs to associate bed with sleep.

The bottom line

While insomnia is a very real and very debilitating disorder for many, it’s clear that anxiety around sleep, and insomnia in particular, can actually make the problem worse. It may help to talk to a doctor or healthcare professional about your concerns before self-diagnosing insomnia. Not only will they be able to more accurately determine if your sleep problems are cause for concern, but they’ll also be able to equip you with effective treatments and strategies to help you overcome not only the sleep disorder, but also any related anxiety disorders.

If you’re experiencing persistent disruptions to your sleep, consult with a pharmacist or trusted medical professional to discuss possible solutions.

Any advice provided in this content is of a general nature and does not take into account your objectives, health or needs. The information in this post is not intended to substitute medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be exclusively relied on to diagnose or manage a medical condition. You need to consider the appropriateness of any information or general advice we give you, having regard to your personal situation, before acting on our advice or purchasing any over-the-counter sleep product.

In junior high, binge-watching became my favored coping skill for sleepless nights. For as long as I can remember, my insomnia has been just bad enough to be annoying but not bad enough for me to feel like I needed to seek professional help.

As a pre-teen, I would wander the house once or twice a week while everyone else slept. A night or two of sleeplessness would be followed by a long, hard sleep so I never made it an issue. I just learned to cope. My children changed that. Two nights of insomnia a week became a much bigger deal when every other night was being interrupted by the three back-to-back babies I had given birth to over the course of four years. They didn’t sleep well either. It wasn’t long before sleep became a major issue in my life. Some nights I would lie in bed, unable to sleep because I was waiting for a child to cry out for me. Other nights, I would avoid bed altogether, settling onto the couch to engage in my old habit of binge-watching to pass the time.

What I hoped was merely any adjustment to motherhood transformed into a serious sleep problem. Much like my childhood, I would sleep poorly for a few nights, then just fine for the nights that followed. Unlike my childhood, there was no time to catch up. I couldn’t fall into bed and sleep for twelve hours to make up for two nights of insomnia because my third child was still waking every three hours to nurse and my toddlers would climb into my bed at sunrise, whispering requests for Cheerios and blueberries. I hit a wall after the New Year. I was dangerously tired, caught in a cycle of sleeplessness I couldn’t break. I was struggling to parent well, having to cancel social plans to stay in and try to grasp at a few hours of sleep. When I learned that Headspace had a meditation pack specifically for sleep, I jumped at the opportunity to find a solution. I began working through the ten-minute sessions in the afternoon, hoping for a new tool to help me fall asleep, but I found something more. There was a bigger issue at play. I wasn’t just struggling to fall asleep—sleep had become a source of anxiety in my life. I had begun to expect insomnia, anxious about the outcome of a night before my head even hit the pillow. Throughout the day, I was preoccupied with sleep and how I could orchestrate my schedule to get the most rest.

It hasn’t been a simple fix, but mindfulness has given me an awareness of some baggage I have about going to bed at night. The meditation exercises put the power in my hands to slow down the day and take the time to recognize when I am spiraling into a cycle of sleeplessness perpetuated by my anxiety. I have tools at my disposal, taught to me through the sleep meditations, for the roughest of nights. Simply learning the technique of body scanning has been transformative for my evenings, and is a tool I come back to if I am feeling anxious or simply overstimulated after coming home from a social activity. Above all else, meditation is teaching me patience. I’ll be the first to admit that I was hoping for a quick fix. I wanted to move past this sleepless phase of my life and onto more energy-filled days. Mindfulness has brought me to a realistic place of understanding that it takes time to work through the worries I feel about sleep, and that persistence and time are the only ways to unbreak 15 years of poor sleep habits. Now, I’m prepared to do that, with the help of the Sleep Pack, 10 minutes at a time.

It hasn’t been a simple fix, but mindfulness has given me an awareness of some baggage I have about going to bed at night. The meditation exercises put the power in my hands to slow down the day and take the time to recognize when I am spiraling into a cycle of sleeplessness perpetuated by my anxiety. I have tools at my disposal, taught to me through the sleep meditations, for the roughest of nights. Simply learning the technique of body scanning has been transformative for my evenings, and is a tool I come back to if I am feeling anxious or simply overstimulated after coming home from a social activity. Above all else, meditation is teaching me patience. I’ll be the first to admit that I was hoping for a quick fix. I wanted to move past this sleepless phase of my life and onto more energy-filled days. Mindfulness has brought me to a realistic place of understanding that it takes time to work through the worries I feel about sleep, and that persistence and time are the only ways to unbreak 15 years of poor sleep habits. Now, I’m prepared to do that, with the help of the Sleep Pack, 10 minutes at a time.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

Another sleepless night spent worrying as you stare at the ceiling? Stress and anxiety can often keep you from getting the sleep you need.

Many people with anxiety disorders have trouble sleeping and at some point it’s hard to tell whether you’re having trouble sleeping because you’re anxious, or you’re anxious because you can’t sleep. The answer may be both. The fact is that stress and anxiety can cause sleeping problems, or worsen existing ones. Too little sleep affects your mood and can contribute to irritability and sometimes depression. Vital brain functions occur during different stages of sleep that leave you feeling rested and energized and that help you learn and build memories.

Here are a few tips to help you practice good “sleep hygiene” so you can wind down both your body and mind:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  • Be Mindful. Shortly before bedtime, try a relaxation strategy that incorporates mindfulness, deep breathing, or meditation, all of which boost sleep time and quality.
  • Turn Screens Off Early. The blue light emitted by digital devices—including TVs, phones, laptops, and tablets—can throw off your body’s internal clock, so avoid them before bedtime. Finding a tech-free way to wind down can help soothe stress.
  • Take a Hot Bath or Shower to Relax. Going from warm water into a cooler bedroom will cause your body temperature to drop, naturally making you feel sleepy.
  • Count Sheep. It might sound a little silly, but it works. The reason being when you keep your brain focused on one thing helps you power down. You can also try focusing on your breathing, consciously taking deep breaths in and out, until you feel calmer.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, large meals, foods that induce heartburn, and drinking a lot of fluid for several hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise Regularly. Exercise is a great stress reliever and has been shown to improve the quality of sleep, particularly for people with insomnia. But make sure your more intense workouts aren’t too close to bedtime. Try to get your workouts in at least three hours before you turn in.
  • Try Worrying Earlier in the Day. When your mind is racing with concerns while you’re trying to fall asleep, that can make it nearly impossible to drift off. Plan for 15 minutes during the day to process these thoughts. Writing a to-do list or thinking about solutions can be a healthy way to deal with stress and prevent it from interfering with sleep later.
  • Have an herbal tea. Chamomile and other herbal teas can help relax and sooth the body, which can make it easier to fall asleep. Try pairing it with a good book and making it a mini-routine to end your night.
  • If you are having trouble falling asleep after 20 minutes of turning off the lights (or if you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep in 20 minutes), get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy – like that cup of tea and a book.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

Picture this: you’re cozied up in your bed and ready to fall asleep when suddenly you remember something urgent you forgot to finish during the day or an embarrassing situation that happened to you a week ago. Instead of drifting off to sleep, you’re now awake and anxious — what do you do?

Stress and anxiety can become a vicious cycle when trying to fall asleep. Worries can keep you awake, and then you are worrying about worrying. On top of that, sleep deprivation can actually trigger stress, so it’s important to form good sleep habits to avoid a cycle of sleepless nights.

Dr. Victoria Sharma, medical director of the Sharp Grossmont Hospital Sleep Disorders Center, shares these five tips for falling back asleep when late-night anxiety strikes.

1. Set a designated worry time
Schedule some time toward the end of the day, but not too close to bedtime, to think about all the things that are causing you stress.

“Make a list of anything you have to do, any problems and worries you have. Then, write down the next step toward solving the problem or accomplishing the task. This allows you to process your worries ahead of time, making it less likely that you will think about those things in the middle of the night,” says Dr. Sharma.

2. Try meditation
“When worries persist, try progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness or meditation,” says Dr. Sharma. There are several mindful breathing techniques that can help with stress. Try out a few to see which strategy works best for you.

3. Get out of bed
“Do not stay in bed longer than 20 to 30 minutes if you can’t sleep,” says Dr. Sharma. “Get out of bed and do something quiet and boring in dim lighting until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed. Repeat if needed.”

While you’re out of bed, try reading a book, doing a puzzle or listening to relaxing music.

4. Stick to slumber in bed
Although doing an activity may take your mind off your worries, you should avoid watching TV, reading books or using devices such as phones and laptops while in bed. Get out of bed to help yourself relax and come back when you are feeling tired again.

5. Don’t check the time
Staying in bed and looking at the clock will not help you fall asleep faster or ease your worries. In fact, it could increase your stress levels.

“Do not look at the clock in the middle of the night,” says Dr. Sharma. “It doesn’t matter what time it is; if it’s not morning yet, try to go back to sleep or get out of bed.”

Everyone is different, but most people need between six and 10 hours of sleep each night. So keep these tips in mind the next time worrisome thoughts come up close to bedtime.

We all know the importance of sleep, so it’s natural to be concerned when you’re not sleeping well. Unfortunately, worrying about how much sleep you got, or how much you will get, only fuels anxiety. The more anxious you feel, the less likely you are to sleep. It’s a vicious cycle that can leave you feeling ‘tired but wired’.

