31 Sleep Tips For People With Anxiety

Photographed by Bianca Valle.
Between hectic work schedules, full social calendars, and an absolutely bizarre election year, getting a full night's sleep is no easy feat these days. Truthfully, the election alone is enough to heighten anyone's risk for sleepless nights. But for those of us who already deal with generalized anxiety, well, nodding off is already just that much harder.
Sleep disturbances (e.g. not being able to fall or stay asleep) are especially common among people who have mental health disorders. And with the immense desire to get that precious rest, many of us also build up a separate kind of sleep anxiety (technical term: psychophysiological insomnia).
For example, it is not uncommon for your wish to sleep to become its own source of anxiety. Some start tensing up just knowing that bedtime is approaching. And then there's the particular frustration of waking up during the night, only to become anxious and unable to fall back asleep simply because you're freaking over how tired you're going to be the next day.
The point: Sleep, as crucial and wonderful as it is when you can get it, can be a nightmare for anxiety-prone people sometimes.
But don't give up. There are many ways to make drifting off to dreamland easier. Click through to find 30 tips for a better night's sleep — especially if you're dealing with anxiety.
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produced by Anna Jay; photographed by Eylul Aslan; produced by Meg O'Donnell.
Grab a book.

There's a reason why everyone always says that reading before bed could help you fall asleep. Reading can give your mind time to rest before you go to bed, making it a great way to de-compress from the day so that you're less likely to be up all night with your mind racing.
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Photographed by Julia Lola Wang.
Stick to a schedule.

Getting to bed at the same time every night is a classic sleep hygiene tip, so you've probably heard this one. But if you're someone with anxiety, the "classic" sleep tips are even more important because of your propensity for sleepless nights. The trick here is to also wake up at about the same time every day, which may be particularly painful (but worth it) on the weekends.
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Photo: Courtesy of Harmony Publishing.
And a ritual.

Getting into the habit of doing the same few things every night before you go to bed helps clue your body into what's happening. Hopefully, then, it'll get on board the next time you go through the motions. And, as Arianna Huffington told us, feel free to make that ritual as seductive as you'd like — luxurious bubble bath, soft robe, candles — whatever it takes to help you fall back in love with sleep.
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Photographed by Mindy Best.
Keep your bedroom cool.

Our bodies are best at falling asleep when we're within a narrow temperature range: between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. But the perfect sleep temperature for each person tends to vary. So experiment to find yours — and resist the urge to crank the heat up this winter.
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Photographed by Brayden Olson.
Take a hot bath before bed.

Because your body's temperature naturally drops as you fall asleep, simulating that change can help signal that sleepy time is now. The easiest way to do that is to take a nice hot shower or bath before you go to bed.
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Photographed by Molly Cranna.
Work out (but time it carefully).

People who exercise regularly also tend to have an easier time getting enough sleep. But the timing matters: Working out too close to bedtime can actually excite your body and make it harder to fall asleep. That means morning or afternoon workouts are usually best. But as long as your sweat session is about three hours before you go to bed you should be fine.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Avoid blue light.

Blue light — the kind that's emitted by your phone and your laptop — can inhibit your body's natural melatonin production. So, stop looking at your phone an hour or two before bedtime and let that hormone lull you to sleep.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Especially social media.

A recent study found that checking out Facebook, Twitter, or Insta right before bed may be especially challenging for our minds, a recent study found. So there's some extra motivation to put away your phone long before your head hits the pillow.
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Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Practice good posture during the day.

Slouching too much during the day can leave you with lingering muscle tension (and restricted breathing) when you get into bed. Unfortunately, that can make it extra hard to fall asleep. So, prevent that by keeping your posture upright as much as possible during the day.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Do some relaxing yoga.

Doing a few relaxing yoga stretches (no intense vinyasa flows here) is enough to put your body at ease before bedtime. These beginner poses are the perfect place to start.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Try meditating.

You may scoff at meditation, but it's been proven to help reduce clinical anxiety symptoms (as well as medication use in one study). You can get started with just five minutes per day with our 30-day challenge.
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Photographed by Sara Kerens.
Concentrate on your breath.

If a full meditation feels like too much, you can try this quick breathing exercise to relax. All you have to do is lie down, breathe in for three seconds, and breathe out for six seconds. Repeat that until you fall asleep. It works.
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Photographed by Bianca Valle.
Run through a "comfort fantasy."

If you find your mind is racing as you're trying to fall asleep, directing your thoughts through a "comfort fantasy" might calm you down. For instance, Lena Dunham tells us that imagining she's falling asleep on an airplane in the company of Hillary and Bill Clinton is particularly helpful when she's feeling anxious. (Hey, whatever works!)
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Try these sleepy tunes.

Music can help muffle any distracting noises in your environment. But certain types of music are also perfect for relaxing your mind into sleep. Try our sleep playlist over here.
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Photographed by Lani Trock.
Talk it out with a therapist.

If you're dealing with an anxiety disorder, you've probably already discovered that talking things out with a counselor can calm your mind. But recent research has shown that a certain kind of therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy) can help specifically with insomnia. In fact, one study showed that a single session could drastically improve your sleep.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.

