Sleep is essential. But it often doesn’t come easy for those enduring the mood and anxiety disorders. Sure, one could go the meds route; however, there are other interventions well worth considering. Get nice and comfy, as we chat about sleep and anxiety…
Look at her, she’s in a deep, restorative sleep. But it wasn’t always that way because insomnia used to wreak havoc on her life. She tried meds, but they weren’t a fit. So she turned to sleep therapy and you see the results.
A sleep psychologist and coach from Somnus Therapy contacted me not long ago, asking if they could submit a guest post. I accept very few, so I took my time and checked-out their site – their work. Yep, I gladly accepted the offer.
Somnus is a personalized sleep therapy program. Whether you’d like to fall asleep more easily, stay asleep during the night, sleep longer each night, get better quality sleep – maybe all of them – Somnus wants to help. The guest post was written for Somnus by Gabie Lazareff, a certified health and yoga coach and experienced wellness author. Gabie’s mission is to educate her readers about the importance of sleep not just to survive, but to thrive.
The floor (bed) is yours, Gabie…
How to fall asleep with anxiety
If you have anxiety, you know the struggle that can present when it comes time to fall asleep. There’s something about getting into bed and closing our eyes that suddenly turns up the volume of those intrusive, ruminating thoughts.
Luckily, we have some pretty nifty built-in mechanisms to calm the body and mind to encourage us into a sleepy state. We’re talking about methods that can help reduce that anxious feeling, essentially activating our parasympathetic response (rest & digest), which helps the body out of our anxiety-sustaining sympathetic response (fight, flight, freeze).
Relaxation techniques for sleep
I’d like to share some relaxation techniques you can try in bed. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t immediately work for you. We’re all unique, which is why it’s so important that we try a variety of symptom management techniques. This especially applies to when we’re experiencing anxiety around bedtime.
Let’s think about what happens to our breathing when we are stressed or anxious. We take rapid, shallow, short breaths. Now, let’s think about what happens to our breathing when we are calm and relaxed. We take slow, deep, long breaths.
Just as we can recognize anxiety by paying attention to our breathing, we can also change how we respond internally to a situation by using our breathing intentionally. If we are able to take long, deep breaths, the body sends messages to the fear center of the brain to let it know that we don’t need to be in this heightened state of stress. If we’re able to take long, deep breaths, we are obviously in an environment that is safe and out of perceived danger.
Once the fear center of the brain understands this, we’re able to come into a parasympathetic response, activating our rest and digest mode.
To practice deep breathing, lay comfortably in your bed with one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Soften the gaze or close your eyes. Relax your whole body. Take a deep breath in through the nose, and take a long deep exhale through the mouth. Continue to take long deep breaths in through the nose, exhaling either through the nose or the mouth – whichever is most comfortable. Keep as much ease in your breathing as possible. Keep the shoulders and the rest of your body nice and relaxed.
As is common with anxiety, if your mind is racing, try to bring your focus to your hands. Is your right hand moving more than your left as you breathe in and out? Maybe both hands are rising and falling equally. Notice the rise and the fall of your belly or your chest, or maybe both. See if you can notice the temperature of the breath as it enters through your nostrils, passing your top lip.
We’re trying to bring the focus away from the intrusive thoughts and onto the breath and the way it moves in the body. This encourages the mind and the body into that parasympathetic response. Another way of turning the volume down on the ruminating thoughts is to use an internal count, counting to three as you inhale, and counting to four as you exhale. You can choose the count that is most comfortable for you, as long as your exhales are slightly longer than your inhales. This is the quality of breath that is going to signal to the brain that we are safe from danger, and safe to sleep.
Legs up the wall
Another way of activating our parasympathetic nervous system is by getting our legs above our chest. This improves blood flow to the brain, which in turn activates that parasympathetic response (rest and digest).
To do this, sit on your bed with one of your hips pressed against the wall. Lie down and shimmy your way around to swing the legs up the wall, bringing the arms to either side of the body. While you’re here getting comfortable, you can gently straighten the legs and flex the feet for a nice stretch into the hamstrings. This is totally optional. If you’d like to come straight into our restorative posture, you can keep the legs heavily bent with the feet resting against the wall for support.
It takes about three minutes in this posture to activate the parasympathetic response we’re looking for. While you’re here, you can practice the deep breathing exercise we just reviewed. It will further encourage the body into a sleepy state.
The idea is to keep the whole body relaxed. Why not put a pillow under your head and chest, grab a blanket, and make yourself super comfortable? This posture should be effortless and comfy. Relax your shoulders, relax your hips, let the whole body be nice and heavy using as little effort as possible. To come out of this posture, you can bend the knees, planting the feet on the wall and gently rocking over to one side, or you can hug the knees in towards the chest gently rocking over to one side.
Try to do these exercises just before you plan to go to sleep, after you’ve set any alarms or used your phone. We’re trying to detach from the day, putting away anything that could bring that anxiety back, so try to avoid using screens afterwards.
Don’t be discouraged
Sometimes the anxious mind is just super loud. The fact that you’re willing to consider new methods to calm your anxiety before sleep is awesome. If these techniques don’t work for you the first time around, that’s okay. These are exercises that need to be practiced. They take getting used to, especially when we’re new to deep, intentional breathing.
If you’re concerned that you aren’t getting enough quality sleep to support your mental health, or if you’re concerned you have a sleep disorder, be open with your healthcare provider so you’ll have access to any and all possible treatment options.
Okay, Bill here. A big thank you to Gabie and Somnus for the information and encouragement.
Again, sleep is essential. And you can be sure I know all about the sleep issues that accompany the mood and anxiety disorders – from personal experience. I also know there are very sensible interventions readily available. Sure, it may come down to meds for a time – that’s your decision. However, if you’re struggling with sleep, a sleep therapy program is something to seriously consider.
Do yourself a huge favor: get yourself a good night’s sleep. Making it happen needs to be a priority.
Hey, be sure to head on over and visit Somnus Therapy. A wealth of information – help – will be right at your fingertips.
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