The desire to sleep has nothing to do with our actual ability to sleep. All we can do is set the stage for a good night’s sleep and then accept what our bodies’ are going to do. So, let go of the struggle to sleep. Remind yourself that with the right strategies, you will have more good nights and fewer bad nights.

Aim for quality over quantity. It’s better to get a few good hours of sleep than stress about getting a certain number of hours.

Try not to catastrophize when you don’t have a good sleep – you may not feel 100% the next day, but it’s still manageable. You’ve done it before. So, when you catch yourself worrying about sleep, try telling yourself more truthful and helpful things.

Check out these helpful thoughts when you’re having trouble sleeping.

During the Day/Right Before bed:

  • Focusing on how badly I slept last night only fuels anxiety and makes it less likely that I’ll fall asleep tonight.
  • Worrying about not sleeping only increases my anxiety, which makes it less likely I will sleep.
  • I’ll do what I can to get my body ready for sleep (see Active Steps) and then I have to accept that the rest is up to my body.
  • I accept that I may not have a good night’s sleep tonight.
  • A bad night’s sleep is often rewarded with a good night’s sleep the next night or the night after that. My body will naturally re-adjust itself, if I let it.
  • Instead of worrying about sleeping, I’m going to plan something fun or relaxing to do this evening.

When You Can’t Sleep:

  • It’s normal once in a while to have a bad night’s sleep.
  • Trying hard to sleep interferes with my ability to fall sleep. I need to accept that I may not be able to sleep tonight.
  • Worrying about not sleeping, only increases the likelihood that I won’t sleep.
  • I may not feel great in the morning if I don’t get a good sleep, but I can still get through the day.
  • Quality of sleep is more important than quantity, so I need to stop focusing on how many hours of sleep I’m going to get.
  • If I can’t sleep, I’ll use this time to do something relaxing, which is still good for my mind and body.
  • I don’t need to catch up on sleep by sleeping in or napping. Even if I’m tired, it’s better to get up at my set time and let my body reset tomorrow night.

Sometimes going to sleep can seem boring. There’s so much more you want to do. But if you’ve ever had too little sleep, you know that you don’t feel very well when you’re not rested.

Some kids have trouble falling to sleep (sometimes called insomnia). Let’s talk about what to do if that happens to you.

Bedtime Fears

For kids, feeling scared or worried at bedtime is one of the main reasons for having trouble falling asleep. A kid might be afraid of the dark or might not like being alone. A kid who has a good imagination might hear noises at night and fear the worst — when it’s just the family cat walking down the hall.

As you get older, these fears usually fade. Until they do, set up your room so that it makes you feel relaxed and safe. Look around your room from your bed. Are there things you can see from bed that make you feel good? If not, add some. Display some family photos or other pictures that make you happy.

Nightmares

Have you been having any nightmares lately? Sometimes it’s hard to fall asleep when you’re afraid of having a scary dream. If the fear of nightmares keeps you awake, try talking to your mom or dad or other trusted adult. Sometimes talking about the nightmares (and even drawing a picture of them) can help you stop having them.

Watching scary or violent TV shows or movies or reading scary books before bedtime can give you bad dreams. Instead of doing those kinds of things, think good thoughts before bed. Imagine a favorite place or activity or think of all the people who care about you. Reading a peaceful book before bed (your parent can read to you or you can read to yourself) or playing soothing music can help you have sweet dreams.

Worry and Stress

It can be harder to sleep when you’re worried about things. It’s easy to feel stressed when you have tests at school, after-school activities, sports, and chores around the house.

If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed — like it’s all just too much — speak up. Your mom or dad can help you put some balance in your schedule. It may mean cutting out some activities so you have more free time.

Big Changes

A major change in your life or daily routine can easily cause sleep problems. Changes like divorce, death, illness, or moving to a new town can make it hard to sleep through the night. During a tough time, it helps if you feel safe. Try bringing a comforting object to bed with you, like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal.

It might take a while to feel better, so talk with a parent or another adult you trust about what’s bothering you. Even if the problem can’t be solved, just talking it out can help you sleep easier.

Feeling Uncomfortable

If you feel too hot, too cold, hungry, or crowded, you won’t get to sleep like you should. Prevent this by creating sleep-friendly bedtime space:

  • Make sure your bed is ready for sleep and relaxing — not so jammed with toys and stuffed animals that there’s no room for you.
  • Turn on a fan if you’re warm or pull on some socks if you’re cold.
  • Have a regular, calming routine before bedtime, like taking a warm bath or reading.

Getting Help When You Can’t Sleep

Most of the time, talking with your parents or caregiver is all you need to do to handle a sleep problem. They can help you make a relaxing bedtime routine.

But if you are having a tough time getting enough sleep, you might need extra help. That could mean talking to a counselor or psychologist about stress or sadness you might be feeling.

Some kids might have to see a doctor who specializes in sleep problems. Some hospitals have sleep labs, where patients come in overnight to be checked while sleeping to see what might be wrong.

Sleep Tips

About an hour before bedtime, put away homework and turn off the TV, computers, and other devices, including cellphones. Have a relaxing bedtime routine, like taking a warm bath or shower, reading, or listening to music.

These other tips can help you get a good night’s sleep:

  • Write in a journal before you go to bed. This can help clear your mind so you won’t have all those thoughts crowding your brain when you’re trying to sleep.
  • Sleep in a dark, comfortable room. Light tells your body that it’s time to be awake, so you want it to be dark at night. But if you are really afraid of the dark, it’s OK to turn on a dim night-light. People sleep best when the bedroom is a little cool, but not too cold.
  • Don’t sleep with a pet. This can be a tough habit to break, but your lovable dog or cat could be keeping you awake. As your pet cozies up to you or makes noise, it could wake you from a peaceful sleep. Try sleeping without your pet for a couple nights to see if you sleep better that way.
  • Avoid caffeine found in drinks like coffee, soda, energy drinks, or iced tea. Caffeine is a stimulant and will keep you awake.
  • Get exercise every day. Regular exercise can help you sleep, but exercising too close to bedtime will keep you awake. Find time to exercise earlier in the day. .
  • Once you’re lying in bed, try a peaceful mind exercise. For instance, count backward from 100 with your eyes closed. By the time you get to 10 (yawn) we hope you’ll feel very sleepy. And by 5, we hope you’ll feel yourself drifting off . 3, 2, 1, ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

If you’re having sleep problems, there are simple steps you can take to ease those restless nights. Find out how to get to sleep and how to sleep better.

We also have expert advice and tips to help look after your mental health and wellbeing if you are worried or anxious about coronavirus (COVID-19).

Understanding sleep problems

We all have evenings when we find it hard to fall asleep or find ourselves waking up in the night. How we sleep and how much sleep we need is different for all of us and changes as we get older.

Sleep problems usually sort themselves out within about a month. But longer stretches of bad sleep can start to affect our lives. It can cause extreme tiredness and make usually manageable tasks harder.

If you regularly have problems sleeping, you may be experiencing insomnia. Insomnia can last for months or even years, but usually improves if you change your sleeping habits.

Sleep problems are common, and the tips on this page should help. But if they have not worked, or you have had trouble sleeping for months and it affects your daily life in a way that makes it hard to cope, you could benefit from further support.

Top tips to get to sleep and sleep better

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

Keep regular sleep hours

Going to bed when you feel tired and getting up at roughly the same time helps teach your body to sleep better. Try to avoid napping where possible.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

Confront sleeplessness

If you are lying awake unable to sleep, do not force it. Get up and do something relaxing for a bit, and return to bed when you feel sleepier.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

Create a restful environment

Dark, quiet and cool environments generally make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Watch our video for tips on how to sleep better.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

Write down your worries

If you often lie awake worrying about tomorrow, set aside time before bed to make a list for the next day. This can help put your mind at rest.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

Move more, sleep better

Being active can help you sleep better. These videos can get you going, but remember to avoid vigorous activity near bedtime if it affects your sleep.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

Put down the pick-me-ups

Caffeine and alcohol can stop you falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Try to cut down on alcohol and avoid caffeine close to bedtime.

Get help sleeping

We all have evenings when we find it hard to fall asleep or we wake up in the night. For many of us, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak may have affected our sleep too.

Good-quality sleep makes a big difference to how we feel, mentally and physically, so it’s important to get enough. Watch our video on simple tips for better sleep, with Colin Espie, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford.

The advice you will find here is a good way to get you thinking about your sleep and what may be stopping you from sleeping well. We also have some simple steps you can take to make a change.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

1. Get into a daily routine

All the changes we have been through may have made it harder to maintain a consistent routine, but having a regular sleeping pattern is really important for good sleep.

If you can wake up, wind down and go to bed around the same time each day, it will really help. Avoid napping too, if possible.

Remember, your sleep routine starts before you actually get into bed, so build in time every evening to wind down – and try to switch off from your tech.

Things like reading, gentle stretches or meditation are a good way to unwind, and keeping chargers for your devices out of the bedroom can help you avoid absent-minded scrolling.

Video: Progressive muscle relaxation

This audio-only video will guide you through a routine to help relax your mind and body.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

2. Manage your worries

Lots of us have had extra concerns or anxiety because of COVID-19, and these feelings can affect how easily you fall asleep and how well you sleep.

There are things you can do in your day to help manage your worries, like talking to someone you trust and switching off from the news.

If you often lie awake worrying, set aside time before bed to make a to-do list for the next day – this can be a good way to put your mind at rest.

Using techniques like reframing unhelpful thoughts might also help.

