HOW TO | Stop Anxiety from Affecting Your Sleep

Want to stop your anxiety affecting your sleep? Dr Nicola Barclay, University of Oxford Sleep Scientist, and John Tuton, Mammoth Founder, discuss how to keep your worries out of the bedroom.

NB: One thing that I do myself, I’m a worrier, but I schedule in worry time. So, worrying in some sense and purposes is a useful thing for us to be doing. Our brain is trying to work through problems, trying to problem solve. So we need to worry to some extent so it’s not problematic, but we just need to schedule it into our day. So, have half an hour a day when you dedicate time to those worries, thinking about loved ones, thinking about how you’re going to deal with your job when you eventually return to work, or whatever your worries may be schedule it in and put the day to bed before you get into the bedroom

So don’t have any time in your bedroom where you are allowed to worry, make sure that’s in a separate space. But if you do worry at night, so if you wake up in the middle of the night with panic and thinking and anxiety, have a notebook next to your bed and jot down those worries and then put it in a drawer and go back to sleep. So then at least you’re not thinking about it all through the night thinking, “oh god I must remember what I thought about now. I must remember in the morning”, write it down, put it away and then get back to sleep.

And if that doesn’t work, then get out of the bedroom and go do something else. Distract your mind and return to the bedroom when you feel sleepy again. So, you’ve got worry time, you’ve got getting out of the bedroom, but also scheduling in relaxation time in the one to two hours leading up to bedtime and have that relaxation time where you’re not checking your e-mails, you’re not checking the news. Don’t watch the 10 o’clock news last thing at night before you go to bed, it’s only going to arouse you even more make you more worried. So you want to find ways that you’re not exposing yourself to anxiety provoking stimuli in those hours before bed, but that you’re having some time to yourself, whether it be watching your favourite TV show, listening to some music, having a relaxing bath, do all of these things, and then in the middle of the night have some techniques that, you know, will help distract you if you wake up worrying.

So we know that there are lots of cognitive techniques that can distract our mind. And that’s what we want to do at night time. Make our minds think about, you know, boring stuff that it doesn’t have to pay too much attention to. Counting sheep. The age old tradition of counting sheep is not a bad thing to do. Count sheep in an imaginary field jumping over a fence. You just want to distract your mind from your worries. Breathing techniques and counting are really good. There are loads of YouTube videos with excellent breathing techniques to try to slow down your heart rate put you in a vegetative state. To some extent, a meditation itself can also be really useful, especially in the hours leading up to bed time to kind of prepare your mind and prepare your body for sleep.

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Watch the full interview here.