It’s a frustrating routine: Your mind starts racing as soon as your head hits the pillow. You’re thinking about your to-do list, that thing you should (or shouldn’t) have said to your boss, or how expensive your child’s braces are going to be. Then you catch a glimpse of the clock, and realize how late it already is.
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. It’s a two-way street: Stress and anxiety can cause sleeping problems, or worsen existing ones. But lack of sleep can also cause an anxiety disorder.
If anxiety or disrupted sleep crops up only occasionally, these simple strategies may help you relax your body and mind so you can get the sleep that you need.
Learning to quiet your mind can be a helpful skill, both for navigating stressful daytime periods, and for falling asleep at night. If you’ve never tried it, start with as little as a couple minutes of sitting quietly and focusing on your inhale and exhale. You can also explore apps that will help guide you.
Add exercise to your day.
Regular exercisers fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. In fact, even a single moderate-intensity workout, like a brisk walk, can improve sleep among people with chronic insomnia.
Take time to wind down.
A healthy bedtime routine allows your body and mind time to slow down before lights out. Take at least half an hour to play quiet music, take a bath, or read a book.
Steer clear of stressful activities before bed.
Leave the bill paying for earlier in the day, stay away from heated social media exchanges, and skip the evening news.
Put your to-dos on paper.
Instead of letting your brain swirl with all the things that you don’t want to forget to take care of, write them down so your brain can relax and let go.
Tense and relax.
Try this relaxation exercise in bed: Squeeze your toes for several seconds, and then relax them. Then do the same thing with your lower legs, and on up your body, feeling each part of yourself send tension packing.
Don’t lie in bed awake.
If you can’t fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, give yourself a do-over. Get up, keeping the lights low, and do something relaxing (and ideally sleep-inducing). Have a cup of herbal tea and read a book. But avoid screens: The light that they emit can signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up.
Still not sleeping? If you think that you might have more serious sleep problems, clinical anxiety, or clinical depression, talk to your doctor. A specialist can help you find a treatment plan, so you can manage your symptoms and get the sleep you need.