Night can be a troubling time when you have anxiety. Maybe you didn’t get everything done during the day. Or you had to deal with some stressful stuff. You may feel apprehensive about tomorrow. Or perhaps you worry about getting enough sleep.
Then you switch off the light and BAM! Your mind floods with fears and worries and thoughts and fantasies. You go over the fight you had with your partner. You re-live the conversation you had with your boss — and wonder if you could’ve handled it differently.
Or worse, you’re hit with crippling fear of dying. You’re suddenly hyper-aware of your own mortality. You wonder if you’ll wake to see another day.
This is anxiety. In all its glitz and glamour (har har).
It can be a beast. And for many of us, night-time is when it likes to crawl out and unleash its fury.
My Medium article, 5 Things Every Person Should Do in the Morning, got thousands of views and shares. No surprise, really. After all, we all like to start our day with a clear, confident, chilled mind.
But what about the evening?
How we finish our day has a HUGE affect on how we start the next one. It determines whether we wake up refreshed or worn down, excited or anxious.
So I thought I’d follow that post up with a look at the best night-time routine for anxious minds.
Understand your evening anxiety
There are many reasons why some of us are more anxious at night. Like:
- After-work stress
- Coming home to a busy household and an overload of responsibilities
- Delaying your concerns during the day, so they all unravel at the end of the day
- Experiencing insomnia, and getting worried before bed about not being able to sleep
- Relationship troubles that make you anxious about going to bed with your partner
- Physical symptoms or illness that are worse at night, like restless legs syndrome
- Not having a set sleep schedule, so your brain and body don’t know when to switch off
That last point is a big one for me. I grew up without a set bedtime, because my parents were often out or away. As an adult, I’ve had to train myself to sleep at the same time each night — and have a set pre-bed routine.
Why take the time to pinpoint your evening anxiety triggers? Because then it’s much easier to deal with. If you’re having relationship troubles, for instance, you can speak with your spouse — or get counselling to resolve those issues. Or if you fear insomnia, you can try some of the peaceful bedtime routines outlined below.
When we understand our anxiety, we can take steps to tame it. And we get a better grip on our overactive mind.
Then, try this evening routine:
1 Switch off before bed
We all have digital devices that demand our attention. We’re always scrolling, clicking, liking, sharing…sometimes from the moment we wake up to the second we slip back under the covers.
Problem is, our smartphones are messing with our sleep hormones. They emit blue light, which affects the levels of melatonin.
Many studies have shown that short-wavelength (blue) light shifts our natural circadian clock and suppresses melatonin. This means we stay up longer, delay the sleep cycle, and have a shorter sleep.
And poor sleep often equates with poor mental health. Our mind doesn’t get the chance to rest and repair. We’re constantly thinking and are often over-stimulated, unable to switch off.
So, what can you do? Try an evening digital detox:
- Turn off all digital devices (including the TV) at least an hour before bed.
- Switch on your phone’s orange filter at night, to reduce your exposure to blue light.
- Put your phone in another room, so you won’t be interrupted by a flashing message light — or be tempted to use it in the night.
- Use a battery-powered alarm clock instead of your phone, so you can keep it out of the room.
2 Try a sleep meditation
A morning meditation helps calm, focus and energise the mind. So you feel empowered to tackle the day. And a sleep meditation helps you turn off the conscious mind and relax your body, putting you into a sleepy state.
There are plenty of free sleep meditations on YouTube. I love Jason Stephenson’s meditation tracks.
Or you can do some simple breathing exercises. Sit in a quiet spot, breathe in for 5 counts, hold for one count, exhale for 5 counts. Do this until you feel completely relaxed and ready for bed.
3 Write down your wins and worries
I’ve mentioned morning pages in the past. But I like to do ‘evening pages’ too. I use the same journal as my morning ritual, scribbling all my worries and fears that arise at night. I dump it all on the page, without pausing or critiquing or pondering. It’s simply a brain-dump of everything that’s on my mind.
After that, write in a journal 3 things you’re thankful for. They could have happened that day, or be things in your life that you love. This is a lovely, expansive practice that helps you shake off the grit of the day and embrace the bigger view.
Try and do this in the early evening, not right before bed. You want there to be space between your worries and your sleep.
That being said, you may like to keep a notebook by your bed. If you find yourself tossing and turning with lots on your mind, jot these thoughts down. Then tell yourself, “I’ll take care of that tomorrow”. Getting stuff out of your head and onto the page can really help.
4 Have a hot shower
Ever noticed how you come up with great ideas in the shower? You’re not alone.
In fact, 75% of people find fresh thinking in the shower (see this study). Why? It’s believed to be because the shower is the one place we can just be ourselves and really switch off. Our conscious mind steps down, and our subconscious mind opens up. Under the stream, we allow our own stream of consciousness to arise. This ignites our creativity, allowing us to look at challenges through a clearer lens.
Showers are also cleansing. There’s a sense of washing off the worries of the day, and going to bed with fresh skin and a clearer mind.
5 Keep your bed for sleep…and snuggling (wink, wink)
When I was travelling, bed became my TV room, kitchen table, home office and meditation den. So it’s no surprise I could never switch off when I actually wanted to go to sleep.
So here’s the trick: make your bed a sleep sanctuary. Only use it for sleeping and being intimate. Then when you hit the hay, your body and brain will know it’s time to wind down.
I do also like to read in bed, because it helps me fall asleep. So if that works for you too, go for it.
Also try creating the best possible sleep environment. Invest in a quality mattress, luxurious linens and quality bedding. Use soft lighting and colours that are associated with calm (like pale blue). Your sleep is SO important to your mental health.
OK, one more tip!
I like you. So here’s a little bonus tip:
Try doing some cardio exercise in the evening. Not right before bed, but perhaps straight after work or before dinner.
Exercise is proven to aid anxiety, thanks to those feel-good hormones that start pumping. So if you have a lot on your mind at the end of the day, go for a walk or run, gym class or swim. Whatever helps you feel a little calmer and clearer.
Sleep well, warrior!