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Sharp Health News

How to fall asleep when worries keep you up at night

Sept. 24, 2019

How to fall asleep when worries keep you up at night

Picture this: you’re cozied up in your bed and ready to fall asleep when suddenly you remember something urgent you forgot to finish during the day or an embarrassing situation that happened to you a week ago. Instead of drifting off to sleep, you’re now awake and anxious — what do you do?

Stress and anxiety can become a vicious cycle when trying to fall asleep. Worries can keep you awake, and then you are worrying about worrying. On top of that, sleep deprivation can actually trigger stress, so it’s important to form good sleep habits to avoid a cycle of sleepless nights.

Dr. Victoria Sharma, medical director of the Sharp Grossmont Hospital Sleep Disorders Center, shares these five tips for falling back asleep when late-night anxiety strikes.

1. Set a designated worry time
Schedule some time toward the end of the day, but not too close to bedtime, to think about all the things that are causing you stress.

“Make a list of anything you have to do, any problems and worries you have. Then, write down the next step toward solving the problem or accomplishing the task. This allows you to process your worries ahead of time, making it less likely that you will think about those things in the middle of the night,” says Dr. Sharma.

2. Try meditation
“When worries persist, try progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness or meditation,” says Dr. Sharma. There are several mindful breathing techniques that can help with stress. Try out a few to see which strategy works best for you.

3. Get out of bed
“Do not stay in bed longer than 20 to 30 minutes if you can’t sleep,” says Dr. Sharma. “Get out of bed and do something quiet and boring in dim lighting until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed. Repeat if needed.”

While you’re out of bed, try reading a book, doing a puzzle or listening to relaxing music.

4. Stick to slumber in bed
Although doing an activity may take your mind off your worries, you should avoid watching TV, reading books or using devices such as phones and laptops while in bed. Get out of bed to help yourself relax and come back when you are feeling tired again.

5. Don’t check the time
Staying in bed and looking at the clock will not help you fall asleep faster or ease your worries. In fact, it could increase your stress levels.

“Do not look at the clock in the middle of the night,” says Dr. Sharma. “It doesn't matter what time it is; if it’s not morning yet, try to go back to sleep or get out of bed.”

Everyone is different, but most people need between six and 10 hours of sleep each night. So keep these tips in mind the next time worrisome thoughts come up close to bedtime.

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