Nighttime is often the worst time of day for my anxiety, and it seems many of you suffer from the same difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, so I thought I would share the things that have worked for me over the years.
Prior to panic, I dealt with horrifying nightmares most every night. When panic hit, I struggled with intense insomnia for the first few weeks. Then, once sleep became more prevalent, I would wake up with nocturnal panic attacks more often than not. (Those things are SCARY).
Now, I still deal with the occasional nocturnal panic attack, and also frequent confusional arousals. These are bizarre awakenings where I have no idea who I am or where I am and I’m completely confused and panicky about my surroundings. Often, I will be moving around or touching the person next to me. It’s pretty horrifying until everything comes “rushing back.”
All of this led to a fear of going to sleep (afraid that I would wake up terrified), and a fear of sleeping alone or in new places. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work through these fears, so I’m hoping some of what has worked for me will be helpful for you!
One of the most important things we can do in order to calm bedtime anxiety is to get our anxious minds ready to rest. Finding activities that put you at ease can be helpful.
Here are some of my favorites.
-Journaling- Often, we have millions of thoughts bouncing around our minds, and when we get ready to rest, the thoughts just intensify. Journaling can be a great way to work with fears and get them out of our heads.
I try to journal pretty much every night. I have a Word document on my computer where I type away my worries. I find this really relaxing, and it helps to spend some time with my anxiety in a productive manner by writing things down, rather than obsessing about them all night.
One of my favorite journaling techniques is to write down ten things I’m grateful for that day. It can be anything- big or small. This puts my heart in a state of ease as I reflect on all the wonderful things in my life.
-Affirmations– Affirmations are positive phrases that we can repeat to ourselves to counteract faulty negative thinking. When panic first hit, I could not fall asleep for the life of me. I spent many, many nights attempting to fall asleep but never being able to slip into relaxation.
First, I journaled, asking my wise self what was stopping me from being able to sleep. I realized that I was scared of going to sleep. It felt vulnerable. When you’re in the midst of panic, all you want to do is be on guard, so sleep felt like too much of a letting go.
So I adopted an affirmation that I repeated to myself over and over again.
I lovingly release the day and slip into peaceful sleep, knowing that tomorrow will take of itself.
I said these words in my head while I took deep, steady breaths. I began to believe the words, that it was safe to let go and relax, and it eventually allowed me to find sleep.
-Guided Meditation– Listening to guided meditations can be a wonderful way to relax before bed. I get really bad flight anxiety, especially if I have an early flight and know that I’ll have to wake up in a few hours. It makes it impossible for me to fall asleep. So I’ll usually put on a guided meditation from YouTube to help me relax.
-Lavender Essential Oil– Lavender is by far my favorite essential oil and I use it for everything. Lavender is said to be calming to our nervous system, so putting a few drops in your diffuser or diluting some drops to place on your skin can be a great relaxation tool before sleep.
-Reading or watching funny, happy things– I’ve gotten into the habit of either reading a light-hearted book or watching one of my favorite shows at night. I’ll curl up in bed and put on a few episodes of Friends. The humor and laughter relaxes me and lets my brain know that it’s okay to settle down. Please don’t watch or read anything dramatic, stimulating, or scary before bed. It will only hype up your nervous system.
-Formula 303 Supplement– I credit this homeopathic for lessening my nocturnal panic attacks when I was having them every night. This natural supplement is amazing for loosening muscle tension, as well as generally calming the mind and body. Since it’s a homeopathic, there are virtually no side effects, and it shouldn’t interact with medication, though I would check with your doctor to make certain. I recommend this for anyone who deals with anxiety.
I don’t take it nightly anymore, but if I know that I’m going to be sleeping somewhere new or by myself, I make sure to have it with me. It can be found on Amazon here.
-Restorative Yoga– Oh, the power of yoga. A few weeks ago, I was experiencing terrifying nightmares where I’d wake up screaming. I decided to practice self-care and take a restorative yoga class that was right after the class I teach. Lo and behold, I slept like a baby that night.
When I took Yoga Nidra last week, which is a form of yogic meditation, I slept deeper than I have in years the night that followed. There’s just something magical about yoga. It has the ability to hold our weary hearts and minds while we make space for love and light.
I have several free restorative yoga videos on YouTube, including a sequence specific to bedtime, if you’d like to check those out.
My best advice is to try out as many things as you can and see what works for you. What calms you down? What speaks to your heart and soul? Do that.
And sometimes, despite our best efforts, we still have nights where we can’t fall asleep. We still have nights where we wake up with a panic attack. I’ve started to learn that that’s okay. On the nights when I did my best but still can’t sleep, I tell myself, “When your body and mind are ready to sleep, it will come. Trust that.”
My nights usually look like this: I take a yoga class or do yoga at home. I’ll take a hot shower with a few drops of lavender oil. Then, I spend time cuddling with and talking to my partner. When my partner falls asleep, I go in the other room and journal about all my worries and fears. Then, I either read or put on a show (right now I’m binging Gilmore Girls). Once I head back to bed, I get comfy and repeat loving affirmations to myself until I fall asleep. ❤