Sleep and anxiety: how to calm your mind before bed

If you suffer from problems with sleep and anxiety, you’ll know all about the relationship between the two. Anxious thoughts can seriously affect your ability to drift off at night, while a lack of sleep can negatively impact your overall wellbeing. Unfortunately, both are becoming more and more common in the UK with one in four people experiencing a mental health problem each year and two thirds of adults suffering from disrupted sleep.

So, why is sleep so important? How much of it do you actually need? And how can you relax your mind and body before bed to help you on your way to a better night’s sleep? Let’s take a look...

What happens to your body when you sleep?

While you may think of sleep as a time for your body and mind to shut down, it’s actually a crucial period where your body prepares you for the next day. It does this by working to support healthy brain function and maintaining your physical and mental health. 

Sleep is particularly important for your brain health as this is when you process and store information from the day and form and consolidate memories. A good night’s sleep also allows your body to grow muscle, repair tissue and make hormones to help restore you to full health by the morning. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re not able to effectively carry out these vital functions which can seriously affect your overall health and wellbeing. 

How much sleep do you actually need?

With sleep having such a significant impact on your wellbeing, it’s important to bear in mind the recommended amount of sleep so you know what you or your child should be aiming for. The National Sleep Foundation has set out these guidelines: 

  • School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours 
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours 
  • Adults (18-64): 7-9 hours 
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours

 Calming your mind before bed 

Unfortunately, mental health conditions such as anxiety can cause constant and often troubling thoughts to race through your mind, making it almost impossible to switch off and get anywhere near the recommended number of hours. If you’re struggling to drift off at night due to anxious thoughts, trying this relaxation routine before bed may help you to calm your mind and body. 

Three step relaxation routine for a good night’s sleep 

1. Listen to relaxing music or an audiobook 

Listening to relaxing music helps to encourage your body and mind to wind down before bed. Make yourself comfortable, forget about social media or TV and spend at least 15 minutes relaxing to some soothing sounds. It’s important to choose the right type of music as anything too upbeat or heavy can stimulate your brain, so stay away from your ‘Top Dance Hits’ playlist or Metallica album! There are a number of sleep and anxiety relief playlists available on YouTube and Spotify, find one that relaxes you and let yourself switch off. If you find that your mind is still racing, look for a self help or meditation app or audiobook which can help focus your attention away from your anxious thoughts. 

2. Breathing exercises

Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and promotes a state of calmness. It does this by stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system which influences your body’s ability to relax. For the second part of your relaxation routine, spend around five minutes in a comfortable position breathing in deeply through your nose before exhaling through your mouth. When you're stressed, your breath becomes faster in order to take in more air, so breathing out for longer than you breathe in is a good way to trick your body into a state of relaxation. With this in mind, try to inhale for around three seconds and exhale for six. 

3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation 

If you struggle to relax at night, Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a technique that can really help. This involves tensing and relaxing each of your muscles individually and teaches you to release the tension in your muscles. Starting with your lower leg muscles and working your way up through your body, keep each muscle group tensed for approximately five seconds before relaxing it for around 10 seconds. Doing this exercise as part of your relaxation routine will not only help you to settle off at night but will also help you to relieve muscle tension whenever you’re feeling anxious. 

Help is available 

While the above relaxation routine can help you to chill out before bed, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to suffer on your own and that help is available. Speak to your GP or mental health professional about the problems you’re experiencing and they’ll be able to discuss the various options available to you. 

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