Does worrying keep you up at night? 11 tips to stop your mind ruining your sleep

We’ve all been there: It’s the middle of the night, you’re desperate to sleep – except, conveniently, your brain’s decided to play all your worries on a never-ending loop. And so you lie there, growing ever more agitated and distressed as you add yet another worry to the list: Tomorrow’s going to be hard work.

According to a survey by Bupa Health Clinics, it’s health worries keeping lots of us awake at night, and apparently, the most common time for finding yourself wide awake worrying is 4:05am.

Overdue dental check-ups (25%), losing weight (23%), and talking about stress or mental health issues (20%) ranked among the biggest health-related worries disturbing the nation’s sleep, with booking a GP appointment to get niggling symptoms checked also featuring in the top five.

Of course, it’s not just health concerns that can steal our slumber. Money worries, plus anything generally worrying you in everyday life can potentially keep your mind buzzing into the wee hours.

But don’t just suffer in (sleepless) silence. We asked the experts for their top tips for night-time worriers…

Generic photo of a woman writing a list in a notebook (ThinkStock/PA)
Write down worries during the day (ThinkStock/PA)

1. Pay some attention to your worries in the daytime too

“The most important thing is to ensure you don’t go to bed with negative thoughts or concerns. Aim to deal with these when you are at your freshest in the daytime. This will help you avoid what I call the ‘3am mind’, when you wake in the early hours, with your mind racing and everything seems at its worst,” says David James Lees, head of practice at Wu Wei Wisdom.

So set aside time during the day to sit down and write down your worries, and plot whether steps can be taken to address them. This will help you feel in control, so come bedtime, they won’t be spiralling. Some people say writing their next day’s to-do list before bedtime helps them ‘put away’ their worries for the night.

2. Talk it over

Similarly, if worries are keeping you up at night, your body might be trying to tell you it’s time to ask for some support. Of course, it’s normal to have ups and downs and stressful periods in life. But if you’re suffering with anxiety, or things are just getting unmanageable, talking to your GP, or a trusted friend or colleague, might really help lessen the load and connect you with solutions that could make a big difference.

3. Exercise during the day

Exercise plays a huge role in helping manage stress, depression and anxiety, and our habits during the day can have a big impact on how our bodies and brains behave at night. “Exercise helps to get rid of the adrenaline that anxiety stimulates,” says Gareth Hughes, researcher and psychotherapist at the University of Derby.

“It also regulates our breathing and encourages muscles to relax. However, you should avoid exercising late in the evening – as you need to allow time for your body to recuperate and relax after exercise before going to bed.”

4. Have a bedtime routine – and stick to it

“Don’t just look up at midnight and think, ‘Oh, I’d better go to bed… how will I get to sleep?’ Plan your sleep in the same way you would plan and schedule any other time in your day,” says Fay Pottinger, co-founder of Scentered. “Having a set bedtime routine will help you sleep not only when you’re at home, but any time you travel and are in a strange hotel room.”

5. Harness the power of scents

Aromatherapy won’t make your problems disappear, but it will help slow down a whirring mind. “We all know that lavender is supposed to make us sleepy, but there are many other scents out there that will help you to feel more calm and serene,” says Fay.

“Our Sleep Well Therapy Balm (from £5.50 for 1.5g) contains lavender, palmarosa and ylang ylang to help you relax and clear your head. Massage some into your temples and wrists as part of your evening routine.”

6. Embrace clean sheets!

There really is nothing like crisp, clean sheets – and taking care of the little things like this can really help during times of stress. “Many people find that washing their bed sheets more regularly at times of stress and worry can make their bed feel more fresh and welcoming, which can improve sleep,” says Gareth.

7. Give mindfulness meditation a go

“Try practising mindfulness meditation and especially transcendental meditation, which is always very good for calming you down when you do something or experience something that deregulates you, such as your partner leaving you or a family death,” says clinical psychologist and sleep expert Dr Helen Nightingale.

There are lots of apps and online tutorials to guide you through it, and don’t worry if mindfulness doesn’t come naturally at first – that’s normal too!

8. Do something relaxing as bedtime approaches

Once you know you’re prone to worrying during the night, the anticipation of another sleepless night can also become part of the cycle. But taking little steps to break the cycle will help. “Try to find something that relaxes you before you go to bed. Many people find soothing music helps, you may also want to try some breathing exercises,” suggests Gareth.

Reading, a soothing podcast, or something that focuses your senses, like colouring books, are all good things to try. Of course, switch off those electronic devices and screens at least an hour before bed – and do not attempt to tire yourself out with work and emails!

9. Try some temple massage

“This Eastern acupressure point helps to promote feelings of calm and relaxation and is renowned for helping with insomnia,” says leading face yoga expert, Danielle Collins. “Press the point with the index finger on both sides for 20-50 seconds. Follow by massaging in a circular motion for 30 seconds both ways.”

10. Have a sleep-friendly snack

Dr Mark Winwood, director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare, says: “Engaging in a calming activity or routine that distracts the mind can help you settle before bedtime. You need to discover what works for you but, for example, peeling fruit could help induce that sense of calm you’re seeking. Moreover, bananas aid the production of tryptophan and other sleep-inducing nutrients – so don’t just peel it, eat it!”

More of this please. #naturetherapy #emotionalhealth #happy

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11. Have a (calm) action plan if you do wake up in the night

“If you wake at night, try not to get frustrated or concerned about this as it will only make things worse,” says David. “Have a plan of soothing and calming things you can do that will help you remain relaxed to help you drift back to sleep more easily.”

 

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