It’s 3 a.m. and you’re wide awake. Again. You toss and turn, trying to will yourself back to sleep, but it’s no use. Your mind is racing, and you can’t seem to shut off the thoughts that are keeping you up. Sound familiar? If you’re someone who worries about sleep, you’re not alone. In fact, anxiety around sleep is a common insomnia symptom.
When we have overactive thoughts, especially ones that involve worry or anxiousness on a consistent basis, it can trigger a stress response. A stress response means that your body views this situation as stressful, and it may activate fight or flight mode. This usually happens in stressful situations where our body either needs to fight the situation, or run away from it, but it doesn’t always know how to differentiate between a stressful situation, or just plain stress. If we “stress out” enough about the same thing, it may tell our body “Yep, this is a stressful situation….activate the fight or flight response”. The problem is, we don’t want the fight or flight response at night because it keeps us awake. So, what can we do to help minimize this from happening? Luckily, there are some things you can do to ease your worries and get some much-needed rest.
Steps to stop the worrying
- Identify thoughts that are negative and unhelpful. You’ve likely had this problem for a while, so you may have developed some unhealthy thoughts around sleeping. For example, many people find themselves having thoughts like “I never fall back to sleep after waking at 3am. If I fall asleep now, I can get 5 hours of sleep. Why can’t I just close my eyes and sleep? I’m a horrible sleeper”. These thoughts are negative, unhealthy and even confirm to your body that you are stressed out about sleep. If the thoughts happen often enough, they can even turn into stress triggers that activate the stress response and keep you awake even longer. If you find that the time is a trigger, try turning the alarm clock around so that you don’t see time anymore. When you wake up in the night, just assume there’s more than enough time to fall back to sleep.
- Reframe unhealthy thoughts into more positive ones. Now that you’ve identified those unhealthy thoughts, try reframing them in a more positive way. Stop the thought “I never sleep after 3 am”, and change it to “I’m learning to improve my sleep, it may take some time”. You can also change “I’m a horrible sleeper” to “I am taking steps to improve my sleep and my health”. If you can’t think of a way to reframe the thought in a positive way, simply think to yourself “I’m ok. I can get through this”.
- Practice grateful thinking. Identifying and reframing thoughts are a great first step, but you may not be able to stop the barrage of negative thoughts from happening. Instead of trying to stop all the negative thoughts, purposely thinking about something else can help break the cycle and distract from the negative thoughts. A great way to think about something else while also staying calm and relaxed, is to think of things you are grateful for. Start small, be thankful for the comfortable bed you are in, the air you breathe, the water you drink, etc. Feel free to even make a list of grateful things during the day, so you have something to pull from at night. This grateful thinking changes the way your mind is working at night. Instead of thinking negative or stressful thoughts, you’re now thinking happy, grateful thoughts. This tells your body that you are ok and don’t want to be stressed out. Practicing this consistently can retrain your mind to think more positively and stop the stress response from happening. Over time, your mind may stop stressing out about sleep altogether. It may take some time, but be patient and consistent. You’ve got this!
Reframing the way you think about sleep can take patience and consistency, but it can help to minimize the worry you have at night. Once we stop worrying so much about sleep, that’s when sleep will happen more naturally. If you struggle with your sleep and would like a one-on-one conversation with a sleep coach who can guide you to better sleep, visit Delta Sleep Coaching for information on our consultation and program options.