I Have Anxiety-Related Insomnia—Here Are 6 Surprising Things That Help Me Fall Asleep
Having trouble catching your zzz's? Try these strategies to finally get some shut-eye.
This writer is part of Health.com's contributor network. Learn more about the contributor network and how to join.
If you're anything like me, you've probably read many, many articles on how to get a better night's sleep, and know the classic tips by heart: Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Turn off all screens an hour or two before bed. Wake up at the same time every morning. These are good suggestions, and I'm sure they work for many people—but as someone who has struggled with anxiety-related insomnia since age 15, they're often not enough. Over the years, I've collected several unconventional strategies that have helped me through my sleepless nights. Here, six tried-and-true ways I quiet my racing mind.
Write out your worries
The number-one thing that keeps me awake at night? My own thoughts. Sometimes they're anxious thoughts, sometimes they're negative thoughts, and other times it's a rapid stream of consciousness that I can't turn off. When this happens, I force myself to write down every single thing I'm thinking in a physical notebook. Not a computer or phone, but old-fashioned pen and paper. I simply write down any thoughts that come to mind, especially the negative ones. As soon as I put just one to paper, they all seem to come pouring out of me. Don't hold back; no one has to see what you're writing. But the result is like draining grease out of a pan. I often marvel at how this simple, five-minute exercise makes me feel instantly sleepy, as if I spent the day taking care of all my problems while running a marathon. I feel lighter, and once I'm in bed, my mind is gloriously quiet.
Put them in a box
If I'm feeling particularly anxious, I go through the extra step of writing down my thoughts and then physically placing the paper into a little box, jar, or container before I go to bed. This might sound silly, but I find that literally putting away my worries at night tricks my brain into settling down. The process reminds me that those problems are for tomorrow morning, and I can take them out and deal with them then.
Force yourself to get out of bed
Many sleep experts will tell you to get up when you can't sleep, and I think there's some truth to this. In my experience, lying awake at night for a long time causes my brain to associate my bed with not sleeping, creating even more anxiety. When I can't fall asleep after 20 minutes of lying in bed, I get up, walk around the house, and do an activity that doesn't require much brain power. My go-to: coloring in adult coloring books with gel pens. It's soothing, mindless, and better than lying awake feeling anxious and frustrated.
Try to stay awake
Stay with me here: You know how actively trying to fall asleep can sometimes make falling asleep more difficult? It's like your brain is determined to do the exact opposite of what you want it to do. When this happens to me, I try to use reverse-psychology on myself by thinking, Stay awake! I open my eyes and think about something interesting or exciting, and tell myself not to fall asleep. And before you know it, I'm out. It might sound strange, but I'm not about to argue with the results.
RELATED: The Best Pillows for Side Sleepers
No, I don't mean hanging from the ceiling like a bat. During periods of severe, ongoing insomnia, I've saved myself by simply putting my pillow at the foot of the bed and sleeping in reverse. Sometimes a small change in perspective is all you need to break that bad association between your bed and not being able to fall asleep.
Have a good cry
Remember that first tip about getting your thoughts out? I find this also works on pent-up emotions. I don't cry very often and tend to ignore or repress unpleasant feelings, especially when I'm stressed. So when none of my other strategies are working, I'll think to myself, How long has it been since you've cried? Crying is a natural and healthy way of expressing emotion. If you've been going through a tough time and can't sleep, consider whether you need nature's most effective emotional release. Then, do what you need to do: Listen to a sad song. Watch one of those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials. Cry it out, then sleep like a log.