Laying awake at 4 am, restless and struggling to fall back asleep, thinking about all the responsibilities and tasks waiting for you during the coming day. Anxiety seeps in and the rising sense of panic wills you to stay awake no matter how hard you try to fall back asleep for the last few precious hours. Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
As Michelle Drerup, director of behavioural sleep medicine in Cleveland Clinic, explains, what you’re experiencing is a form of insomnia. Whilst a number of underlying health complications including chronic pain and sleep apnea can cause insomnia, it can also be induced by stress and anxiety.
If you’re like us and find yourself stuck awake at night from time to time, try these simple tips that can help you get back to sleep.
Stop watching the clock and learn to switch off
It’s tempting to check how long we have left to sleep, but this often leads counting down the minutes which, in turn, causes our stress levels to elevate.
The first course of action is to relax your body. This may sound obvious but focus your mind on lightly tensing each muscle group in your body for 5 seconds, working your way up from your toes to your forehead. You should feel a little more centred and ready to drift off.
If you still have trouble falling asleep after around 15 to 20 minutes then its time to get get out of bed. Laying in bed for longer than this will lead to disappointment and increase stressed, a feeling we definitely don’t want to associate our beds with.
“Don’t spend time in bed trying to fall asleep,” Dr. Drerup states. “You’ll probably worry about not falling asleep and then learn to associate the bedroom with not sleeping well.”
Once up, leave your bedroom and engage in an unstimulating activity in very dim light. This could be reading something uninteresting or listening to relaxing music. As you start to feel drowsy, it’s time to make your way back to bed.
To limit bouts of stress-induced insomnia, start developing a bed-time routine to promote positive sleeping habits.
Create a consistent sleeping and waking schedule
As hard as it may be, even on the weekends and days off work, a structured sleep and wake cycle is the key to high-quality sleep. “What works best is going to around bed at the same time and waking up at same time every day,” Dr. Drerup says.
You should aim to avoid consuming drinks or food before bedtime to avoid interruptions to the body’s natural rhythm. Though it may be hard for some of us to function without coffee, you should not drink caffeinated beverages for at least five to six hours before you intend on getting in bed, Dr. Drerup explains, “caffeine can play a major role in not getting a good night’s sleep”.
Make your sleeping environment comfortable and inviting
Your bedroom is your sanctuary after a long day, so make it as inviting as possible. The room should be set at a temperature that’s not too warm or too cold, but just right.
Use a mattress and pillow with a firmness level that you find comfortable and you will find the nighttime disruptions start to allay. Upgrade your bedding to a DORMU Cooler or Snuggler weighted blanket to alleviate feelings of anxiety - weighted blankets have been found to reduce bouts of insomnia.
One hour before bedtime, end physical tasks, and stop doing work or other mentally challenging tasks. Switch to a calmer recreational activity such as reading a book.
Use your bed only for sleep or intimacy
It can be tempting to have a TV in your bedroom for movie nights, but it can cause confusion to our brains’ associations with places of rest. Avoid watching television or using electronic devices while lying in bed. The blue-light emitted from your phone can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythms. Dr. Drerup continues, “we come to associate the bedroom with not sleeping.”