We've all had that feeling – you slip into bed, ready for a good night's sleep, but before you can nod off, worry sets in. Whether it's panicking about forgetting to pay a bill, stressing over an important work meeting or just general worries about your family or relationships, before you know it the anxious thoughts are spiralling out of control and sleep seems impossible – which agitates you even more. With the amount of people diagnosed with anxiety disorders rising, sleep disruption due to worry is definitely not uncommon – but what can you do about it? We asked independent sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley for his advice, and he revealed one clever trick that is great for distracting your mind from worry.
When the anxiety sets in, what you need to do, says Dr Stanley, is focus on an imaginary scenario, which is unimportant but has a story, thereby diverting your attention.
'Imagine what you would do if you won the lottery, or where you would go if you suddenly got your own private jet,' he recommends. 'The important thing is that the imagined situation has a narrative, which keeps your brain focused on something other than your worries.' Dr Stanley also recommends avoiding stressful situations just before bed – for example, not opening gas or mortgage bills late at night, avoiding work emails and never going to sleep on an argument.
'Additionally, a lot of people's panic is caused by suddenly remembering a task they need to do,' says Dr Stanley. 'Keep a pen and paper next to your bed so you can jot down the job and then forget about it, rather than lying there panicking that you won't remember!' Overall, Dr Stanley says that if you are struggling to sleep, you shouldn't get angry with yourself or frustrated about it, as this will only make the situation worse. 'We tend to catastrophise the effects of not getting enough sleep, which makes us more stressed,' he explains. 'For optimum sleep, you need to be relaxed.'