by Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, President of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.
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 soothe 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.