Anxiety and lack of sleep feed off each other — they are natural bedfellows. Many people are familiar with this frustrating situation: your mind starts racing as soon as your head hits the pillow. Many things pop into your head: your to-do list, that thing you should (or shouldn’t) have said to your boss, the bills that need paying, that weird pain you can’t explain, etc. Then you catch a glimpse of the clock and realise how late it already is. It becomes hard to tell whether you can’t sleep because you’re anxious, or you’re anxious because you can’t sleep.

Not only do they reinforce each other as time goes on, they quickly have negative effects on your body and mental state. When you are tired your brain is unable to function correctly, your attention span drops, as does your concentration. Reasoning becomes more difficult and your memory suffers. Studies also suggest that having even one night without sleep leads people to view junk food more favourably. We also know that tiredness affects your immune system. When you don’t get enough quality sleep you are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to develop good sleeping habits. Just like any habit, it might take a bit of time to implement, but it really is worth it. Below is a list of things you can do to help yourself. You don’t have to do all of them, but the more you can implement the better.

Yes, that old chestnut. The thing is, exercise helps you burn energy and eliminate a lot of stress hormones that contribute to your anxiety. Also, it’s a good way to become tired, isn’t it? You don’t have to hit the gym four hours a day. Going for a jog, a swim, doing some yoga exercises or even just a nice brisk walk — anything to increase your current level of activity.

Wind down
Make sure that 30 minutes before going to sleep, you allow your mind to calm down. Stay away from social media, TV or video games. Maybe listen to some quiet music, have a nice hot bath, or read a book.

Write things down
Keep a pen and notepad on your bedside table. Instead of letting your brain obsess about something you must do tomorrow, write it down. You’ve now offloaded it from your brain, you know you won’t forget it and you’ll deal with it tomorrow. Your brain can relax and let go.

Don’t lie in bed awake
We all have natural cycles, and if you’ve been in bed for over 30 minutes not able to fall asleep, restart your going-to-bed ritual. Get up, have a hot drink (without caffeine, d’uh!), pick up a book. Avoid screens as the light might stimulate your brain to stay awake. Then when you get that sleepy feeling back, just get back to bed.

The “Military Secret” to falling asleep in 2 minutes
Well, it’s not really a secret anymore since it has resurfaced on so many online health forums lately, and was first mentioned in a 1981 book called “Relax and Win: Championship Performance”. It is reported to be a technique the US Navy Pre-Flight School developed to help soldiers fall asleep day or night, in any conditions. The technique is simple, and the US Navy stated that after six weeks of practice, 96% of pilots could fall asleep within two minutes. Worth a try, isn’t it?

It goes like this:

  1. Relax the muscles in your face, including tongue, jaw and the muscles around the eyes
  2. Drop your shoulders as far down as they’ll go, followed by your upper and lower arm, one side at a time
  3. Breathe out, relaxing your chest followed by your legs, starting from the thighs and working down
  4. You should then spend 10 seconds trying to clear your mind before thinking about one of the three following images:
  • You’re lying in a canoe on a calm lake with nothing but a clear blue sky above you
  • You’re lying in a black velvet hammock in a pitch-black room
  • You say “don’t think, don’t think, don’t think” to yourself over and over for about 10 seconds

This is something known in hypnotherapy as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and visualisation, and it has been around for a very long time. Remember it takes a bit of practice before it becomes effective.

Avoid drinks and drugs. While they might make you fall asleep fast, you will get bad quality sleep and you will wake up groggy and still tired. If you suffer from severe insomnia, bad sleep is better than no sleep but see you GP instead of self-medicating.

Christophe Courtin

Christophe Courtin

Christophe is a hypnotherapist at Folkestone Hypnotherapy, specialising in stress, anxiety and depression management, working face-to-face in Folkestone, Kent and also online via Zoom. While specialising in helping people with anxiety and stress, he can also help you in many other areas such as phobias, smoking cessation, chronic pain, motivation, and low self-esteem.