Yet another night of lying down on the bed and thinking of a mistake I made four years ago. As soon as I decide to hit the sack, I do everything else other than sleeping. My brain automatically starts thinking of all the things I did not do from my to-do list, I wonder what my school crush is doing now, then I stalk him on Instagram (and there begins a stalking chain reaction for the next 2 hours). Looking at everyone else, I start thinking of what I am doing with my life. All of these thoughts spill over to the next night. Sleeping seems like such a natural thing for some (you are blessed) but for people like me, it is a struggle. I keep thinking why can’t I sleep?
A few days ago I started reading about anxiety and sleep. A hundred articles later, I still couldn’t figure out if it was the anxiety keeping me awake or the lack of sleep keeping me anxious. I dug deeper.
Anxiety is often seen as the remnant of our past survival skills – you know how our ancestors used to stay awake at night trying to protect their tribe from any possible animal attack? It’s a natural flight or fight response from my brain.
In my ever-changing world, I think my sleep anxiety is triggered by my adapted modern lifestyle such as follows.
I know nothing is more tempting than the “NEXT EPISODE” button on Netflix, but guess what the screens do? They confuse my brain to believe it’s daylight emitting from the screen and forces your body to stay awake and function, this also leads to messing with my Circadian Rhythm (your natural body clock) and a recent study has also confirmed disruption of clock genes results in dyslipidemia, insulin resistance, and obesity. Many devices come with features like a night light, I take a tiny step and switch it on at night.
Around my bedtime, I’m trying to replace screens with paper instead.
For me doing some light reading or writing down things that happened in the day helps. I find that to be a good time for mood or gratitude journals or to-do lists. Planing, saying thanks, reflecting helps me relax.
Hunters and Gatherers (Not being physically tired enough)
I have noticed how I feel extra sleepy when I hit the gym or do additional physical activity than usual. “Regular morning exercise outdoors improves sleep rhythms and tells your body to produce the hormone melatonin earlier in the evening. This has a positive effect on your sleep,” says Sofie Laage-Christiansen from Aarhus University, Denmark, who has just finished a Ph.D. in sleep research.
If not exercise, taking the steps instead of the elevator or a simple stretching exercise before sleep can contribute a lot to getting a night of healthy sleep.
It’s amazing how I think our body has natural ways of interpreting our surroundings. Checking for simple things like a clean bed, noise, the right temperature and light can be instrumental to sound sleep.
For example, researchers monitored sleep cycles with brain scans and found that lavender increased slow-wave sleep, instrumental for slowing heartbeat and relaxing muscles.
Developing a routine to check for these is are very helpful, check out the sleep routine feature on the app ‘Sleep by Wysa’. I found it really helpful.
Now sometimes even after I make sure I follow all of the above steps and my mind just does not stop running. I try to think of ways to slow down. Meditations at this point help me do exactly that. A very interesting way to do it is, listening to sleep stories, they take me back to my childhood when my grandma told stories about far-away lands and animals who could talk. I don’t even get to know how I fall asleep.
I never thought that there are therapists who can help you with sleep, but they do exist. Talking to a sleep therapist helps you find the root cause of your sleep troubles. They use effective techniques like CBT and DBT.
It’s quite beautiful how small decisions or habits can control how my mind and body react. I used to consider not sleeping cool, saying things like “ I just pulled an all-nighter on the project” or “ I binge-watched the entire new season last night”. It’s not really cool anymore. I remember when I was younger living with my parents, I had constraints, I had a bedtime, I didn’t need an alarm to wake myself up, I had energy all day to attend classes, cycle around on the streets, attend after classes, and play outside for hours. At the end of the day, I used to jump on the bed and fall asleep in seconds, I used to be a lot happier I guess. I miss that.
I don’t think I can cheat on this, sleep experts say most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimum performance, health, and safety. When they don’t get adequate sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that can be difficult to “payback” if it becomes too big. The resulting sleep deprivation has been linked to health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure, negative mood and behavior, decreased productivity, and safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road.
Now coming to the very first question, on whether it’s the anxiety or sleep? It’s both. I work on it on a physical and mental level. Sleep solves everything they say, now let me sleep on that thought?
Try the app “Sleep by Wysa” it offers everything that anyone with sleep issues needs.