Are you having trouble sleeping lately? I’m not sure what it is, but everyone in my office and personal life are having the worst time getting a good night’s sleep. I don’t think I’ve had a full nights sleep in 2 weeks.
So, after talking with my therapist, because I had absolutely no idea why I wasn’t getting any shut eye, I’m giving all of you some recommendations on how to sleep if you have anxiety. I mean, let’s be real, nighttime is the best time for your brain to get restless and start thinking about every little thing on your mind.
Get curious and get grounded!
When she told me to “get curious” I was extremely confused. My head was thinking, “Okay, so if I start getting curious about things then my brain will still be going non-stop. I’ll start thinking about how I can help the animals in Australia, then I’ll get depressed about the animals, then I’ll start having horrible images pop up in my head and, before I know it, it’ll be 5:00am!”
Once she explained it to me it made much more sense. By “getting curious” she meant to start thinking about what you are feeling in the present moment. From there, begin to wonder how your toes are feeling, then your legs, and all the way up to your head. Do your toes feel tingly? Do your arms feel weighted? Now, feel yourself either sinking into the mattress or being rooted into the ground like you are one with the Earth. Soon, you won’t be focusing on anything else because you are too focused on being in the present moment!
For those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression, being in the present moment can sometimes feel impossible. This exercise is a great way to rewire your brain’s pathways from focusing on the amygdala and instead refocusing it to the hippocampus. Besides, if you didn’t have a hippocampus, you wouldn’t be able to live in the present! Instead, you’d always be stuck in the past of your old memories.
Now bear with me, I’m not a doctor, so what I’m saying could be way off! Remember, I’m a History Major and have my Masters in Museum Studies. Science class and I are friends, but we were never very close. The relationship was more like a “keep your friends close but your enemies closer” type of situation.
The amygdala is responsible for processing memory decision-making and emotional responses, like fear, anxiety and aggression. However, the hippocampus helps with memory storage and organization, consolidating memories during sleep and forming new memories.
If you have depression or anxiety, the hippocampus loses volume and can impair your ability to form new memories. However, there is hope! The hippocampus is also the “regeneration center” of the brain, so it is constantly replenishing your cells. If you have depression or anxiety, antidepressants are one way to stimulate the production of new cells and rebuild the structure of the hippocampus. Other ways to strengthen the hippocampus and keep it healthy is through exercise, stress management, mental exercises and meditation or deep breathing.
Eventually, by utilizing the “grounded exercise,” you will rewire your brain to start living in the present moment and not thinking purely about the past or the emotional responses that stir up when you think about the past.
Bonus: This is also a really great exercise for those who suffer from vaginismus. Not only will it help you to start being in the present moment, but it will also refocus your brain’s pathways to the hippocampus, away from the emotional amygdala that stirs up anxiety and depression and can cause damage to your hippocampus.
Ever have restless leg syndrome or simply toss and turn in bed because you can’t seem to get comfortable? Well, maybe you are magnesium deficient?
Believe it or not, if you are stressed and need some sleep, research has suggested you take 100-350 mg of magnesium daily. However, I would consult with you doctor first!
As a natural treatment, magnesium has been shown to promote sleep or improve your overall sleep quality. Taking more green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds can increase your magnesium intake.
Some individuals also use melatonin as another natural sleep aid.
Other Sleep Tips
Aside from what my therapist suggested for the anxious brain, I think we all know about other ways to help you get more sleep. For instance:
- Avoid watching TV or using your phone before bed.
- Exercise can help you sleep, but don’t exercise before bed because that will only keep you awake. Allow at least 3 hours between exercise and bed.
- Don’t drink caffeine before bed.
- Don’t eat food 2-3 hours before going to bed.
- Try to maintain a good sleep schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
- Some people use calming music or natural sounds to help them sleep.
- Keep the room dark, cool and comfortable.
- If you find that reading or taking a warm bath before bed helps you to fall asleep, do it!
- Get enough water during the day and try to eat a balanced, healthy diet.
- Meditate before bed and try some deep breathing exercises.