Of course, you know to avoid caffeine too late in the day. But for people with panic disorders (a type of anxiety disorder related to panic attacks), that advice is even more important because classic research has shown that these individuals may react more sensitively than others to the stimulant.
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Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
Avoid alcohol, too.

Although many of us turn to a glass of wine at the end of the day to help relax, that might actually be keeping us up. That's because, although alcohol can act as a depressant, it also disturbs sleep later in the night. So, you may find yourself falling asleep easier after an extra glass, but you'll also probably wake up earlier than you'd planned.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Load up on fiber.

Some foods are known to make falling asleep easier, while others definitely make it more of a challenge. Rather than going for meals that are fried, spicy, or high in sugar, look for whole grains and foods full of fiber.
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Photographed by Bek Andersen.
Eat at the perfect times.

It's not just what you eat — when you eat matters, too. If you're going to bed with a full stomach, your digestive system's still churning and may keep the rest of your body in alert mode. That goes double if your dinner was especially heavy. So try not to eat any big meals for a few hours before you go to bed — but feel free to have a fiber-full snack if you're hungry.
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Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Be careful with sleep meds.

If you're really having a tough time with sleep, your doctor may prescribe medications to help you (e.g. Ambien or Xanax). However, you should know to use these carefully. These drugs can be habit-forming and may come with serious side effects, such as memory issues. Plus, these medications don't address the root cause of whatever's keeping you up. So, while they can be a necessary short-term solution, be sure you're combining them with other strategies that will work in the long-term (and hopefully reduce your reliance on these meds).
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Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Give melatonin a shot (with caution).

Another thing to be cautious about: melatonin supplements. These are one of the few natural sleep aids that have some research supporting their effectiveness. However, melatonin is also known to affect different people very differently. And in a recent study, melatonin's once-helpful effects wore off after six to 12 months. So maybe this is one to save for especially bad nights rather than using it consistently.
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Photographed by Tayler Smith.
Check on the other meds you might be taking.

Many common medications (including those used to treat migraines) contain caffeine or act as stimulants. So check with your doctor to make sure that's not the case or, if it is, see if you can switch or lower your dose.

On the other hand, many medications used to treat depression and anxiety are also often prescribed to treat sleep issues.
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Photographed by Tayler Smith.
Pay attention to your period.

Your period and the week before is a time of some serious hormonal fluctuation. So it's probably not surprising that those changing levels can mess with your sleep. Specifically, some women find that it's especially tough to fall asleep the few days right before their period thanks to elevated estrogen levels.

The key here is to not let these blips in your sleep kick-start your anxious thoughts. Tracking your period can help here because if you know to expect these minor disturbances, you can better remain calm when they happen.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Go outside during the day.

Your body's internal clock relies on certain cues throughout the day to keep it on track. One of the most powerful signals is sunlight. So try to get outside for about 30 minutes per day to soak up that sun — and set things in motion for bedtime.
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Photographed by Julia Lola Wang.
Don't look at the time.

If you feel like it's taking you a long time to fall asleep, resist the urge to check the time. That'll just make you more aware of how long it's been. But to go the extra mile, also rid your bedroom of any other time markers — including ticking clocks, blinking DVR lights, or a buzzing phone.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Get out of bed.

We know it's tough, really, but if you're just not able to fall asleep, sometimes getting out of bed may be the best thing to do. Recent research shows that spending time in bed when you're not sleeping makes it that much harder to fall asleep the next night. So, if you feel like you've been tossing and turning for a while (at least 20 minutes), get up and do something relaxing, such as reading a book, for a while. Then try to go back to sleep. Hopefully, you'll have better luck.
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Photographed by Bianca Valle.
Settle relationship issues.

Not only are you more likely to experience tension in your relationship without good sleep, but new research suggests that tension in a relationship can also make you less likely to get good sleep. So, nip this cycle of stress in the bud and talk it out with your partner.
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Photographed by Anna Alexia Basile.
Keep a journal.

There are so many reasons a journal can help you get a better night's sleep — it just depends on how you want to use it. For instance, keeping track of how long and how well you sleep each night makes it easier to find patterns in your sleep habits and pinpoint unexpected things that can keep you up (like that extra episode of American Horror Story before bed). Or, using your journal for mindfulness-related practices, including reflecting on gratitude, can reduce your stress levels and leave you feeling extra relaxed.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Only use your bed for sleep (and sex).

We know it's tempting to make your cozy bed home base for pretty much everything. That goes double if you're stuck in a cramped apartment. But, as much as you can, reserve your bed for sleep and sex only. That will help cue your body to start drifting off when you get under the sheets (unless there's something or someone keeping you awake).
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Photographed by Molly Cranna.
Get a sleep tracker.

Many activity trackers (such as the Jawbone UP2 and the Fitbit Flex 2) come with sleep-tracking features too. In addition to a sleep diary, this kind of tracking can help you keep an eye on any patterns that pop up. And they can even help wake you up when you're in a lighter phase of sleep, leaving you less groggy in the morning.
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Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Focus on others during the day.

It turns out that those who spend time focusing on others, whether that's through volunteering or just being polite and friendly, tend to have lower stress levels. So, lending a helping hand is a tried-and-true stress-relief tip that can help settle your mind at night, too.

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