Video: Reframing unhelpful thoughts

This short video has some practical tips on how you can challenge your thoughts and start to break unhelpful cycles.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

3. Prepare your body for sleep

Our physical health and how we look after our body can have a big effect on our sleep. It can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behaviour that can make your sleep worse, especially at times like these.

Having caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or a big meal too close to bedtime can stop you falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Try to avoid them before bed and see if things improve.

Regular exercise is also great for sleep. Just remember to steer clear of anything too vigorous right before bedtime if you find it affects your sleep, and make sure you follow the social distancing guidelines when exercising.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

4. Create a restful environment

Simple things can have a big impact when it comes to falling asleep and staying asleep.

It’s generally easier to drop off when it’s cool, dark and quiet – but the right sleep environment is personal, so try different things and see what works for you.

Wearing earplugs, putting your phone on silent and face down (or out of the room entirely), keeping clocks out of view and making sure the room is well ventilated can all make a big difference.

Some people also find playing ambient sounds like rainfall, gentle music or white noise helpful.

How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

5. Confront sleeplessness

If you’re lying awake unable to sleep, do no not try to force it. If you’re tired and enjoying the feeling of resting, then sleep may naturally take over.

But if not, get up and do something relaxing for a bit, like reading a book or listening to quiet music, and go back to bed when you feel sleepier.

Further support and advice

Sleep problems are common and these suggestions should help.

But if they have not worked for you – or you have had trouble sleeping for months and it affects your daily life in a way that makes it hard to cope – further NHS support for sleep problems is available.

If you do not live in England

Additional country-specific COVID-19 guidance is available for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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Being awake at an ungodly hour, your mind a tangle of anxious thoughts, is a wretched experience.

Whether you’re thinking about work or family worries, the events of the day, or tasks you face tomorrow, it tends to kill off the chance of sleep.

It’s a common problem, with “thoughts” second only to “needing to go to the toilet” in the list of sleep disrupters identified by the 20,018 people who completed the ABC’s Sleep Snapshot survey a few weeks ago.

And when asked to describe in their own words what sabotaged their sleep, the words “work”, “anxiety,” “stress” and “worry” were frequently used.

All too often, there’s a snowball effect with the initial worries compounded by concern about the impact the poor sleep will have on productivity the next day.

Three-quarters of our snapshot respondents said they worried about sleep at least some of the time and 23 per cent of people often did.

Edie Eicas, a 66-year-old poet, artist and editor from Adelaide, often wakes in the middle of the night and finds intrusive thoughts stop her going back to sleep, sometimes for periods up to several hours.

She’s experienced this for around 20 years. Sometimes it’s nearby traffic noise that wakes her up.

She believes a traumatic marital separation may have been the initial trigger for her sleep issues.

“If my mind’s going a mile a minute, I try and distract myself by listening to podcasts … Sometimes they work, but sometimes I stay awake because they’re interesting,” she said.

“When sleep’s really bad, I do worry because I recognise that I’m not up to speed [the next day]. I hate not being productive to the level I expect of myself.”

Ms Eicas was one of the many people who got in touch when we asked you to share your sleep stories as part of Reboot Your Life this month.

We asked sleep physician Professor David Hillman from the Sleep Health Foundation for some tips to help Ms Eicas get better rest.

Sleep tips for Edie

Try something other than listening to podcasts to help get back to sleep: The fact podcasts sometimes stimulate suggests they are not the ideal activity. She needs to try something more relaxing. Perhaps books or audio books that are not too arousing in their story lines could be worth a try.

Don’t stay in bed to do activities to help get back to sleep: If Edie can’t readily drop off to sleep again within say 20 minutes, she should get up out of bed to do a relaxing activity, keeping the lights low, and return to bed only when she starts to feel sleepy again. The brain needs to learn to associate being in bed with being asleep. Lying in bed awake and frustrated, or doing a stimulating activity, gives your brain mixed messages that can weaken its ‘drive’ to send you to sleep.

Accept that sleep isn’t perfect for everyone, but especially if you’re over 65: Edie needs to understand that waking in the night is a normal part of sleep sometimes. If you’re over 65, this may be especially so because the sleep cycle is a bit less robust in older people (thought to be linked to weaker rises in the sleep hormone melatonin in the brain, compared to younger people.) Believing night waking is a sign of failure or a disastrous problem will only make you more anxious and so make it less likely you’ll return to sleep rapidly.

Don’t spend too long in bed, hoping to get sleep: When sleep is fragmented, it’s tempting to go to bed earlier, and stay in bed later the next day to try to ‘catch up’. In fact, this can weaken the drive to sleep. Edie should try limiting her total time in bed to the hours of sleep she actually needs. So she should avoid staying in bed 9.5 or 10 hours when she only needs 7.5-8 hours (older people have slightly reduced sleep needs, but this does vary from person to person). It might be tough going for a few nights, but done regularly, restricting sleep helps to consolidate it, so awakenings are shorter.

Try to reduce noise in the sleep environment: Earplugs are cheap and there are online stores that have a large variety of styles and sizes to try for a comfortable fit. Other options include double glazing on windows, or moving to another room in the house, further away from the street, to sleep.

  • Consider seeing a counsellor about unresolved psychological issues: Primary insomnia that has no other obvious cause can often be traced back to some traumatic event where sleep first became dislodged. Long after the issue was settled, the problem may persist. Occasionally, the event has been resolved at only a superficial level and there are still some gnawing deep-seated issues. If Edie thinks this might be the case, it could be worth trying some psychological therapy to try to resolve things.
  • Set aside worry time

    If the busy mind scenario sounds familiar, Professor Hillman suggests setting aside some deliberate “worry time” earlier in the evening to reflect on the day’s activities and how you’re going to deal with them.

    Life Matters podcast: Sleep and worry

    Hear Prof Dorothy Brock talk to Cassie McCullagh about dealing with sleep worries on RN.

    By Gavin Newsham published 4 March 22

    Learning how to fall asleep is crucial to how your body recovers each night. Here’s how to ensure you’re doing it right

    How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

    All too often, we take falling asleep for granted. For many of us, all we need to do is change into our pajamas, climb under the covers and fall straight to sleep. But it’s not always that easy. Knowing how to fall asleep is a real problem, bringing with it fatigue and frustration in equal measure, and more sleep-based stress.

    According to one 2018 study in the Journal of Sleep Resources, stress is one of the leading causes for insomnia. It’s also responsible for almost half of all sleep issues. Indeed, it can often become a self-fulfilling prophecy where you worry so much about not being able to fall asleep that you end up lying there for hours thinking about it, unable to drift off.

    Dr Monica Cain, a psychologist and member of Top Doctors, explains: “Sleep is one of those things that the harder we try at it, the more elusive it becomes and the more frustrated we feel.”

    Below, she gives her tips for how to fall asleep, including foods you might want to avoid close to bedtime, and ways to help yourself unwind before bed.

    How to fall asleep

    Think ahead

    The process of falling asleep shouldn’t start when you climb into bed. What you do during the day can also impact your chances of nodding off. Try to get a minimum of one hour’s natural light each day and, if you can, combine it with some exercise or activity as it’s good for the brain and the body. Humans are hard-wired to synchronize with the rising and setting of the sun, so if we don’t get enough natural daylight then it’s likely our brains won’t realize when it’s time to sleep.

    You can also practice good sleep hygiene by making sure your bedroom is as light and noise-free as it can be, and the temperature isn’t too warm. A study in the journal Sleep revealed that high humidity in the bedroom can actually prevent adequate recuperation, reducing the length of time you spend in REM sleep – this is the phase that helps the body to recover.

    Watch your diet

    A 2016 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that a diet high in sugar and saturated fats and low in fiber can affect how you get to sleep, as well as the quality of the sleep you get throughout the night. Reducing the amount of processed foods you eat can aid a better night’s sleep. It’s also good to drink less caffeine-based stimulants like coffee and tea, especially later in the day.

    Learn to relax

    Avoid any unnecessary stimuli before bedtime – be that physical or mental – and ditch the devices. The blue light that emanates from phones, tablets and computers acts to suppress melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating your sleep and wake cycle.

    “Try to implement a wind down routine where you switch off from tech and TV,” says Cain. “Maybe end your day with some reflection of what went well, what you are grateful for and a couple of minutes focusing on your breathing.”

    Relaxation techniques, like meditation or a hot bath, can also help to prepare your mind and body for a better night’s sleep. You might also want to try a ‘sleep script’. This involves recording yourself for a minute or so saying calming and positive messages that focus on reducing stress and tension. You can then play back the recording in the early evening – not at bedtime – so that you’re already beginning to think about sleep.

    Read to sleep

    Try reading a book to distract yourself from a busy or worried mind. “Keep some mildly interesting, but not too stimulating, reading material by your bed,” says Cain. Alternatively, listen to calming sleep stories featured on mindfulness apps or play some gentle instrumental music with no lyrics.

    Manage your expectations

    Don’t beat yourself up if you still find yourself unable to get to sleep easily. There are so many factors that can affect how well you manage to get to sleep and how long you stay asleep for, so try to take control of the ones you have some influence over. “If all else fails and you are lying wide awake, bring a gentle acceptance to this and try to remember that your body is resting even though you might not be sleeping, and that is a nice thing to let your body do,” adds Cain.

    How long should it take to fall asleep?

    The time it takes to fall asleep once you are in bed is called ‘sleep latency’. According to Sleep.org, the average person should fall asleep within 10-20 minutes of lying down and turning the light off. Any more or less than that could indicate an underlying health issue or a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.

