A few months ago, one of my posts focused on how to sleep with anxiety for those out there who struggle. Since sleep and mental health have a direct connection, I thought there were people out there who, like me, have tremendous anxiety around bedtime. Even then (in January), I knew I wasn’t alone. Now, I’d guess that almost all of us are having trouble around bedtime as we end another day of living through a pandemic (“Day ??” is my go-to phrase) and try to sleep before starting another one. And though bedtime is more difficult for all of us, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to feel that way.
There’s no doubt that there’s a connection between mental health and sleep, especially when it comes to the quality of sleep we get. There’s plenty of advice to dole out about this, so you have to be careful not to look at the problem from the wrong point of view. For instance, if you are anxious and you can’t sleep, there are other ways to fall asleep than getting rid of your anxiety entirely. Even though people will take that route.
Instead, you can manage that anxiety through different tips and techniques to help you sleep better. Yes, limiting screen time and not having caffeine too late in the day are both very important tips, but that could honestly affect everyone. Instead, I’ve found 3 tips that have proven to be helpful to sleep well with anxiety, so I thought I’d share them!
Once upon a time, I used to be good at sleeping. Then, when I was 18, I went through a rough stage of life and it affected my sleep schedule in a major way. It became almost impossible to go to sleep, stay asleep, and get the right amount each night. I’d be going through my day on 3-4 hours on average – it wasn’t fun.
Since life does go on, I got through that rough stage, but my relationship with sleep didn’t get better. And though it’s improved in the years since then, it’s very safe to say that I don’t sleep as much – or as well – as a healthy person should.
I am not very good at waking up in the morning. I’ve written about this in the past, but it hasn’t made things any easier. When the alarm goes off, I hit snooze. I’ve calculated how long it takes me to get ready in the morning, and I am prepared to use the minimum amount of time to get dressed and head off to work. I’m not proud of it, but that’s my reality.
I’m also not very good at going to sleep at night. This often happens because it’s hard to turn off an anxious brain, but other factors play into it as well. There are plenty of tips out there about falling asleep in an efficient manner, and I’m pretty sure I’ve tried almost every single one. Some have worked better than others, but I haven’t found that secret formula that gets me to fall asleep in a timely manner; I usually sit in bed for a half-hour or more before drifting off to sleep.
But one thing I am getting much better at is not staying in bed. If I’m not sleeping, I’m not in my bed. It’s an important distinction and one that has improved my mental health.
The connection between sleep and mental health is deeper than you realize. Getting the most out of your time in bed could be a key factor in improving your mental health and even though it’s hard for me, I understand those benefits. Though sleep is essential to your health, staying in bed for too long or being in bed too often makes it harder to cope with your mental illnesses. When my depression is the worst, all I want to do is stay in bed and sleep. It’s my refuge, my place of safety from the world. And though it makes me feel better in the moment, I always regret staying in bed for too long and hate myself for it. It’s not a great long-term solution, and it does not improve my mental health.
I remember in college, I could stay in my bed for hours at a time – watching television, doing schoolwork, even eating meals. I developed a dependency on my bed that was not only unhealthy but extremely unhelpful. I don’t have that relationship anymore, and I think that’s because I realized how much of a hindrance this behavior was in my daily life.
I’m not asking much of you this week, but I’d encourage you to be aware of how much time you spend in bed. Is it a place for sleeping, or do you spend more time there than you realize? I’m not asking you to change how you deal with your mental health or mental illness, but becoming aware of your habits – good and bad – is a good thing to do.