There is nothing better than a good night’s sleep. Giving your body a chance to rest and restore itself is one of the best things you can do, which is why the average adult should be getting at least seven hours of sleep every night – and preferably more!1 The “true” number of hours you should be sleeping each night varies from person to person (seven hours isn’t nearly enough for me), but what’s most important is getting a deep sleep. Often it’s restlessness that keeps us up far past our bedtimes, not knowing how to calm anxiety before bed. If you’ve ever been lying awake in the dark, frustrated, angry, and horribly on edge, you’re in good company – but what can you do about it?
Understanding Anxiety and Sleep
If you’ve ever “tried” to fall asleep, you know how frustrating it can be. Usually, someone who is anxious or agitated strongly wants to fall asleep, and these are almost always among their longest nights. According to a 2012 article by Live Science (quoting Scott Campbell of Weill Cornell Medical College): "For most people, the harder they try to fall asleep, the less success they have," Campbell said. ... "obsessing about anything is likely to interfere . ... That's why 'counting sheep,' or thinking about anything with little emotional content can help the sleep onset process."2
Unfortunately, the idea that “obsessing over anything” could interfere with sleep means that if you have any kind of anxious disposition, you probably have a hard time falling asleep most nights. When you have to “try” to fall asleep – well, it almost never works. In a 2019 report, doctors from children’s hospitals in Boston found that youth with histories of anxiety were at a higher risk for not meeting their recommended hours of sleep,3 in part because our bodies and minds need us to be in a calm place before we can properly rest.
Generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorders5 can all lead to an overactive mental state that makes being calm and relaxed before bed very difficult. While there are medications and therapies that you can use to help manage your symptoms, learning how to calm anxiety before bed can also come down to adopting a straightforward routine that benefits your body and mind in a natural way.
If you struggle with anxiety, panic, or any kind of intense phobia, we strongly recommend talking to a physician and learning more about treatment options.
How to Calm Anxiety Before Bed
One of the most important things to keep in mind when considering how to calm anxiety before bed is that whether you play, learn, or create, you can harness your passion into helping you sleep. Healthy, mindful choices are always ideal for a good night’s rest, and when your anxiety gets in the way, taking things slowly is always the best approach. Reading, writing, exercising, creating, and meditating are just some of the things you can do to calm your anxiety before bed, and get a better night’s rest to take on every new day.
3. Stracciolini, A., McCracken, C. M., Milewski, M. D., & Meehan, B. (2019). LACK OF SLEEP AMONG YOUTH ATHLETES IS ASSOCIATED WITH A HIGHER PREVALENCE OF SELF-REPORTED HISTORY OF ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 7(3) doi:http://dx.doi.org.library.sheridanc.on.ca/10.1177/2325967119S00086
6. Hale, L., & Guan, S. (2014;2015;). Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: A systematic literature review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 21, 50-58. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2014.07.007
7. Black DS, O’Reilly GA, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Irwin MR. Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):494–501. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081