    Generally, medical professionals regard eight minutes or less as the point to determine whether a person is falling asleep too quickly. If you are falling asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, it could be that you’re suffering from narcolepsy. You might also have idiopathic hypersomnia, a rare condition that makes you sleepy during the day, even after what appears to have been a good night’s sleep. ‘Sleep debt’ – where failure to get sufficient quality sleep results in a deficit – could also be a root cause. Research has shown that sleep debt can not only lead to chronic fatigue and reduced productivity, but also to mood swings and anxiety.

    If you are taking longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, however, then it may be down to stress or anxiety. Alternatively, it could be attributed to something as simple as drinking too much caffeine. While it may be tempting to have a coffee as a quick pick-me-up during the afternoon, it can still have a knock-on effect on your ability to fall asleep in the evening. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes of lying there, it’s better to get up and do something else before returning to bed and trying again.

    A journalist, editor and author with over 25 years experience in the sports, health and fitness sectors, Gavin has written for a wide range of titles, including The Guardian, The Observer and The Sun in the UK, as well as international titles such as The New York Post. He also currently writes health features for the Telegraph newspaper in the UK, specializing in midlife issues.

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    Key points

    Our daily worries can often creep into our thoughts at night-time and this can seriously disturb our sleep. In this article we’re going to explore ways to calm your weary mind, how to stop overthinking and banish unwanted thoughts from your sleeptime. We’ll cover:

    • why shutting out your thoughts and feelings is not a good strategy
    • techniques that can help to quieten a racing mind
    • how to stop intrusive thoughts at night
    • how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (CBTi) equips you to deal with sleep-intruding scenarios.

    Introduction

    Modern life isn’t easy, with concerns about money, housing, work, relationships and living a “successful” life being frequently reported as sources of worry for many people.

    Sometimes our worries can have a real impact. We can’t sleep, overthinking about every little thing.

    Frequently, people living with stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia will say that racing, intrusive (unwanted) thoughts make it harder for them to get to sleep than any sort of physical discomfort or pain. 1

    Insomnia and overthinking often go hand-in-hand. So people with insomnia will commonly try to shut out thoughts that are stopping them from sleeping. This might sound sensible at first, but it can cause more problems than it solves. 2 3

    By implementing better ways to deal with intrusive thoughts, the time between getting into bed and falling asleep needn’t be so difficult. You may also find it easier to fall back to sleep if your sleep isn’t interrupted by racing, intrusive thoughts.

    There are a number of thought blocking strategies that have been studied for dealing with these intrusive thoughts in the context of insomnia. Many will be covered in a course of CBT for insomnia (CBTi). 4 5 6

    The core of these strategies is that they enable a person to substitute thoughts that might keep them awake (arousing thoughts) with non-arousing thoughts. This should:

    • reduce the time it takes to fall asleep (the sleep onset time)
    • help you to stop overthinking
    • increase sleep quality.

    We’ll go over a few of these strategies here, in the hope that they’re useful to you or someone you know.

    Can’t sleep? Our CBTi programme can help you calm your racing thoughts.

    We’ll work with you to get to the root of what’s keeping you awake. Sleepstation is:

    For something that seems like such a natural part of life, getting adequate sleep isn’t always as easy as laying your head on your pillow, closing your eyes, and drifting off to dreamland. And there are nearly 70 million Americans who suffer from sleep disorders to prove it. Many of whom struggle specifically with sleep anxiety.

    “[Sleep anxiety] is a lay term that most closely fits a diagnosis referred to as psychophysiological insomnia,” says Virginia Runko, PhD, a behavioral sleep medicine specialist and psychologist in Washington, D.C. “It’s characterized by physical and cognitive manifestations of anxiety that are caused by and can cause trouble sleeping.” In other words, it’s characterized by common anxiety symptoms that interfere with you getting sleep, including racing thoughts, worrying specifically about sleep, and dreading going to bed, fearing it will be an unpleasant experience.

    While most cases revolve around a fear of not being able to sleep well, Runko says that sometimes “someone has the reverse type of sleep anxiety, where they fear going to sleep, which might be because of how sleep reminds them of death or they might feel more vulnerable when they sleep.”

    Considering how important sleep is for both your mind and body, getting to the root of why you aren’t getting any (or enough) is key. Here we explore what triggers sleep anxiety, how it can affect your health, and what you can do to combat it.

    Related Items

    Common Sources of Sleep Anxiety

    Sleep anxiety can often find its way into your life, thanks to genetics. “If many people in your family have anxiety and sleep problems, that can place you at a higher risk of developing it,” Runko says.

    But really anyone can feel an overwhelming pressure to make sure they get good sleep—sometimes to a fault. For example, buying all the latest products on the market promising to cure insomnia; or being very rigid with your sleep habits. The irony is that these efforts or beliefs can sometimes sabotage our shut-eye. You’re so worried about sleeping well, that you worry yourself into not sleeping well. “That pressure, stress, hypervigilance, and effort can ramp up anxiety,” explains Runko.

    Another reason might be, “if something particularly bad happened after a poor night of sleep—that can ramp up sleep anxiety even more,” she adds. And unfortunately, once your bed has been associated with things like worry and a quickened heart rate, which are essentially forms of conditioned arousal, Runko says “the bed itself can start to be a cue to automatically elicit those physical symptoms and worrisome thoughts to some degree.” In other words, you might start to associate your bed and bedtime with feelings of anxiety.

    Typically, the thoughts that come into your head when you lie down at night are the ones that are “unfinished business” for your mind, explains Aeva Gaymon Doomes, MD, a licensed psychiatrist in Washington, D.C. “If you cannot stop yourself from thinking about them in detail before bed, they’re likely going to keep you up at night.”

    While Dr. Doomes says that some pillow thoughts can be about an upcoming exciting or milestone event (think a big vacation or a reunion with a loved one), “the thoughts that are not so easy to sort out are the ones that generally lead to increased feelings of restlessness and anxiety, and the result can be insomnia.”

    The Repercussions of Not Resting

    The obvious: You’re not getting enough sleep thanks to sleep anxiety. But that comes with more than just a morning of grogginess. “Sleep anxiety or insomnia can have devastating effects on your wellness,” says Dr. Doomes, which leads to health concerns such as obesity, heart disease, increased irritability, risk of depression, trouble focusing, decreased motivation, lower energy, and suppressed immune function. “In the end, a lack of sleep can shorten your overall life expectancy.”

    Being anxious and unable to sleep can also lead to increased anxiety, and thus cause even less sleep—a cycle that’s not only frustrating, but overwhelming. It exacerbates an already decreased ability to deal with stress in general, as well as causes feelings of “losing control” over even the simplest parts of your life, like bedtime, Dr. Doomes adds.

    Strategies for Less Anxiety—and More Sleep

    Pinpoint what’s triggering your sleep anxiety.

    To counter these worrisome thoughts and feelings that inhibit your ability to snooze, Dr. Doomes says it’s useful to understand the source of ongoing or recent anxiety and to employ tools that may reduce this anxiety. “Processing and thinking [objectively] about the thoughts that are keeping you up during the night, [especially] with the assistance of a therapist or counselor, may be helpful as well,” Dr. Doomes says.

    Replace worry with positivity and gratitude.

    For example, training your mind to focus on positive thoughts and expressions of gratitude, which, she says, research has shown reduces sleeplessness. In fact, one study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research—that included about 400 men and women, 40 percent of whom experienced sleep disorders—found that those who practiced gratitude had fewer negative thoughts at bedtime, and more positive ones, which was associated with not only falling asleep faster, but better sleep quality and duration.

    Practice healthy, stress-busting habits during the day.

    According to Runko, more formal treatments for anxiety include medication and psychotherapy but someone can always start with basic stress management on their own. They can brush up on better self-care, such as regular exercise, good nutrition, and good work-life balance, she says.

    Try cognitive behavioral therapy.

    Runko also says that first-line treatment for insomnia—before sleeping pills—is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). “CBT-I includes some basic anxiety management techniques such as cognitive therapy and relaxation, and it also provides behavioral strategies specifically targeting how to retrain the body to sleep better, as well as a review of sleep hygiene,” she says. “If someone’s anxiety is mostly contained to just sleep, CBT-I alone might be sufficient. If the anxiety, however, is more pervasive and extends beyond sleep, separate treatment—CBT-I in conjunction with anxiety treatment via psychotherapy and/or medications—would probably be a better approach.”

    Talk to your doctor and/or a sleep specialist.

    At some point, if anxiety-induced insomnia is severe enough, you should seek the counsel of a medical professional who can advise you about treatments that can help you get more rest, Dr. Doomes says. Her recommendation: If you’re consistently having trouble with sleep more than one or two nights a week, you should discuss medication options with your physician.

    Do you suffer from anxiety and sleep disturbance? Try these 6 tips for improving sleep problems and managing your anxiety

    If you’re experiencing stress in your life, chances are that you might be struggling to fall or stay asleep at night. Your anxious worry about life and its problems may keep your brain from settling down, and the disruption of sleep is likely to keep you feeling more on edge the next day.

    Sleep disruption is a common feature of mental health problems, and anxiety is no exception. You don’t have to have a diagnosed anxiety disorder to feel the impact the stress and worry can have on your sleep patterns. Over 40 million Americans say they experience a long-term sleep disorder, with many others experiencing occasional sleep disruption. 70% of adults report that they experience daily stressors, so it makes sense that Americans on average are reporting they get less sleep than in previous decades. 1

    Which Comes First?

