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How to fall asleep when anxiety keeps you up

how to fall asleep when anxiety keeps you up blog post

I have heard you loud and clear! One of the main questions I get and themes that keeps popping up is SLEEP! Sleep is so so vital to how able we are to be who we were created to be. And to be our best selves for our families, co-workers, clients/customers – whoever it is you serve throughout your day!

I don’t know about you but I regularly find myself exhausted!

Are you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, burnt out?

I hear ya! I also find that I am 10x more exhausted and drained when my anxiety is high. I worry about my students, my family, my health, my kids safety and future, and everything else in between. Worrying takes up so so much energy! 

Did you know that trying to FALL asleep actually takes quite a bit of energy? This is partly why babies struggle so hard to fall asleep once they are overtired. And I’m guessing it’s no surprise to you that worrying and being anxious are HUGE energy suckers!

This means that we need to find ways to fill our energy gas tank. Today I am going to focus on creating a lifestyle that ensures our bodies are in a calm state and our tanks have at least enough gas left to get us to sleep. 

7 ways to overcome nighttime anxiety pin

Sleep Struggles

Do you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep?

My two biggest sleep struggles are 1) waking up after a regular nights sleep and still feeling exhausted and 2) what I like to call the worry sleep cycle.

Have you ever been anxious about falling asleep so you starting worrying you aren’t going to get enough sleep and lay awake watching the clock while counting down the hours left until your alarm goes off?

This can be a very frustrating cycle that is really hard to get out of once you head down the worry spiral.

The worry trail can also be a very enticing path your mind may be tempted to go down as you try to fall asleep. The worry trail is filled with worries about the past and future.

It’s when your mind thinks about everything that happened or could happen and begins to feel anxious. Intrusive thoughts really like to hang out on the worry trail.

"Sleep deprivation is both a cause and consequence of anxiety."

Sleep issues are all very cyclical. You could even ask the chicken and egg question. You know the one… which came first the chicken or the egg?

Well, which came first the sleep issues or the worry about sleep or am I worrying because I can’t fall asleep or can’t fall asleep because I’m worrying? We need to build in ways to stop this cycle!

Sleep Goals 

There are a couple of goals that we need to work towards:

  1. We need to have enough energy in our tank for our bodies to be able to fall asleep.
  2. Our bodies need to feel calm, relaxed, & safe. 
  3. We need to have good strategies for recovery when we have bad nights so we don’t start to slide down the spiral. And we will have bad nights sometimes.  
Burnout Quote about Sleep

7 Tips for falling asleep when anxiety keeps you up

  1. We need a bedtime routine (yes even as adults) 
  2. No screens before bed! (This may be one of your hardest) 
  3. Create an atmosphere of calm 
  4. Find calm within 
  5. Keep your bed as a sacred space 
  6. Have a ‘worry time’ 
  7. Create a reset routine

Bedtime Routine

As humans, many of us thrive on routine. Soon after babies are born we work to get them on a routine – familiar pattern.

7 tips for better sleep

Our bodies feel safe and calm when we know what to expect and feel a sense of control. Start by trying to have a regular bedtime routine. This helps your body to know when to produce melatonin.

“Melatonin is a hormone in your body that plays a role in sleep. The production and release of melatonin in the brain is connected to time of day, increasing when it’s dark and decreasing when it’s light.”

No screens before bed!

This is a really tricky one. We are all glued to our devices way to often. I could rant about this topic all day and am also so guilty of falling into this trap.

Research suggests that we shouldn’t be on our phones minimum 1 hour before bed. This is best practice of course – the end goal. I would suggest starting with even just 15 min and working up from there. 

Create An Atmosphere of Calm

We need to create a space in which our mind and body feels free, safe, and calm. Is your bedroom a safe place for your body to relax and feel calm? There are 3 things that are so important to start with.

  • Minimalism – the more crowded and disorganized our space is the more full and disorganized our mind is.
  • Temperature – most of us need to make our bedrooms cooler. Our bodies are in mini hibernation when we are sleeping and do this best when they aren’t overheated.
  • Darkness – our bodies were created to follow the rhythms of day and night. One of the ways our body knows its bedtime is by the sun setting. Ensure that your bedroom is nice and dark. (This also means no bright alarm clock lights – turn them around or get rid of them)

Find Calm Within

This means taking the time to calm our body and mind each night. Letting go of the thoughts and worries of the day and preparing to start fresh tomorrow.

This may include guided meditation, time of prayer, deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or journaling, to name a few.

Keep your bed as a sacred space

Your bed should only be used for sleeping and intimacy with your partner. One of the ways our brain manages stress is by compartmentalizing it. Our stress response system remembers things based on feelings and senses.

When I walk into my bedroom how does my brain know that its rest time versus stress about/studying for an exam time? 

Have a worry time

This is really helpful for those of us that have brains that tend to think about everything important we should have done or need to do or everything that we need to prepare for or need to deal with – ie. the worry trail.

Having a designated ‘worry time’ as part of our bedtime routine and having a journal to write it in, can help our brain to dumb everything out it needs to in a safe place, knowing it can pick it all up again tomorrow.

Try setting aside 7 minutes in your routine to write down all the things you need to remember, or are worrying about. Then, in the morning as part of your morning routine look through and cross off all the ones that no longer matter and make a to do list for the ones that do. Usually by morning certain worries just aren’t as important. 

Create A Reset Routine

Do you know what is even worse than worry causing you to struggle to fall asleep?

Worrying about worrying that your not going to be able to fall asleep. If you find yourself after 20-30 min feeling super restless, frustrated and awake you need a reset routine!

Don’t try to stay in bed and fight it out – you won’t have a good sleep when you eventually do fall asleep.

Instead create a really positive calm routine to give your body and mind a chance to have a break from trying to fall asleep and then try again.

insomnia bites get help with sleep

For example your reset routine may be getting up going to the bathroom, drink a small cup of water, crawl into bed and read or listen to a audio book or meditation until you feel sleepy.

All while telling yourself, ‘it’s ok body although this isn’t ideal we can try to get better sleep tomorrow. At least being calm and relaxed is better than frustrated and restless.’ 

Sleep conclusion

Lastly, you may be reading through this thinking, “hey I have no problem falling asleep, my issue is staying asleep!” If you keep waking up in the middle of the night I encourage you to reflect and journal what you think triggered you to wake up.

Did it have something to do with the environment? (too hot, cold, bright?) or maybe you had to pee 😉 or maybe you woke up from nightmares or in a panic? You may also have no idea why you are awake and restless.

If you know the trigger or problem fix it. And then do some sleep strategies to help you fall back asleep, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and counting. If you don’t know why you are awake and are really struggling to fall back asleep try your reset plan.


I hope that you found these 7 tips helpful! I encourage you to try using 1 of the strategies tonight, then one the next night…and so on.

Want to learn more? Check-out Dr. Caroline Leaf’s podcast about sleep

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