According to the Sleep Foundation of America, 10 to 30% of individuals have persistent insomnia or sleeping disorders due to anxiety. One typical symptom is difficulty falling asleep due to the inability to suppress anxious thoughts.
University of Oxford research discovered that a crucial difference between insomniacs and controls was the substance of their bedtime thoughts. The anxious sleepers were more focused on fears and problems than the control group, who preferred to think about nothing in particular.
TV as a sleep aid
Based on anecdotal evidence, many of us have had the experience of falling gently asleep in front of the TV, only to wake up wide awake with worrisome thoughts rushing through our heads when we then go to bed. This familiar scenario highlights one of the primary reasons our minds fill with anxiety at night: a lack of diversion. Your brain is occupied with various jobs and activities when you’re active during the day, whether you’re working, performing chores, chatting to people, or having fun. You could eat dinner, talk, and then watch TV in the evening — the brain is active the entire time, particularly in the areas involved in planning and decision-making.
However, as soon as you lay your head on your pillow and turn out the lights, all external distractions and interactions with the outside world vanish. Your mind is entirely free to start fretting about all that has happened to you during the day or worrying about what will happen in the following day – the past and the future being be two most common sources of anxious thoughts.
Other proven ways of dealing with anxious thoughts
Psychologists increasingly understand that fighting intrusive, troubling ideas is one of the least efficient ways of dealing with them – doing so raises their prominence, making them stick around for longer. It’s preferable to acknowledge and embrace the ideas before allowing them to pass.
Writing an emotionally expressive daily journal before night might help you deal with worrying thoughts about the day you’ve just experienced. People with insomnia who spent time before bed writing about their fears and anxieties required less time to fall asleep, according to a pair of researchers at the University of Oxford.
For many individuals, it’s not thoughts about the past that keep them up at night. However, anxiety about what they still have to accomplish shows that Sunday evenings are the worst for insomnia because of this, with a coming week of duties and deadlines. If this sounds familiar to you, there’s a good chance you may benefit from writing your worries and problems in a diary.
Researchers at Baylor University and Emory University School of Medicine instructed participants at their sleep lab to spend five minutes before night writing down everything they’d done or everything they needed to accomplish in the coming days for a study published in 2018 – and it was the latter group that fell asleep quicker. “It appears that the key here is that individuals penned their to-do lists rather than mentally ruminating over their incomplete activities,” the researchers said.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Luckily there are a couple of different effective strategies at your disposal. If you’re religious, there’s evidence that praying or meditating before bed can help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be highly effective for reducing anxiety and negative thoughts, as can mindfulness-based stress reduction.
If you’re not religious, there are still steps you can take to help you get quality sleep. Allocate a time in your evening when all work tasks should be complete – avoid doing anything that might trigger a fear of failure or a sense of being overwhelmed, which are primary predictors of insomnia. Reduce the amount of time you spend in bed so that you feel more ready for sleep when you get in– aim for seven to eight hours each night.
For many people, it’s not worrying about the past events that keep them awake but worries about the future. That’s why Sundays are considered one of the worst days for sleeping because people start to worry about the work week ahead.
The research suggests that worry (in moderation) is normal for people. Rather than trying to fight it, the trick for a peaceful night is to plan a time earlier in the day to give your brain a chance to vent away any anxieties. That way, when your head hits the pillow, you’ll find it easier to fall to sleep and stay asleep until the alarm rings.