Initiating Sleep Amidst Intrusive Thoughts and Anxieties

Posted in: October 1, 2018 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

As we all know, a day spent recovering from a bad night of sleep is a day spent yawning and in a fog. In the last two weeks, I’ve covered the topic of sleep in depth. If you haven’t yet, you can find my blog on the importance of sleep here, and my blog on my twelve rituals for getting a good night sleep here! Life can come at you fast, and I’ve had my fair share of nights laying awake trying to sleep. There are also days where your body wants nothing but sleep but your mind craves the opposite. Looming, intrusive thoughts and anxieties can fill our head and take away from the relaxing and peaceful zone that a good night of sleep allows us to enter into.

I find my clients often feel robbed of a restful night because of intrusive thoughts and anxieties that they have on their mind. While this is something we can work through one-on-one through my coaching, I’ve put together a list of some of my tried and true tips for initiating sleep when anxiety and intrusive thoughts are keeping you awake. I hope that this list of tips can help lessen the amount of nights you lay awake. With a restful night of sleep, you will be closer to achieving the Cognitive Performance that we are always working towards.

Tip One: Making a List

This might sound counterintuitive at first, but try it out. Keep a journal by your bed for these intrusive thoughts that are keeping you from sleep. Writing them down will get them out of your head and onto paper. By listing them out, your mind can relax knowing that you will address them the next day when you are refreshed and rested. I find this helps especially if your thoughts are things that you’re afraid you’ll forget to take care of. Having this list will bring those thoughts out of your head so that you can get to dreaming instead.

Tip Two: Taking a Bath or Shower

I covered this under my rituals in my previous blog post, but I’ve found it helpful to get up and take a warm bath or shower. This can help “reset” your mind to night mode, especially when it becomes part of a ritual. You can also take this opportunity to utilize aromatherapy during your bath or shower to relax even more. While this isn’t part of easing intrusive thoughts, crawling into bed cozy and clean can help you feel refreshed and ready to dive in to your night of rest.

Tip Three: Create a Gratitude List

Try and focus your mind on the positives that are surrounding you. Write down a list of 3-4 things that you are grateful for in that moment. Is it the warm, soft sheets around you? What about your partner laying next to you? Maybe it’s the yoga you were able to do earlier. Whatever it is, take time to reflect on these items that bring about joy and a feeling of being grateful, especially in the midst of anxieties.

Tip Four: Review your Affirmation List.

Not sure what this list is? That’s okay! In my previous e-book, I discussed the power of creating an affirmation list for times of uncertainty. You can find that book here (will link).

Tip Five: Mindful Meditation

Try practicing mindful meditation. This means saying phrases such as, “I release this day with love and gratitude.” Say this statement 5-10 times slowly. Be sure to breathe in and out deeply each time. Allowing your mind to release whatever worries or thoughts are on your mind can help you become present in the moment and set your sights and thoughts on the relaxation and rest ahead.

Tip Six: Create an Environment Conducive to Sleep

As you’ll read in last week’s list of rituals, your environment for sleep should be dark and pleasant. Consider getting a noise machine to lull you to sleep to the sound of the ocean waves if you’re surrounded by excess sounds outside like cars or your neighbors. Maybe take a look into relaxing scents like lavender or chamomile to help you relax even further. A good night sleep is something worth the investment and worth making changes for.

Tip Seven: Come up with a Plan B

When you’ve tried all of these steps, or any others you use, but they’re just not working, it’s time for plan B. Plan B should come into play when you’ve exhausted all efforts and it’s time to get out of bed and try something else to refocus your mind. I recommend a positive, light book. Try to avoid electronics during this time.

Tip Eight: Come up with a Plan C

When both plan A and B have failed, initiate plan C. This time, lay back and try counting backwards in your mind. Start somewhere high, like 150, and if you make an error in your counting, start from the beginning. This helps give you something to truly focus your mind on. Your mind will not be able to effectively focus on both these thoughts as well as the intrusive ones causing the trouble.

Tip Nine: Try to Avoid Sleep Medication

As helpful as they can be at times, they are often temporary fixes. The use of drugs to help you sleep, such as benzodiazepines and even alcohol and marijuana, is not recommended. For the odd times where you have trouble with sleep due to exterior things, such as jet lag, try melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone that does not necessarily work well for general insomnia, but rather to reset the body’s internal clock to tell it it’s time for bed. This should be taken an hour before bedtime if it is necessary, as if it’s taken any closer to bedtime, it can cause grogginess upon wake-up.

Tip Ten: Yawning is Not Your Friend

When you’re trying to fall asleep, stay away from yawning! I find that often times it is actually more harmful than good. Recent research shows that yawning is a specific mechanism that is used by your brain to actually keep you ALERT when you are drowsy. In fact, this is the opposite of what we want to do. Yawning is actually used by many NeuroCoaches as a tool to help clients enter a calm state of mindfulness. I share more about the timing of yawning on this chapter in my e-book. I recommend Mindful deep breathing instead.

My Challenge To You

As always, it’s my goal to help readers and clients achieve top cognitive performance. My challenge for you this week is to really try out a few of these tips. I would recommend starting with the listing of your thoughts and seeing what is truly keeping you awake at night. This can help you realize the things that you’re thinking about. If you are a client of mine, we can work through these lists to help get your mind focused on sleep at night and less on the things keeping you awake.