    So which comes first, the anxiety or the disruption of sleep? Researchers have found that the relationship between sleep problems and anxiety is bidirectional. This means that sleep problems can cause anxiety, and anxiety can disrupt your sleep. And just like anxiety, sleep problems can impact how you function emotionally, mentally, and physically.

    Because sleep and anxiety have such a strong relationship, it’s important to address both when you meet with your doctor. In addition to anxiety, sleep problems can put you at higher risk for missing work or school, injuring yourself, and developing health conditions such as heart attack, hypertension, stroke, and diabetes among others. 2 If you’re being treated for chronic insomnia, it’s essential to express any concerns you have about how anxiety affects your day-to-day life. Treating sleep problems without taking steps to manage anxiety and reduce stress is unlikely to have any real impact.

    Treatment Options

    Once you talk to your physician about your sleep problems, they may refer you to a sleep clinic to gather more information. Mental health professionals can also provide you with sleep education and help you design an action plan for sleeping through the night. To treat anxiety conjointly with sleep problems, professionals typically recommend medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that can help you challenge your anxious thinking. Doctors or therapists may also recommend mindfulness meditation as tool for calming your busy mind.

    Concerned you may be suffering from Anxiety and/or Sleep Deprivation?

    Take one of our 2-minute mental health quizzes to see if you or a loved one could benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.

    Tips for Improving Sleep and Managing Anxiety

    Move your body – Exercise has been found to both lower anxiety and improve sleep. But try not to exercise right before sleep, as it can keep you awake. Moving your body in the morning or afternoon can help you get your sleeping and waking cycle back on track and also treat insomnia or sleep apnea. 3

    Tailor your environment – Controlling light, sound, and temperature can help you get a good night’s rest. The darker, quieter, and cooler you can keep your bedroom, the greater chance you have of calming your mind and falling asleep. Taking a shower or bath shortly before bed can also help lower your body temperature and help you fall asleep more quickly.

    Limit caffeine and alcohol – Drinking too much caffeine or consuming it too late in the day can increase anxiety and inhibit sleep. Consuming alcohol close to bedtime can also increase your heart rate and keep you up. 4 Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but don’t drink too much before bedtime, as trips to the bathroom can keep you anxious and alert.

    Calm your mind – There are many relaxation techniques that can help you calm your mind throughout the day and improve sleep. Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and breathing exercise can help you achieve calm, but it can also be as simple as taking a walk when you have a short break at work. If you practice techniques for calming your mind during the day, then it will be easier to trigger your relaxation response at night.

    Limit screen time – Your phone, tablet, and TV emit light that keeps your brain awake, so try to limit them an hour before bedtime. Checking email or doing work right before bed can also trigger anxious thoughts and make it difficult to calm your brain. Consider setting an alarm to remind you to shut screens off at an adequate time before bed. Instead, consider listening to music or reading a book to quiet your mind.

    Ask for help – Sometimes managing anxious worry and improving sleep is more complicated than simply turning off your phone or getting adequate exercise. Never hesitate to ask for help if you need it from your doctor or a counselor. Sleep problems and anxiety are highly treatable, so consider whom you can recruit today to help you rest your mind and body.

    If you think you or someone you care about may be suffering from anxiety or any other mental health condition, PsyCom strongly recommends that you seek help from a mental health professional in order to receive a proper diagnosis and support. We have compiled a list of resources (some even offer free or low-cost support) where you may be able to find additional help at https://www.psycom.net/get-help-mental-health

    1. 1. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/stress-and-anxiety-interfere
    2. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/sleep-disorders
    3. https://sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/how-does-exercise-help-those-chronic-insomnia
    4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1767471/

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    Stress vs Anxiety: How to Tell the Difference

    Most commonly, having a bad night of sleep (or multiple bad nights in a row) is what triggers anxiety about being able to fall or stay asleep, says neuroscientist Andrew W. Varga, MD, a physician at the Mount Sinai Integrative Sleep Center. “But people can also get sleep anxiety from other things, such as chronic nightmares or hypnagogic hallucinations [aka the usually harmless hallucinations that can happen in the state between wakefulness and sleep],” he says.

    “[Sleep anxiety is] like an indoor track at a gym where there are lots of entry points. No matter how you get on, you start running in circles.” —neurologist W. Chris Winter, MD

    In any case, once sleep becomes the focus of your anxiety, the extent of both your loss of sleep and the anxiety surrounding it is likely to self-perpetuate, says neurologist W. Chris Winter, MD, sleep advisor for Sleep.com, and author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How To Fix It. “It’s like an indoor track at a gym where there are lots of entry points,” he says. “No matter how you get on, you start running in circles.”

    What to avoid doing if you experience sleep anxiety

    Because of all the (well-deserved) hype surrounding getting enough sleep—and the intimidating list of issues that can happen when you don’t—sleep anxiety can lead folks to try anything that might help, including over-the-counter sleep aids like melatonin or an antihistamine like Benadryl, says Dr. Varga. “These won’t do anything for the anxiety, though, and will likely have, at best, a mild effect on sleep initiation and maintenance,” he says. “The same is true for alcohol, which people often try to use for a similar purpose.”

    Also common among folks with sleep anxiety is the tendency to start shaking up your sleep schedule or timing—which is not recommended either. “Any behavior that aids with sleep procrastination—like staying up later to do work or watch another episode of a TV show—is not helpful for sleep anxiety, even if it’s in the name of using time efficiently,” says Dr. Varga.

    On the flip side, getting into bed earlier than usual to try to get some extra sleep can be just as unhelpful, adds Dr. Winter. The more you lie in bed without sleeping, the more the brain becomes conditioned to view the bed as a place where anxiety and insomnia reign, rather than the location of restful sleep. In fact, that’s the same reason why sleep doctors often advise getting out of bed if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, rather than tossing and turning endlessly.

    How to minimize anxious thoughts at night about falling or staying asleep

    Because sleep shouldn’t be an inherently stressful or anxiety-provoking situation, as soon as it becomes one, it’s worth considering where that stress may be originating. To go back to the track metaphor, identify why you started running in the first place. If there’s an outside source you can pinpoint—say, work or relationship stress—you may need to address that root cause before you can quite literally rest easy.

    But, as noted above, sleep anxiety can also emerge for no other reason than a night or two of bad sleep and tends to quickly take on a life of its own. At that point, your reason for entering the “track” becomes somewhat irrelevant, says Dr. Winter. From there, it’s more helpful to employ in-the-moment strategies when the anxiety strikes. “That typically starts with reframing time spent in bed awake as the benign act that it is, and not a reason to feel fear or dread,” says Dr. Winter. In a similar vein, the simple reminder that you’re more likely than not to drift off at some point can be helpful, too: “After all, it is biologically impossible not to sleep,” he says.

    For persistent sleep anxiety, seeing a sleep specialist for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is likely the way to go, says Dr. Varga. “There’s an important ‘cognitive’ aspect to this that focuses on maladaptive thoughts regarding sleep,” he says. “This can help you recognize what the specific negative thoughts are and whether they’re realistic or exaggerated, and then learn how to avoid those thoughts.” On your own, you can adapt CBT for occasional sleep anxiety by practicing thought-stopping, or a technique where you acknowledge a negative thought as it arises and then actively replace it with a positive one of your own choosing.

    It also doesn’t hurt to audit your sleep hygiene and ensure that you’re at least setting yourself up, environmentally, for the best possible sleep (potential anxiety aside). That means limiting your exposure to blue light at night, keeping up a routine for sleep and wake times, and embracing the kinds of bedtime activities known to support relaxation, from calming breathing exercises to sleep-promoting meditation.

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    If you can’t get so sleep in about 15 to 30 minutes do not panic. Instead of trying to sleep it is better to do something that helps you to calm down your mind. Consider reading a book or some magazine, but do not start to chat or write emails. Sometimes it is better to get up and walk into another room, drink a small glass of water, and maybe sit down on a chair and listen to relaxing music until you feel sleepy again. You may even look at television, but do not watch any exiting and activating programs. Note that television should not be in the bedroom unless you are a good sleeper and you do not suffer from insomnia. Do not try to sleep. This should help to associate you own bed and your own pillow with sleeping – and not with being awake in your own bed. If you stay in bed for extended periods of time, your system begins to associate staying awake and lying in bed together. Many people who suffer from sleeping problems begin to connect their anxieties and pains with lying in bed. The longer you stay awake in your bed, the stronger this habit becomes. It is known as harmful conditioning.

    It can be difficult to get up from the comfortable warmth of your bed. You may feel very tired – but at the same time overactive, being unable to fall asleep. But remember. Do not stay in bed and let your mind to be active.

    If you suffer from insomnia, make rising up at night easier and as comfortable as possible. Prepare yourself for a possible need to get up already the previous evening:

    • Leave a dim light in the next room and leave a blanket on an armchair or the sofa. You can also take along your own pillow and duvet.
    • Prepare something warm to drink into a thermos, maybe some water, milk, or caffeine free (e.g. herbal) tea.
    • You can listen to some music, maybe read or do something relaxing, but nothing that will awaken you more.
    • When you feel sleepy, go back to bed. If you still have trouble falling asleep, repeat the previous.
    • Keep following the instructions until you fall asleep.
    • Follow this protocol also if you wake up in the middle of the night and find it difficult to fall asleep again.
    • Short naps are healthy, but if you suffer from insomnia you should avoid having a long nap during the day and dozing off on the sofa or the armchair in the evenings.

