Generally, anxiety is a normal response to stress. It is an indication of systems in your body trying to help you survive. You’ve heard of “fight-or-flight?” Your racing pulse, dilated pupils, and quickening breath are all signs that your systems are working. The difficulties arise when the danger isn’t real and there are no immediate reasons for these feelings. There are times when problems seem to loom even though we may not be in immediate danger (like the pandemic, for instance, the fear of not being able to make ends meet, or not being prepared for the future). Anxiety causes us to focus our attention on those things that we don’t want. Many times, this focus makes these problems loom larger than they are, especially at night.
Anxiety Before Sleep
Our brain has two basic modes, the one that achieves daily tasks and the one that resets our thoughts when we sleep. To achieve this second mode, we need to shut off the first one, sometimes easier said than done. Our rest is impacted severely by measures we sometimes take in our attempt to treat these symptoms, like alcohol or too much “screen time.”
Let’s face it, most of us lead very hectic lives during the day. Our pace is many times frenetic. Then we remember that we have to get up and do it again, so we rush off to bed while our brain is still racing or frustrated and wonder why we can’t shut our thoughts off. If you find yourself sorting through your career or relationships, replaying the day, or running through to-do lists, this can cause a rush of adrenaline, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Addressing Anxiety and Creating an Oasis of Sleep
The best way to address anxiety at night is to make a conscious effort to prepare for it. Do what is necessary to calm your mind and body. Consistency is key, that way your body will know what to expect, and you won’t confuse those systems that control your circadian rhythm.
You can reduce stress hormones by fitting in relaxing activities at certain key times, to prepare yourself for rest. Try drinking a soothing, hot, decaffeinated drink, or meditate, or just reading a book. Turn your phone off, it isn’t just disrupting, it is addictive. Any screen keeps our brains stimulated long after they’re shut off.
The right sensory input is as important as eliminating disruptive sensory input. You’d be surprised how much it all adds up unconsciously. A weighted blanket, for instance, evenly distributed, has a calming effect.
Know thyself. Take note of those things that help you relax. Do you prefer a soft or firm mattress? Which kind of pillow you choose is determined by whether you sleep on your stomach, your side, or your back. Also, are you a hot or cold sleeper? This relates to the time of year, your bed covering, and your mattress.
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