If you're dealing with racing thoughts and endless to-do lists that make it hard to fall asleep, you're not alone. Anxiety can take a serious toll on the quality of your sleep, making it tough for you to get the rest you need to get through the day comfortably.
Good sleep helps you keep your energy levels up, keep your weight within a healthy range, and give your immune system the support it needs to help you stay well. Many people find themselves wondering how to fall back asleep after waking up with anxiety. This can create a cycle that's hard to break: when you're anxious about not getting enough sleep, it can become even harder to get the rest that you need.
The good news: you're not alone, and we have tried-and-tested tips that can help you stop wondering how to fall asleep fast with anxiety and start getting the shut-eye that helps you thrive.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety--a feeling of intense worry or fear--is normal in some life situations. Occasional anxiety is a standard (albeit uncomfortable) part of life. Ongoing anxiety, however, may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety that goes beyond the feeling many people get right before a first date or a job interview can interfere with day to day life. Often, the feelings of worry and fear associated with anxiety are not in proportion to the activity or fear creating the anxiety. Some people with anxiety disorders may experience the physical symptoms of anxiety without a clear event causing the issue.
Anxiety can show up differently from person to person, and some find that their symptoms come and go depending on both internal and external factors.
Some common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Restlessness and fatigue
- Digestive issues
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Trouble concentrating
- Fear that can't be attributed to a reasonable cause
If anxiety is affecting you in a way that's detrimental to your life, it's a good idea to talk with a doctor or mental health therapist about steps that you can take to get your worry under control.
Anxiety and sleep
Whether you're dealing with standard anxiety before a nerve-wracking event or you're living with an anxiety disorder, the amount of sleep you get can help--or hurt--your ability to function.
Anxiety can make it harder to fall and stay asleep. Not getting enough sleep can contribute to anxiety symptoms. This vicious cycle can make it tough to get the rest you need and feel good when you're struggling with anxiety.
Thankfully, there are several steps that you can take to fall asleep when you're living with anxiety.
1. Adjust your daytime habits
Our daytime habits can heavily influence our sleep, and it's important to take steps to make sure your waking hours aren't stopping you from getting the rest you need at night. Making a few small changes to your daily routine can make it easier to fall asleep, even when you're experiencing anxiety symptoms.
2. Make dietary changes to help you rest easy
When it comes to managing anxiety and falling asleep fast, what you eat during the day matters. Your nutrition choices during the day affect both your physical and mental health, and making some changes to the way you eat can improve both the quantity and quality of your sleep when you're dealing with anxiety.
Recent research shows that a high intake of vegetables, fish, and fruit are positively associated with both mental health and sleep. It's important to pay attention to how the foods you eat affect your sleep, as the associations between nutrition, anxiety, and sleep can be highly personal. Keeping a food diary and noticing how what you eat affects both the quality and quantity of your sleep can help you develop insights into how your food choices affect your mental health and overall well-being.
3. Use exercise to ease anxiety
Research shows that exercise can effectively treat anxiety--aerobic exercise is especially helpful. When you exercise, your brain's frontal regions are activated, which helps control the amygdala--the part of the brain that reacts to both actual and perceived threats.
A word of caution: some people find that exercising at night makes it harder to fall asleep, so you may want to keep your cardio sessions to the morning hours, if possible.
4. Cut yourself off from coffee
Your coffee may help you get moving in the morning, but if you enjoy it too late in the day, it's likely to stop you from getting a good night's sleep. Experts recommend having your last caffeinated beverage at least eight hours prior to bedtime.
If you find that an eight-hour caffeine-free window isn't enough, try stopping your caffeine intake even earlier in the day. Be sure to take note of the role caffeine plays with your anxiety--many coffee lovers find that their anxiety tends to lessen when they make the switch to decaf.
Creating a nighttime routine
Setting a bedroom routine can help signal to your brain when it's time to go to sleep, even if you're working to manage anxious thoughts.
A few ways to help your brain realize it's time to sleep include:
- Setting a schedule: When you go to bed at the same time each night, you may find that it's easier to fall asleep. This can also help with your anxiety, as you'll know there's an end point to the day when you finally get to rest.
- Say goodbye to screens: No, you don't need to check your work email one more time. Putting screens away an hour or two before bed can help your brain begin to relax, and can stop you from experiencing anxiety over issues that need to be left for the morning.
- Breathing and mindfulness: Getting into an evening routine of meditating for a few minutes has big benefits when it comes to sleep. In addition to quelling anxiety, meditation can boost your mood and self-compassion, which can make it easier to let go of the stresses of the day as you drift off to dreamland. A quick meditation is also a great way to fall back asleep if you wake up with anxiety in the middle of the night.
Evidation provides the guidelines and support you need to meet your health goals
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