    A dedicated moment of worries works for both anxieties and sleeplessness

    It is better to accept that you may have a tendency to worry about various things. It is better not to fight against such worries. Dedicating a moment for these worries is especially beneficial when you tend to think over the daily events, recent happening and/or the future as you go to bed. The goal is to end the daily events and happenings or future plans already in the evening. This should help you catch up your sleep. It is easier to sleep when you interrupt those chains of thoughts.

    Reserve about 15 to 30 minutes to sit down, about two hours before going to bed. Take a sheet of paper and a pencil and write down things that worry you, how you feel, emotions and solutions that you think about – or even just daily events and things you have been doing. Make a note of any thoughts you have, even if no solutions have presented themselves. When you find a solution or suggestion even to a problem, work your way to solve it as far as possible. Do not worry overly much if it is something you cannot help yourself. You may need help from others, or just let time take care of it.

    Doing this should help you feel in control over matters. You can decide yourself what you do with the notes. You can destroy the notes if you fear someone else will read them. Maybe burn the note to symbolise that you will not let the worries control you. You might want to read them out loud to give them some distance.

    Don’t worry, if you get new ideas or plans into your mind as you are going to bed. Keep a note pad and pencil by your bed. Write down the ideas or plans and return to them the following day. When you process various thoughts already during the daytime, it is easier to let go of them when you are settling down for the night.

    If you wake up during the night and begin to think too much about something that has been worrying you, tell yourself, that now it is time to sleep and not ponder things. Tell yourself that you will get back to the matter the next day.

    Circling thoughts

    Think of stopping recurring/circling thoughts like you were applying a roadblock. If you have recurring thoughts in your mind, you may find a stop-word useful. It works most effectively when you have recurring, meaningless, and random thoughts going through your mind. These may crop up during the evening as you are settling down for the night or when you wake up in the middle of the night. To stop these thoughts bounding about in your head, decide on a stop-word. It should be something neutral and mostly meaningless, e.g. ‘and’, ‘that’, ‘but’, or something like those.

    When you wake up in the middle of the night, it is best to use the word right away. This helps to block the thoughts before you wake up fully and the alertness makes falling asleep difficult again. To stop random thoughts, there are three simple steps:

    • Repeat the stop word every two seconds or so keeping your eyes closed.
    • Do not say the word out loud. Repeat it soundlessly in your mind.
    • Keep repeating the stop word for about five to minutes, as necessary.

    Using the stop word should help you block the thoughts from penetrating into your mind. A person cannot think and say the word simultaneously. That is why the word must be something neutral and meaningless as it must not affect your feelings in any way.

    Do not try too hard to get to sleep
    Some people can’t fall asleep simply because they are trying it just too hard. Attempting to get to sleep too hard can cause grumpiness and frustrations; and they keep you from falling asleep. It is understandable that you want to sleep, and therefore you try to sleep even more. But – the harder you try, the more likely it is that you can’t fall asleep, or your sleep will not be sufficiently deep. Trying too hard can help your body to enter a hyperalert state. You can try concentrate to a specific relaxation method or reading, you can listen to music or try the paradoxical intention. You have slept well sometimes. We all have the talent by nature. It is now just time to learn it again.

    Paradoxical intention

    • Take a comfortable position, switch off your lights. Keep your eyes open
    • Stop trying to fall asleep
    • Forget all your worries but remain awake

    When your eyelids start feeling heavy and you want to close them, just think gently: “I’m staying awake for a few more minutes until I fall asleep naturally, when I’m ready.” If you can leave out the thoughts of falling asleep and sleeping, you will find that the sleep comes by naturally.

    This technique will help you end forcing yourself to sleep. It also reliefs the anxiety about not falling asleep – again. When you are tired and follow this instruction, you will fall asleep naturally. It is good to wake up in morning that you fell asleep even after giving up. This should help you develop your self-confidence and aid in retrieving the natural sleep.

    Calming the Brain the Night before a Big Event

    Who among us hasn’t had the dreaded experience of trying to fall asleep the night before a big exam, presentation, competition or other nerve-wracking event?

    How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

    The harder we try to relax and fall asleep, the louder the seconds tick by. And the more we worry that we’re losing precious sleep time, the more elusive the all-important “good night’s sleep” becomes.

    Well, maybe a “good night’s sleep” isn’t as important as we think. And maybe we are just setting ourselves up for failure by believing that it is.

    Flipping the Dialogue

    “The two things you can’t do by trying really hard are sleep and sex,” says Scott Ries, MSW, LISW, Associate Professor and Administrative Director of the Mood Disorders Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute, one of four institutes of the UC College of Medicine and UC Health. “If I go to bed saying I have to do something, and I’m worried that I am not going to do it, then I am going to activate the threat center in the brain, and my brain is not going to want me to sleep.

    “So the better approach is to say, ‘Yes, it would be great if I could get a good night’s sleep; but if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world.’ ”

    The good news, Mr. Ries says, is that most of us can function after not sleeping well for a night or even two. All parents have experienced times when they were up all night with a sick child but then were able to get through the next day. Perhaps most famously, Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in a single-engine airplane after not sleeping the night before.

    So even if a really good night sleep is optimal, you are more likely to get one if, paradoxically, you do not care whether you get one.

    Don’t try to force it

    “You can’t force yourself to sleep,” Mr. Ries says. “It’s something that relies on your being able to let go. Think of all the times when you fall asleep at night when you’re reading a book or watching television or attending a dinner party. You can barely keep your eyes open, because you are not trying to sleep. And then, the night before something big, you go to bed and think, ‘I have to get a good night’s sleep!’ And that worry begins to ruminate in your mind. Plus you are worrying about the stressful event that you will be facing tomorrow. So you already have one worry, and now you’re adding another one. Your brain is going to alert itself to a problem out there, and it is going to try to keep you awake.”

    Mr. Ries stresses that his comments apply to people who normally don’t have trouble falling asleep and do not suffer from serious sleep disorders, which include obstructive sleep apnea and sleep disruptions caused by medication side effects, medical conditions (such as asthma, thyroid disease or heart failure), neurological conditions (such as epilepsy, stroke or Parkinson’s disease), and psychiatric disorders (such as anxiety and depression).

    Good Sleep Hygiene

    At the same time, he says, all of us can benefit from good “sleep hygiene,” the act of creating an environment that maximizes our chances for a restful sleep. “You want to be in an environment that is relatively cool, quiet and dark – meaning that you don’t have the TV on or a glowing alarm clock looking at you,” Mr. Ries says.

    Jennifer Rose Molano, a neurologist and sleep specialist with UCGNI’s Memory Disorders Center, explains that sleep is regulated by two main processes: 1) our circadian rhythm, or internal clock; and 2) the buildup of the sleep drive throughout the day. “It’s a combination of those two things that help us stay awake during the day and fall asleep at night,” she says.

    “Our sleep drive is highly influenced by what we do during the day,” Dr. Molano continues. “The two things that can influence our sleep drive at night are caffeine or taking prolonged naps in the afternoon. If people drink a lot of caffeine in the afternoon or if they take a one- or two-hour nap during the day, their body is a little bit confused when they try to go to sleep at 10 or 11 at night. Their body is getting a mixed signal; it doesn’t understand why it’s supposed to go to sleep.”

    Cal Adler, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the UC Mood Disorders Center, says that ideally people should establish good sleep hygiene well in advance of exams, presentations and other stressful events. “Students may benefit from following a regular sleep schedule,” he says. “Falling asleep the night before an exam or other stressful event is easier if a pattern of going to sleep at a regular time has already been established.”

    Dr. Adler also offers these recommendations for better sleep:

    • Avoid caffeine after noon the day before the event/exam.
    • Light exercise can be helpful, but don’t overdo it.
    • Don’t overeat the evening before.
    • Listening to relaxing music can be helpful; hard rock might not be a good choice.
    • A shower or bath is sometimes helpful.
    • If you can’t sleep, don’t try to fill the time with further studying. It can be helpful to go to bed even if you don’t think you are going to be able to fall asleep.

    People facing a stressful event should not give in to the temptation to take medication unless it has been prescribed by a physician, Mr. Ries says. He also does not recommend drinking alcohol, which “may help you fall asleep but will not necessarily help you stay asleep.” Dr. Adler adds that while some people find over-the-counter medications helpful, the night before a big event is not the time to try them out.

    When Mr. Ries has trouble sleeping, he gets out of bed and walks – in the dark – to another quiet place in the house. “I’ll sit quietly in the dark, and usually one of the house pets will come over to figure out what I’m doing. So I scratch the cat. I kind of pay attention to my breathing. I’ll breathe in slowly and let my mind go wherever it wants to go. I find that most of my thoughts don’t last very long; they come and go. And I find that relaxing, because it taps out all the other things that I otherwise would be worried about.”

    How do surgeons cope the night before a major operation whose success may prove life-changing for the patient? Ravi Samy, MD, Director of the Adult Cochlear Implant Program, says a prayer. His colleague Lee Zimmer, MD, PhD, Medical Director of UCNI’s Neurosensory Disorders Center, reports that because he works 100-hour weeks, he does not have trouble falling asleep.

    “I just can’t turn my brain off at night.” This is one common complaint among those who struggle with insomnia and others who have difficulty falling asleep. Worrying about daily stressors, like work and finances, counting the minutes that go by, and imagining how tired you will be in the morning…it can be an irritating problem.

