Dealing with Dreaded Nights of Anxiety, Stress, and Insomnia

Are you stressed? Anxious? Depressed?

Does this look like you at night?

Everyone, at some point and time, kind of wishes they could just crawl in bed and stay there. For some people, this sort of thought only occurs when something extremely tragic happens. For others, it’s an every day thing.

Some people want to crawl into bed and sleep, only to find that they can’t – no matter how tired their body feels.

For me, it’s kind of off and on. There are days I don’t really think about anything troubling. Other days, I can’t stop thinking about things that trouble me. And there are some times where… I just can’t stop thinking. Good or bad, thoughts just won’t go away.

It’s all too common to climb into bed, expecting to fall asleep right away, only to be kept awake. Thinking of ideas, worries, stresses, trying to plan my day, my future, anything. The thoughts just don’t stop!

Hopefully you are one of those “rare to never” people that usually falls asleep without a hitch. If you aren’t, you are far from alone.

There are a few tricks that I use to try to force myself back to sleep. Here’s hoping that one – or all – of them provide you with some form of relief the next time you are having difficulty getting to sleep.

1. Television

They say you aren’t supposed to have the TV on when you’re trying to fall asleep. I say, it depends.

Obviously action films, horror flicks, anything with screaming, explosions, or any sort of wild sound variation probably won’t help. Likewise, anything that causes the screen to flicker probably won’t help, unless you’re using a sleep mask. Some shows though, could be just what you need.

I personally love falling asleep to informational shows, infomercials, or quiet romance or drama films. Not because I’m bored by any of them, but because they are usually peaceful enough to keep you relaxed but interesting enough to draw your attention away. Once your mind gets drawn into the show, you stop thinking about other things.

Just be sure the shows aren’t too interesting. That doesn’t help either. Try it with something you’ve watched several times.

2. Music

This works for the same reason as the above. If your attention is drawn away (and you aren’t listening to screamo), it could be just enough to let you get to sleep. Since your brain is sort of what you’re trying to avoid, you have to figure out a way to escape it.

Like television, this usually doesn’t go over well with fast-paced, loud, obnoxious, or new music. You want to sort of be bored by it, but not enough to be frustrated either.

3. Reading

Reading anything, even if I like it, usually makes me tired. It’s for this reason that I don’t read a lot – even online. The brightness of the monitor usually keeps me awake, but something really long will still hit me.

However, if you read something too interesting, you risk getting caught up thinking about that instead. Thus, you still have a problem. It’s just different. Books are a better choice since there is no glaring light and your eyes will blink more frequently, but you still want to find something semi-boring.

Getting into something just interesting enough to keep you from thinking, but just boring enough to not make you think about it is a wonderful way to escape your own head.

4. Change Positions

I don’t just mean, getting more comfortable. I mean literally just changing how you are laying. For example, I usually cannot sleep on my back. It doesn’t matter if it is the most comfortable position I can find at the time, it just doesn’t work. I lay there and feel too vulnerable. It is as if by laying on my back, I feel like everyone could be watching me… or something. I don’t quite know what it is but I can only tolerate laying on my back for so long.

If you’re thinking, “So does that mean you’re a side sleeper?” Yes, I am. However, even different sides can make a difference for me. If I lay facing outward toward the room, my mind seems to have developed an expectation of seeing light that I don’t want to see, even if there is none. It is almost a subconscious fear, since I’m not generally thinking about it.

Once I roll over and face the wall, I’m fine.

Be aware of how you feel in different situations. Are you a side sleeper because it’s just more comfortable? Or do you, too, have a level of anxiety attached to it? Does sleeping on your stomach somehow put you more at ease than being on your side or your back? Whatever position you feel most at ease in – both physically and mentally – get in it.

5. Talk to Someone

When you’re really stressed out, try to think of someone you can call. Try to avoid being online or using a cellphone, since both have bright screens. If you have a lot on your mind and it isn’t too late, try to talk to someone about it. It’s always easier to go through something with a friend than to bear the entire burden alone. Whether the person can help you in any way isn’t the focus. If you get it off your chest, you could keep it from floating around in your head.

6. Give In

Sometimes my mind is going so much throughout the day that it seems my best ideas come when I’m trying to sleep. Annoying, but that’s just how it is.

So why fight it?

If you find that your best ideas come to you when you’re trying to hit the hay, don’t think of it like a consequence. Think of it like a benefit. Relax. Keep a pad of paper and a pen by you if you feel the need. Whenever you get a great idea, write it down. Then try to lay down again. If you think of another, write it down.

Doing so may eventually help you to relax about whatever is keeping you up, even if it’s a good thing. If you think up something fantastic and don’t write it down, you’ll risk stressing out more over the possibility of forgetting it. If you just write it down, you can drift off happily playing it out in your head instead of trying to sort out the details.

7. Stare at Your Eyes

Before you think I’m crazy, hear me out. If you intentionally focus your attention on your eyes looking at the back of your lids (literally, this isn’t a metaphor) it may be just distracting enough to let you fall asleep. Make sure it’s dark in the room though, you don’t want to see light glowing through your eyelids.

It sounds really weird, I know. But by focusing your eyes on something (your eyelids), it forces your brain to take action (attempt to focus your eyes), but it’s also boring. So boring you could do it with your eyes closed! Ha Ha Ha. Ok, I’ll stop.

Seriously though, it’ll be focusing your attention on something that isn’t stimulating in any other way.  That’s the whole point, tire out your brain. Ideally it could cause you to start dreaming.

8. Force Your Thinking

If all else fails, force your thoughts. When you can’t escape them, you’ll have to direct them.

If you’re like me, you have to be careful with this. You can’t let yourself think of anything stressful, sad, chaotic, annoying, or angering. However, you also can’t think of anything that will wind up making you think of something else that is. The best way to do this is fantasize about something positive, but not exciting.

For example, you could fantasize about winning the lottery and what you’d do with the money. As long as you didn’t get too excited or have too many plans for it, this might work. However, you don’t want your thoughts to drift to the other end and think about your current financial situation and feel stressed about it.

This method is what I used to get out of nightmares as a kid. I’d force myself to think about something ridiculous and cheesy, something that couldn’t possibly be construed as negative (My Little Pony or something!). Finally, I’d be able to relax because I’d get tired of forcing myself to think about it and gradually drift back to sleep.

The key thing is to do something that makes you zone out – of your own mind. Force your mind to do something a little bit boring until it tires and you fall completely asleep. Try one… or all 8… in whatever order works best for you. Speaking of, am I alone in this? Or do you use any of these methods yourself when you have difficulty sleeping? I’d love to hear how you best handle…yourself.

Image Courtesy: m_bartosch /

Posted on August 26, 2011, in Health, Life, Review, Work and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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