If you’re suffering from anxiety and it is affecting your ability to get to sleep, stay asleep or wake up refreshed, you are not alone.
According to MIND For Better Health, in any given week in England, between 6 and 8 people out of 100 are experiencing anxiety. The brain is overstimulated and struggling to let go, and is stuck in the sympathetic nervous system. The brain is in an awake and active mode, called beta wave state. As we transition towards sleep, it’s good to cultivate other states, such as alpha wave state (awake and relaxed) or theta wave state (daydreaming), so says sleep expert, Lisa Sanfilippo.
When common sense prevails, we turn off our screens at least an hour before going to bed, so that we can shift the brainwaves to an optimal state for quality sleep. We can choose to do something relaxing or creative, maybe cuddled up on the sofa, listening to music or an audiobook, or chatting with someone at home. However, when we are feeling anxious, there is a drive to keep going and an inability to let go of stimulation.
Anxious people have often lost the awareness of the connection between mind and body. The body is a messenger, giving us clues or “symptoms” when we are out of balance. If we lose the ability to sense how we’re feeling, the first step towards recovery is to build awareness of our internal states. For sufferers of chronic anxiety, the overstimulated nervous system is an everyday occurrence. The heart is also associated with anxiety and insomnia; a calming and soothing approach can go a long way to alleviate symptoms.
It is essential to process our thoughts before we go to bed, by sharing what’s on our mind or journalling. Undigested thoughts can be stored in the body and reveal themselves as muscular complaints or stiffness, or disease. If you find your mind is stuck in repetitive anxious thoughts, a CBT approach may be helpful, so that you can objectively question your thoughts and differentiate between fact and subjective narrative.
“Most of us run through our days quickly, there is rarely enough time for grounding, pause, stillness — surrender,” Nina Endrst, yoga instructor and holistic health coach, tells Bustle. “A wind down ritual supports a deep and restful sleep and gives us a chance to check in with ourselves. Breathing and stretching is a great way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and decrease general anxiety — something all human beings struggle with in some way.”
Traumatic experiences and emotions such as anger, fear, worry, anxiety and depression are felt and stored in the body, according to trauma expert, Bessel Van Der Kolk. Movement and stretching assist in the processing of these emotions, as well as seeking therapy.
If you feel anxious at bedtime, it’s important to give your muscles an outlet to release and relax the stress hormones that have accumulated throughout the day. A nice, gentle stretch has numerous, wide-reaching benefits such as increasing circulation, relieving lower back pain, aiding digestion and stimulating the adrenals, part of our endocrine system responsible for delivery of stress hormones, as well as assisting our immune system. It can even relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, and pain during menstruation, getting your body more relaxed and ready to rest for the night.
Top 5 Bedtime Stretches (approx 3-5 mins each)
1. Standing Forward Fold
This inversion allows tension from your neck and shoulders to release, and turns your brain onto rest and digest mode.
On your back, roll your hips up as you walk your hands up your back. This pose is a helpful thyroid regulator, so helps to balance your metabolism and stress hormones.
3. Pigeon Pose
on your front, with your right knee behind your right wrist and right foot underneath, towards your left side. Feel your belly expanding and relax. A grounding, settling pose. When the hips release tension, they also release emotions that are stuck in the body
4. Cosy Hip Opener
lie on your bed, with the soles of the feet together and knees out to the side. You can put cushions under each knee for support. Place your hands on your belly and take some long, deep breaths. Great to do during your period.
5. Legs Up The Wall
Lie on your bed with the legs up the wall. You can have your arms out to the side, palms up, or up above your head, for a nice shoulder opener. This has the powerful benefit of an inversion, allowing fresh oxygen to go to your brain, and less stress on your heart. Great after standing for long periods of time or a long walk. The ultimate in rejuvenation.
“A long day in a consistent posture can be exhausting and dehydrating to our tissues,” says Megan Kearney, a Yoga Medicine Instructor. She suggests using a foam roller for myofascial release on your lower back and gluteal muscles so that you can ease this pressure in your body, making it easier to fall asleep afterwards. Begin on the right side of your gluteals and then work your way from the bottom of your spine to your hips or from your hips to just beneath them. “Stay off bone and just move on soft tissue,” Kearney says. “Be sure you are able to comfortably maintain your deep focused breath.”
Another technique that helps induce the relaxation response, is a body scan meditation. There are plenty of these available in a variety of different voices and accents, on mindfulness, yoga or meditation apps. Have a browse and choose one that you like. The guided attention to specific body parts from your toes to the crown of your head, is effective in distracting the mind and increasing sensory awareness, and also in calming the brainwaves into a state ready for sleep.
The New Scientist (14 Aug 2020) warned that about 8 per cent people who try meditation experience an unwanted effect. If you are suffering from anxiety, it is important not to be left alone with your thoughts as they can spiral out of control. Similarly, with depression, it is advisable to do short meditation sessions, perhaps seated rather than supine. A qualified yoga or meditation teacher can guide your experience more safely than an app. Katie Sparks, a chartered psychologist and a member of the British Psychological Society, says “meditation has been found to help people to relax and refocus and help them both mentally and physically.”
In times like these, where the media coverage is focused on the pandemic and economic doom, anxiety sufferers may have to do more to stay calm. “When you are in it, anxiety always feels as though it will never end, but it will,” says Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, a columnist in The Guardian. It’s hard to remember this, but do try. Be kind to yourself. The storm will pass. In the meantime, take care of yourself and your sleep.
Nicky Dye is a Yoga Medicine trained Teacher, and offers bespoke Health & Wellness One to Ones for adults and teens. If you would like to feel better, simply get in touch to arrange a discovery call: email firstname.lastname@example.org.