    If your thoughts are keeping you up at night, the trick is to change the unhealthy pattern. We have provided some information on the cause of this problem and strategies to help you find relief from a racing mind at night.

    Racing Mind and Anxiety

    Rapid thoughts are often a symptom associated with anxiety. They can make people feel out of control or as if they are going crazy.

    When it comes to sleep, this effect of anxiety is a cyclical problem. Because your brain struggles to focus when it is tired, it often leads to racing thoughts. Anxiety and racing thoughts then keep you awake, a lack of sleep is bothersome, and sleep deprivation continues to contribute to anxiety. So, how can we break this cycle of anxiety and sleeplessness?

    How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

    This infographic provides some advice for calming your brain and getting to sleep faster.

    How to Get to Sleep when Your Mind Is Racing

    If you are frustrated and tired, try these cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. You may discover a more relaxing and effective way to get the sleep you need.

    Don’t Lie Awake in Bed

    This can be a very frustrating problem that seems to become worse the more you think about it. It’s imperative that you break this vicious cycle of poor sleep and worry about not sleeping. For this reason, we recommend avoiding lying awake in bed. If you haven’t nodded off within 20 minutes of putting your head on the pillow, get up. Go back to your relaxing activity – journaling, reading, meditation, listening to music…Then, when you begin to feel sleepy, try to go back to bed.

    This CBTi technique is called stimulus control. It may sound counter-productive, but many people find that engaging in a relaxing activity outside of bed helps occupy the brain in a positive way. This works to break the negative association that insomniacs and restless sleepers often develop in relation to bedtime.

    Calm Your Mind

    Relaxation training is what many commonly associate with calming exercises. Though these methods may feel silly at first, guided imagery, medication, and mindfulness are all beneficial for a racing mind. More specifically, you can focus on slowing your breath and using progressive muscle relaxation to take your mind off stressors.

    Free Your Thoughts

    It’s difficult to fall asleep when you are making lists of things to do and worrying about family, work, money, and other challenges. Rather than trying to simply ignore these thoughts, try to eliminate them from your thought patterns before bed. In the evening, you should get in the habit of identifying stressors by journaling and writing down lists for yourself. Once the ideas are on paper, you may find that you’ve freed up your mind.

    Keep It Positive

    To break the cycle of racing thoughts and worrying about lack of sleep, highlight the positive aspects of your life. Keeping a gratitude journal can help disrupt the negative mindset. Making this type of journaling a habit, gives you the opportunity to emphasize the good relationships and features that you are thankful for in your life.

    Focus on Your Senses

    To take the focus away from stressful thoughts, create a wind-down routine around sensorial experience. Lower the lights and consider a relaxing way to stimulate each of the five senses to find a method that works well for you. Here are some ideas.

    • Sight – guided imagery, coloring mandalas, pictures of a peaceful place
    • Smell – scented candle, aromatherapy
    • Touch – warm bath, weighted blanket, self-massage, light yoga
    • Taste – sleep-friendly snack, chamomile tea
    • Hear – sound machine, white noise, instrumental music

    Make the Bedroom Your Haven for Sleep

    It’s important to reserve the bedroom for sleep and make it a relaxing space. This means keeping it neat and furnishing it with colors and textures that you find soothing, rather than stimulating. Keep work materials, computers, and screens out of the bedroom.

    Good sleep hygiene includes turning the temperature down in the bedroom and using shades or curtains to make it dark and help induce sleep. To avoid counting minutes and worrying about not having enough time to get the rest you need, keep alarms and clocks away from the bed.

    Always Feeling Tired? Find the Solution

    Contact Sleep Health Solutions of Ohio for a full sleep evaluation and begin the journey to a more rested life.

    How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

    If you struggle with falling asleep, you’ve likely wondered how to stop overthinking at night.

    You lay down in bed after a stressful day. The room is cool and dark. You’re snuggled up under the covers, and you’re waiting to fall asleep and BOOM! Your mind is off to the races.

    As an anxiety therapist, I see that my clients have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

    They often report that they can’t get their minds to shut down after they get into bed. They run through their schedules, plan their to-do list, and think about all of the problems that are waiting for them tomorrow morning.

    In this post, I’ll cover five strategies to help you stop overthinking at night and get the rest you’ve been looking for.

    Why Traditional Advice Doesn’t Work

    If your thoughts are keeping you up at night, you might have tried distracting yourself with TV or listening to a podcast, keeping a journal beside your bed to write down worries, or forcing yourself to use a meditation app.

    Sometimes those strategies work (or work for a time), but they usually fail. By using these in-bed strategies to quiet your mind, you are unknowingly pairing your comfy, restful bed with worry and wakefulness. Basically, you are training your body and mind to stay awake and worry in bed.

    It doesn’t matter how dark or cool your room is, or how much caffeine you’ve had that day. If you’re conditioned to stay awake in bed, you won’t be able to fall asleep.

    For more restful sleep, I recommend trying these more effective strategies instead.

    How to Stop Overthinking at Night

    Practice Worrying at Another Time and in Another Location.

    Start by setting a timer for 10 minutes and get out all of your thoughts onto paper.

    You can write a to-do list, write our problems or worries, make a list of birthday presents to buy, journal about your dream vacation, write about your sadness or anxiety, or celebrate a win.

    Really, the goal is to write down all of the things that pop into your mind when your head hits the pillow.

    The key is to do this activity away from your normal bedtime routine and in a totally neutral location. By doing this, you are retraining your mind to worry at a different time. You’re learning how to stop having negative thoughts at night.

    Organize Your Worries.

    Once you have all of your thoughts out on paper, try to place them in categories, and take action. Put to-do items on a calendar, make a structured grocery list, or find a place to house your “someday” ideas. Organizing your thoughts will help you take the next step.

    Take a Step Toward Solving a Problem.

    Look for problems, challenges, or worries that keep coming up.

    Take one or two of the challenges on your list and determine one step that you could take toward solving that problem. It’s important to note that you aren’t fully solving the problem or developing the ultimate solution. You are simply looking to take one step forward.

    Let’s say that you are concerned about arranging childcare for the upcoming school year. That’s a big problem to solve, and it would be impossible to solve in one single step. An example of a single step toward solving that problem could be calling childcare agencies in the area to find out more about their school year plans, posting in a local Facebook group to learn more about what other people are doing, or calling a former nanny to see if they are going to be in town for the school year.

    I understand that these are really small steps.

    That is the point.

    You are looking to move in the direction of a solution.

    Often when we are worried about something, we spend a lot of time thinking about the problem, but we take very little action toward a solution.

    The goal of this activity is to start taking action.

    Pick a Grounding Statement.

    Inevitably when you get into bed at night after doing all of these tasks, your mind is going to spring into action as it usually does.

    You haven’t failed. You’ve done nothing wrong. Your mind is in the habit of worrying when you get into bed. You are building a new habit of “worrying” at a different place and time.

    As your mind adjusts to this new routine, it’s important to have a plan to deal with any thoughts that come up. A grounding statement can be really helpful. It’s a single sentence that you can repeat anytime your mind starts to worry or give reasons why this solution won’t work.

    I’ll give a few examples, but it’s important that the statement is personal to you.

    “I don’t need to have all of the answers, problems are solved one step at a time”

    “I’m not going to forget anything. I set aside time to write down all of my concerns”

    “It’s OK to rest, I will be able to tackle everything I need to tomorrow”

    The breathing problem uncovered during my sleep assessment is only a piece of the puzzle. After conducting a probing interview concerning my sleep problems and habits, Dr. Clerk concluded that I also suffer from a rather respectable case of good old-fashioned chronic insomnia — the inability to fall or stay asleep — a distinction I share with 35 million others. (We’re a regular bleary-eyed nation).

    Anyway, the first thing to know about insomnia is that it’s really just a symptom, with a myriad possible causes: physical disorders, psychological stresses, too much alcohol or caffeine, the list goes on and on.

    The Cycle of Sleeplessness

    Usually, several of these factors are acting in concert. In some especially contrary cases, the cause of insomnia seems to be insomnia itself. Guess what? Dr. Clerk says that’s the way it works for me.

    He began to suspect as much when I told him how my sleeplessness makes me feel.

    “The most frustrating thing is, I can’t sleep when I need to,” I said. “Say I’m working overtime on a story, and the deadline’s bearing down, and I need to get a good night’s rest. That’s exactly when I won’t sleep at all. Then I’m wasted the following day and I don’t get anything done, so the next night, there’s more pressure and I really need to sleep, but even though I’m exhausted, I just lay there wide awake, waiting to nod off. I just don’t have faith that sleep will ever come.”

    Dr. Clerk nodded, as if he had what he was after. “You worry that you are not able to sleep,” he said, “and as a result you are not able to sleep.”

    I had to admit, it sounded so me.

    “The harder you try to sleep, the more worried you become, and the harder it is to fall asleep,” he continued. “This is psychophysiological insomnia, it means you have conditioned yourself to have difficulty falling asleep.”

    Wait a minute! I’ve taught myself how not to slumber?

    “Exactly,” said Clerk, “you have lost faith in your ability to sleep.”

    I shrugged, muttered that faith truly is a gift and asked him how I got this way. He told me it’s a matter of simple conditioning. The more I fail at sleeping, the more I associate all the trappings of sleep with big-time slumbo- failure. For most folks, he said, the bedtime ritual — brushing the teeth, turning out the lights, pulling up the covers — is an effective cue triggering relaxation and drowsiness. For me, it’s a warning buzzer signaling frustration ahead: a neurotic wake-up call that sends me to bed fully jazzed and ready for nothing.

