Can't sleep? 6 ways to stop the late night worrying and drift off | The Sun

IS anxiety ruining your sleep?

These expert tips will ensure a good night’s kip, no matter what’s on your mind.

You’re staring at the clock as it ticks past 4am, knowing you’ve got to be up for work and the kids in just a few hours, but you can’t stop your thoughts crashing around your head on a loop.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. It’s estimated that insomnia now affects 40% of adults – a 20% rise post-pandemic, and with the current cost-of-living crisis, it’s hardly surprising. 

“It’s common to experience some anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life.

"Anxiety is a natural human response when we feel we are under threat. And having worries at night doesn’t necessarily mean you’re experiencing a mental health problem,” says Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind.


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That said, we could all do with a more stress-free snooze, so how can you stop catastrophising and return to the land of nod?

We asked the experts for their foolproof tips…

Choose a worry window

Deciding to confront your concerns at a specific time (that’s not the middle of the night) could help you make it through till morning undisturbed.

“Commit to having a worry window at 6pm for 15 minutes,” recommends wellbeing expert Janey Lee Grace, author of Happy Healthy Sober.

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“When worries come up through the day, jot them down and know you can worry about them then. This lets your unconscious mind notice the thoughts.

"Then consciously decide to tackle them at a designated time. Before bed, remind yourself you can park any worries till your next worry window.”

Open your eyes

It might sound counter-intuitive when you’re trying to still your brain and go back to sleep, but try opening your eyes and looking skyward.

“Eye stretching upward accesses the part of the brain responsible for ideas and inspiration,” says Liz Larson, co-creator of wellbeing and exercise programme Cognomovement.

“And it is actually an easy trick to get your mind and body out of stress.” She adds: “The next time you start down the rabbit hole of thoughts spiralling from bad to worse, stop and take an inventory.

"Ask yourself: ‘Am I truly in danger right this minute?’ If not, take four slow, deep belly breaths, then stretch your eyes upward, keeping your chin down, and shift them side to side in a tick-tock motion. Do this for one minute. You will quickly notice your body relax, and your thoughts settle down.”

Channel your inner Yogi

Yoga is a proven anxiety soother, and studies have also found it can help beat insomnia.Dr Bryony Henderson, lead GP from online GP service Livi, suggests three moves to help you fall asleep fast and stay that way.

Or try them if you wake up fretting. They’ll help calm your nervous system, making it easier to drop off.Hold each pose for one to five minutes, breathing slowly and deeply. 

Legs up the wall: “Lie on your back and raise your legs straight up a wall. Keep your hands and arms relaxed at your sides.”

Lying butterfly pose: “Lie flat on your back, dropping your knees out to the sides, while pressing the soles of your feet together.”

Relaxation pose: “Lie on your back with arms and legs straight but relaxed. Keep your hands open, palms facing up. Roll your ankles open to the sides.”

Distract your brain with art 

Thinking happy thoughts when your head is full of fear and doubt is easier said than done. So instead, distract yourself with imagery.

“The mind is made to think and, if you have a lot to deal with, you can easily get into the habit of doing your problem solving late at night when all the urgent demands of the day are done – which keeps you awake,” says artist and former psychotherapist Valerie Ellis.

“Give your rabid mind a different bone to chew on. Colouring or drawing late at night will give you something to focus on, which is relaxing and far better than TV, which will waken and stimulate your mind.”

Not much of an artist? “Gaze at a great work of art with the goal of remembering all the details. When you close your eyes, try to picture that artwork and recreate it to calm your mind.”

Try beditation

We do it all day every day, but really focusing on your breathing – especially during the witching hour, when things seem so much worse – can help put an end to worries.

“Beditation is a little meditation that can help you fall back to sleep quickly,” says mindfulness expert Neil Seligman. “Start by bringing your attention to the natural flow of the breath, then perform a little body scan from the head and moving down through the neck, torso, arms, pelvis, legs and feet.

"At each body part, take at least one full breath in and out – you can even tense and release the muscles as you go if it helps you relax. End by breathing deeply into the whole of the body, or repeat the cycle if you are still awake.”

“When you inhale slowly and deeply, you take in more oxygen and this brings down your heart rate,” adds Dr Henderson, and you don’t need to focus on every body part if that makes you feel under pressure. Instead, inhale gently for four seconds and exhale gently for a further four. Repeat for one to five minutes. 

Stop trying so hard

Desperately trying to force yourself to drift off is not going to work.

“Any effort towards going to sleep will send you in entirely the wrong direction,” says Neil. “Instead, start with acceptance of the present moment and ask yourself what you need. A glass of water, a trip to the loo or a stretch of the body can be enough to help you reset and rest.”

He adds: “There is some evidence that trying to stay awake is more likely to send you to sleep than the opposite.” 

So it might be time to avoid counting sheep and see what happens… 

When to seek help

“If your worries are impacting your ability to live your life, you may want to think about reaching out for support,” says Stephen from Mind – and is a good place to start. 

Dr Henderson suggests if you’ve tried improving things and fears are still affecting you at night, keep a sleep diary for two weeks and discuss the results with your GP.

She says: “A doctor will be able to help identify and advise on the possible causes of your insomnia and give guidance on good sleep hygiene.

"They may refer you for talking therapy, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which could help uncover why you’re having trouble sleeping or waking in the night with worry.”

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