Sleep Techniques for People With Anxiety


anxious woman in bed

If you’re like me then you have some form of anxiety, it can even be undiagnosed, but you just know its a normal part of being you. One thing I always used to struggle with was falling asleep with my anxiety weighing on my mind. So I searched google fruitlessly for things to help overcome this nighttime anxiety. I really had to dig deep to find the first few tips on this list, but they ended up working really well. I hope you will try at least one of them tonight because they really are life changing when done a regular basis.

So if you have anxiety before bed try:

  • Reciting Lists
  • Using the 4-7-8 Technique
  • The Military Method
  • Using a Properly Sized Weighted Blanket
  • Performing Light Exercise
  • Listening to an ASMR Video
  • Cutting Out the Caffeine
  • Not Using Your Phone an Hour Before Bed

Reciting Lists

It may sound a bit weird at first but at its core its an adult version of counting sheep. So let’s begin. Pick a topic that you know a lot about. It could be anything that interests you. Perhaps dog breeds, or maybe even names of countries around the world. If something interests you that you don’t know a lot about, google it. Remember you don’t have to have learned the entire list, just what you remember after skimming.

Begin by reciting something from that list that begins with the letter A. So for example if I choose my list to be countries around the world, I would pick ‘Argentina’. Then I would continue down the list naming a country for each letter. If you complete the list from A-Z, start over and keep going till you fall asleep. I’ve used this technique for the past 6 months at this point, falling asleep in about 20 minutes each time.

Lists can get stale, so be sure to pick a new list when the last one stops working. I try to use a new list every few weeks to a month, but if the list is particularly larger, it can take about two months before I choose a new one. It’s all about what works best for you!

Using the 4-7-8 Technique

This technique works great if you are prone to overthinking before bed, by giving yourself something for your brain to concentrate on, it really helps to drown out the other thoughts. This technique was created to help the body transition into a state of deep relaxation. And when you are stressed or just generally anxious before bed, controlling your breathing is an essential factor for getting to sleep quickly.  If you are practicing this technique, it’s imperative that you find somewhere quiet to lay down. But if you are currently in bed, take special care that you are ready to relax, meaning no distractions. Okay, let’s begin.

First, start by placing your tongue against the roof of your mouth right behind your front teeth. Close your eyes. Then repeat these next steps for four cycles, working your way gradually up to eight cycles over time:

  1. Let your mouth open slightly so that your lips part. Exhale completely through your mouth. If it’s done correctly you should hear a whooshing sound.
  2. Next, close your mouth and allow yourself to breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
  3. Hold this breath in for seven seconds.
  4. Parse your lips and again breathe out through your mouth for eight seconds, you should be hearing the whooshing sound.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 four times initially, but as you get better at controlling your breathing you can repeat it up to eight times.

The Military Method

It sounds so official, doesn’t it? It paints the image of some soldier in other country lying awake staring at the stars. But I can tell you from first-hand experience it really does help. It might not work the first time but with anything, if you work at it, you should be able to train yourself to fall asleep quicker despite your anxiety.

Okay so here we go:

  1. Relax your whole face, including your tongue and jaw
  2. Drop your shoulders and relax your arms
  3. Relax your chest as you breathe out
  4. Relax your legs, from your thighs down to your feet
  5. Relax and clear your mind
  6. Picture yourself in one of the following scenarios:
  • You’re lying in a canoe on a calm lake staring up at the blue sky
  • You’re snuggled in a warm hammock in a totally black room

  7. Repeat  “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think” for 10 seconds

Use a Weighted Blanket

If you don’t already have one of these I would suggest ordering one ASAP. It was an absolute game-changer to helping me get to sleep faster. The science behind it is pretty intuitive too. It harkens back to feeling swaddled like a baby in our mother’s womb. The pressure the weighted blanket applies to people with anxiety provides a sense of safety like no other. And when used together with the rest of the tips provides an excellent way to drift off to sleep quickly without much fuss.

If you’re looking for a weighted blanket that would work perfectly for you, here are a couple of good things to consider. A weighted blanket should be more than 10% of your weight. So if you weight 150 lbs, then you should buy a weighted blanket that is a least 15 lbs or more. What’s comfortable for you may be a little more or less, so if you can try before you buy, definitely take that opportunity.

Perform Some Light Exercises

Doing some light exercising can be a great way to relax an anxious mind. If you know some yoga, do a pose. But if you don’t that’s okay too. Just sprawling out on the floor is usually enough to help relax my mind and body. If you are feeling a bit fancy break out into a full-on stretching routine, I’m sure you remember a couple from high school. If not, look some up! It doesn’t have to be anything too intense, just something to limber you up a bit.

Listen to an ASMR Video

ASMR is not for everyone of course. If you have yet to hear of it ASMR stands for Autonomous sensory meridian response. But don’t be intimated by the long complicated acronym, at its heart ASMR is just another means of relaxing. If you’ve ever had a pleasurable tingling sensation seemly originating from the back of brain than congrats, you’ve experienced ASMR. If you could remember what triggered it then you’re well on your way to searching up the topic on YouTube and enjoying a relaxing video right before bed. For me, my trigger was crunching. So I looked up ‘ASMR Chips’, and I absolutely loved it. For you, you might not know your trigger, and that’s okay. There are plenty of videos dedicated to finding your trigger. Search up any video dedicated to finding your trigger and get going. ASMR is surprisingly relaxing and has helped with my bedtime anxiety quite a bit. One trigger might not work for you, while it works incredibly well for another. So don’t knock it till you try it.

If you can’t seem to find your trigger or don’t want to put the effort forward to finding it, then you can always default back to a song you find calming.

Cut out the Caffeine

This seems like a relatively simple fix, but it’s surprised me that a few of my friends that have anxiety haven’t done this already. Simply wean yourself off of the Starbucks you drink every day. If you found that it doesn’t make much of a difference than go ahead and drink some in the morning before 11 am. But definitely nothing in the afternoon into the evening. 

Put Your Phone Down an Hour Before Bed

Not being attached to a screen for just one hour before bed a day has helped immensely. Make an effort to plug in your phone in across the room if you have to. The temptation is strong to reply to that one last message before hitting the hay, but try your best to break away from this habit. Pick up a book instead. Or if it’s necessary to be on your phone use a ‘Night Shift.’ It’s already integrated into most iPhones automatically; you only have to turn it on. And most devices like androids and laptops have similar apps that work on the same principle of reducing the blue glow that our screens give off. This blue glow wakes up the brain and can delay being able to get to sleep quickly.

I hope this resource helped you manage your anxiety before bed. These are the tips that have worked for me. Use a combination of all of them together, or perhaps just one you find particularly useful. There’s no perfect one size fits all recipe for dealing with anxiety, but I have given you some tools in your arsenal to fight against it. Sleep tight!

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