Get More Sleep: How to Fall Asleep with Anxiety
Getting a good night’s sleep is an incredibly important component of a healthy lifestyle. When you have poor sleep quality or chronically lose sleep, your physical and mental performance suffers, your well-being declines, and the “sleep debt” that you create can take years to pay off.
Importance of Sleep
You may be well aware of the importance of sleep, but still, find yourself tossing and turning at night for reasons beyond your control. It’s all too common to lay down after a stressful day only to have your mind race, keeping you awake hours after your desired bedtime.
If you find your sleep is compromised over time, there are proven methods available to help you fall asleep with anxiety.
One major roadblock in falling asleep, whether you have anxiety or not, is the physical context in which you’re attempting to fall asleep in. This is commonly referred to as your “Sleep Hygiene.” We generally take hygiene seriously when it comes to bathing and brushing our teeth and things of that nature; taking your Sleep Hygiene seriously should be no different.
Picture this: you’re trying to fall asleep with a TV on in the background, with commotion going on outside, and doing so in a bedroom that’s way too hot (or cold). Does this sound like a productive way to fall asleep?
These are common examples of things that ruin your Sleep Hygiene and also contribute to more anxiety. Improving your Sleep Hygiene will directly contribute to you getting more sleep.
Block Out the Blue
People often say that keeping a TV on in the background actually helps them fall asleep, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, physiologically speaking.
TV screens (all electronic screens, for that matter) emit a specific frequency of light called Blue Light, which is similar to the spectrum of light emitted by the sun. In this way, screens act as mini “artificial suns” and prolonged exposure to them can trick your body into thinking it’s still daytime even though it may actually be midnight wherever you are.
Over time, this will desynchronize your Circadian Rhythm, or your body’s internal clock, because it can’t get an accurate read on when you’re supposed to be waking up and when you’re supposed to be going to sleep.
The best practice would be to block out as much Blue Light as possible in your sleeping area, especially as your intended sleep time gets closer. Try to eliminate using electronic screens at least an hour before bed, or if you absolutely need to use them, wear Blue Light Blocking Glasses or use an App that temporarily takes that spectrum out of the screen.
Blue Light can seep into your bedroom for outside as well, so a quality set of Black Out Curtains can ensure you’re getting the best possible protection from Blue Light, both inside your room and out.
Drown Out the Sound
In addition to the light coming from the TV, it’s also probably emitting sound. People might say that this “lulls them to sleep,” but that goes against a common understanding of how the brain processes sound.
Whether you’re specifically focusing on it or not, your brain can differentiate between “communication sounds” and “background noise”. When the brain is interpreting communication sounds, a whole different set of auditory neurons is stimulated, which also passively activates the regions of your auditory system responsible for interpreting and understanding speech.
These types of sounds are detrimental to your sleep quality and throw your sleep cycle out of whack. You’re much better served to utilize non-stimulating background noise, such as a White Noise machine, that can essentially drown out any abrasive noises you can’t control, like sounds from a TV or a loud neighbor.
Eliminating Blue Light and using background noise to drown out other noises that disrupt sleep are two of the best ways to fall asleep with anxiety.
Another change you can make to help you fall asleep when you’re experiencing anxiety is to find the appropriate temperature for your room so you can fall asleep easier. Most research suggests a room temperature between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit is permissive to falling asleep faster and experiencing a proper sleep cycle.
If you make all of these changes and still find it hard to fall asleep with anxiety, remember the Three M’s
The Three M’s
Melatonin. Meditation. Mindfulness. These three things will supercharge your pursuit of getting more sleep, whether you have anxiety or not.
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by your body that is implicated in helping people fall asleep faster (sleep latency) and stay asleep longer (sleep duration). Normally, Melatonin is produced by your body in higher amounts leading up to your bedtime, which is partially responsible for the “tired feeling” that accumulates over the course of the day.
Another thing contributing to the sensation of being tired is the accumulation of adenosine in the brain as the day progresses. Stimulants like caffeine bind to adenosine receptors and override this feeling of sleepiness, so it should go without saying that a reduction in stimulant intake (especially near bedtime) is an obvious fix to getting more sleep and feeling less anxious.
But back to Melatonin: if your body clock is dis-regulated by Blue Light exposure at the wrong times or an erratic sleep schedule, then your body essentially doesn’t know when to produce peak levels of Melatonin anymore. Luckily, supplemental Melatonin is widely available, although you have to check its legality depending on where you live. If it’s legal to take over-the-counter where you are, then somewhere between 1-5 milligrams should suffice.
Meditation and Mindfulness essentially go hand in hand in a direct attempt to quiet the mind prior to sleep. Meditation practices, including guided exercises on popular Apps, can regulate breathing, blood pressure, and subjective levels of anxiety, which will help you fall asleep much easier.
And a mindfulness practice, such as gratitude journaling, listing intentions, or even just jotting down to-do lists can help get the clutter out of your head and relieve any anxiety related to possibly forgetting important information.
Taking all of these steps together will certainly help anyone get more sleep, whether they have anxiety or not.