    Sleep & Anxiety

    Anxiety is probably a common cause of difficulties settling to sleep at both the start of the night and overnight. Find out about strategies you can use to help your child.

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    Key points to remember about sleep and anxiety

    This page is about sleep in primary school children. It’s part of a whole section on sleeping sound.

    • anxiety is probably a common cause of difficulties settling to sleep at both the start of the night and overnight
    • you can help by trying to understand your child’s fears
    • acknowledge that being scared or worried is normal and that all people feel scared or worried sometimes
    • avoid scary TV shows, including the news or videos, or stories that may add to your child’s fears
    • teach your child skills to get over their fears
    • teaching your child to relax can help them to fall asleep at bedtime

    How can anxiety affect my child’s sleep?

    Anxiety is probably a common cause of difficulties settling to sleep at both the start of the night and overnight. Many children cannot say exactly what is worrying them but may be anxious about day-to-day life in general.

    Should I try to understand my child’s fears?

    Try to understand your child’s fears. Do not ignore or make fun of them because fears that seem silly to you may be very real to a child.

    When is the best time to discuss my child’s fears?

    Acknowledge that being scared or worried is normal and that all people feel scared or worried sometimes. Let your child know that they can always talk to you about things they feel worried about and together you can work out a solution. Try discussing fear during the day (not just before bedtime). Talk about how they can be less scared at night and reassure them that their bedroom is a safe place. Get them to practice getting rid of their fears by imagining their favourite colour as a big cloud that pushes ‘fear’ away or making fear into a big balloon that they can prick with a pin to make disappear.

    Should I let me child get out of bed if they are scared?

    Let your child know that they can always talk to you about things they feel worried about and together you can work out a solution.

    Encourage your child to stay in bed. They should stay in bed and find out they are safe, which will help them get over their fears. Letting your child leave the room sends the message that their bedroom isn’t really safe. If your child is too scared to stay in their room alone, it is OK to sometimes stay by their bed until they fall asleep. Do not do this too often because they may come to depend on you being there. If your child is anxious about you leaving, check on them. Begin by briefly checking and comforting them, and then increase the time in between checks until they fall asleep. Leave the bedroom door open and think about using a nightlight to decrease your child’s fears.

    If your child wakes up during the night and can’t go back to sleep because they are frightened, go and reassure them that they are safe. If they leave their room and come into yours, take them back and put them back into bed. Tell them again that their room is safe.

    How can I comfort my child when they are scared?

    It is important to comfort children who are scared. When your child holds onto you as they are being tucked in, or calls out in fear, you should go back to their bed and find out what is wrong. Be sure to tell them that they are safe.

    You could say something like this:

    “You are safe; we are here to make sure you stay safe.”

    How can I teach my child to get over their fears?

    Teach your child skills to get over their fears. For example:

    • discuss ways to respond to nighttime fears, such as by ‘being brave’ and thinking positive thoughts (for example, ‘monsters are just pretend’)
    • tell your child how you deal with something that frightens you

    You can also try reading stories about children who are afraid and conquer their fears.

    For example, for younger kids:

    • ‘David and the worry beast: Helping children cope with anxiety’ by Anne Marie Guanci (illustrated by Caroline Attia)
    • ‘The huge bag of worries’ by Virginia Ironside (illustrated by Frank Rodgers)
    • ‘Mind your mind’ by Leigh Hay and Julie Johansen
    • ‘What to do when you’re scared and worried’ by James J. Crist

    Should I introduce a security object to help my child’s fears?

    Help your child become attached to a security object like a toy or blanket. They can keep this in bed with them to help them feel more relaxed during the night.

    Can scary television shows make my child anxious?

    Avoid scary TV shows, including the news or videos, or stories that may add to your child’s fears. Avoid talking about their worries just before bedtime.

    How can I help my anxious child to relax?

    Teaching your child to relax can help them to fall asleep at bedtime. Below are some ideas of how to do this. Giving them something else to think about while lying in bed can help to distract them from their fearful thoughts. Remember, it is impossible to be relaxed and scared at the same time!

    Relaxation ideas for your child include the following.

    Muscle exercises

    Ask your child to lie down with their eyes closed and then get them to tighten and relax all the muscles of their body, one after the other. Some children find it helps to do these muscle exercises whilst thinking about their favourite relaxing place, such as the beach, a park or granny’s backyard.

    Imagining clouds

    Ask your child to close their eyes and think about a cloud pushing away the fear.

    Drawing a picture

    Ask them to draw a picture of their fear and then put it away in a ‘scary thoughts’ box for the night.

    Should I reward my child for staying in bed and being brave?

    A reward chart for trying to be brave can be helpful. At first, this may be for not getting out of bed and just calling out if they really feel they need you. Then later, as your child feels safer, you can reward them for staying in bed all night and not calling out.

    Reward and praise your child as soon as they wake up in the morning ‘for knowing that their bedroom is a safe place to be’ and remind them they can always talk to you when they feel worried. The reward should be something small and could involve collecting a certain number of stickers leading to a reward your child will enjoy (such as a lucky dip prize, trip to the park). This will vary depending on the age of your child. The reward should be easy to achieve for your child to begin with to increase the chance of your child being able to succeed.

    How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleepStarship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand thank the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia, for making this content available to parents and families.

    Author

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Psychology, The University of Melbourne

    Disclosure statement

    Joanna Waloszek does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

    Partners

    University of Melbourne provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation AU.

    Getting a good night of sleep can seem like the most effortless and natural thing in the world, but when we can’t fall asleep it can quickly feel elusive and frustrating. There are a few techniques we can use to help us fall asleep, and some things we should always practise before we go to bed to give ourselves the best chance of being able to drop off easily.

    Before you hit the sheets

    Many major causes of not being able to drop off to sleep actually happen before bedtime. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and food can all stimulate our brains and keep us awake at night, so be sure to limit these activities to earlier in the day.

    While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it’s also associated with more awakenings during the night which can leave you feeling more tired the next day.

    Bright lights and screens just before bed can also keep us awake. And not just because the scary movie or heartbreaking drama arouse our emotions. What many don’t realise is the light these devices emit (particularly blue wavelengths) suppress melatonin, the hormone that encourages sleep, making it harder to fall asleep.

    Never take these screens to bed. Bed should be for two activities: sleep and intimacy. This encourages your brain to think of your bed as a place of rest. You should also create a wind down routine and a calm environment. This might involve dimming the lights and taking a bath.

    Your circadian rhythms, or “body clock”, sync many of your bodily functions, including hormone release. Keep a routine to keep your rhythms regular. Big shifts in your sleep timing are like being in a constant state of jetlag. If you have problems falling asleep, go to bed when you’re tired and make sure to get up at about the same time every day. Try to keep this routine on the weekend and even after a night of poor sleep.

    Another good idea is to turn your clock away. Watching the minutes pass can contribute to worries.

    How to fall asleep when you are worried about not falling asleep

    What if I can’t fall asleep?

    Sometimes thoughts or worries can keep us awake at night, contributing to a feeling of being “wired”, even though we’re tired. To make matters worse, poor sleep is linked with poor mood, which means you may feel more anxious and easily frustrated the next day.

    Increases in the stress hormone cortisol make it harder to fall asleep. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help release tension and decrease stress that has built up during the day.

    Mindfulness meditation techniques have been found to be effective in helping people drop off to sleep. These involve relaxation, meditation and awareness exercises that help focus your attention to be “in the moment”, acknowledge different sensations, and “let go”.

    By learning how to manage your physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions in a non-critical way, you can move from a stressed to a calm state during the day and at night. Join a class or download a mindfulness app with guided meditation you can listen to at bedtime.

    If you can’t fall asleep after about 30 minutes, don’t stay in bed. Lying in bed counting sheep doesn’t help. Get up, go to another room and do something quiet and restful in dim light like reading a book (preferably one that is not too thrilling!). Avoid your computer, mobile or TV, because the light they emit can stimulate your mind and keep you awake. When you start feeling tired, go back to bed. If you still can’t fall asleep, get up again. Don’t worry if you have to repeat this several times. Remember to get up at your regular wake time.

    What if I find it hard to get up in the morning?

    Our “body clock” is wired to sunlight. If you have trouble getting up in morning, try opening your blinds to let the sunlight in. The dawn light will help you wake up naturally.

    Things to remember

    The amount of sleep we need changes with age. Newborns need around 16 hours of sleep per day, adults about seven to eight hours, and older people generally sleep less. There are individual differences too – the main thing is that you feel refreshed the next day.

    Our bodies cycle through different sleep stages every 90 minutes ending with a short period of wakefulness. Remember, short awakenings during the night are normal.

    If you have a night of poor sleep, try not to put too much emphasis on it during the day. Know that breaking bad habits and creating good ones takes time. Don’t give up, stick to your healthy sleep routine.

    If you continue to have problems or suspect you have an underlying sleep disorder, see your doctor or a sleep specialist. Sleep medications can help in some cases in the short term and should always be monitored by a medical practitioner.

    Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), which addresses thoughts and behaviours around sleep, has been proven to be effective in the long term. To access this treatment, ask your doctor to refer you to a sleep psychologist. There are also effective CBT-I programs online such as SHUTi that can be accessed from home.