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When the din of the day has died, the circus within arises – late night anxiety.  The worries and concerns that were waiting in the back of your mind occupy the center ring, hindering your sleep.  What can you do about it?  Here are 10 long-term strategies to calm your mind and fall asleep faster, along with 4 techniques for handling late night anxiety while it is occurring.

  1. Deal with stressful issues as they arise. The things that you ruminate on before sleep are usually the things left undone.
  2. Be realistic about what you can and cannot control. Implement action plans for the things you can, and let go of those you cannot.
  3. Engage with your support system. Remember the old saying “A problem shared is a problem halved?” Sometimes just being heard can help reduce stress.
  4. Exercise You can burn off stress and fatigue by exercising as little as one or twice per week.
  5. Create an “end of day ritual” to put a boundary between work and home. For example, you can write down your to-do items and review your calendar for the next day. Having a plan for tomorrow’s work can help you move forward and let go.
  6. Enact some dietary changes. Reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and processed food. The half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours, so that afternoon cup of coffee could still be in your system at bedtime. Even one alcoholic drink at night can negatively impact your sleep.  Eating within 2-3 hours of bedtime can likewise disrupt your rest.
  7. Improve your sleeping environment. Setting a cooler temperature, selecting better blinds, mattress, or pillows, and adding a sound machine could help you sleep better.
  8. Be consistent with your bed and wake times throughout the week. This will help your body get in a consistent sleep rhythm.
  9. Try meditation. Mindful meditation can help manage daily stress and provide a skill you can use when you wake up in the middle of the night.
  10. Seek professional help. A therapist can help you develop skills to manage anxiety and provide support for you to confront the issues that cause it. You can also ask your medical doctor if sleep medication such as Ambien or Lunesta might be helpful and discuss the pros and cons of taking these types of medications.  Some people find over the counter products like CALM and melatonin helpful but you need to be aware of potential side effects and pay close attention to dosage guidelines.

What you can do in the moment:

  1. Focus on the sensation of air moving in and out of your nose or mouth. When your mind tries to focus on other things, gently remind it to return to focusing on your breathing.
  2. Count backwards from 10,000. If you’re an advanced backwards counter going by 3’s is another option.  This is another way to help your brain focus on something other than your worries.
  3. Two-step deep breathing. Inhale to 75% of your lung capacity, pause and then increase the rest of the way to fill your lungs and release your breath.  This helps cue your body to release stress and get ready for sleep.  Repeat as needed.
  4. If you are wide awake after 30 minutes you may want to consider going to another part of your house and reading a book until you feel tired. You do not want to create too strong of an association with your bed and wakefulness.  Do not get on your phone or a computer as the screen light will increase wakefulness/brain activity.


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