SELF CARE: Sleep Aids For My Anxious Brain

by - May 31, 2019

I've been spending a good amount of time recently thinking about self care and what that really means to me. I genuinely do think that how we treat self care and the things that we do to practice it can be very personal and we have to figure out those things for ourselves. For me, one thing that I've absolutely learned is that if I don't get enough sleep, it has a domino effect that really impacts my mood, motivation and productivity, so my number one thing is making sure that I'm prioritizing sleep and doing what I can to make sure my sleep is restful. Because I do have anxiety disorder, sometimes falling asleep and getting a restful sleep can be difficult, but I've figured out some really good tricks that help me and I wanted to share them.

Keep reading for more!

Sometimes I reminisce on back when I was in my teens and twenties and it seemed like I could function normally on almost no sleep. I literally remember times in my early 20s when I stayed up until 5am and then got up for work at 7am and had a perfectly normal day - as long as I didn't combine not enough sleep with a hangover, in which case I was generally a zombie. To keep myself going, I basically just slept all day on my days off and managed to reset. Let me tell you... pretty much the moment I turned 30, that completely changed and both my need for rest and my inability to sleep in anymore became very clear. These days, I know that even on the weekends, I'll be wide awake by 9am regardless of what time I go to bed and it will take me days to actually rebound from a siginificant lack of sleep, so I have to be pretty diligent.

Okay, so, I want to be very, very clear here. I'm talking about lavender, which actually does have a fair bit of science behind it. (I wanted to say this because I 100% do not endorse claims made about essential oils that are not backed by science and I find them dangerous and irresponsible.) Now, with that out of the way... I've had a lot of success with the use of lavender as a sleep aid and I constantly recommend it to people with sleep issues. (Generally minor sleep issues, I feel like hardcore insomnia probably needs more help than that.) I actually used to hate the smell of lavender until I really found success with it for my anxiety and have grown to really enjoy the scent and associate it with relaxation... rather than weirdly shaped tiny soaps in old ladies bathrooms.

Personally, I really enjoy using it in my Saje Aromacloud Diffuser during the colder months, specifically because that cold vapour is really, really soothing in the house. I know that Saje (and other places that make diffuser blends) have some really lovely sleepy time oil blends, I personally just prefer to use straight up lavender essential oil. During the warmer months, I actually prefer the ease of my This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray*. A couple of mists of this over the pillow work brilliantly for me to really help with getting a solid good night's sleep. I also quite like the Rocky Mountain Soap Deep Sleep Wellness Balm*, which I massage into my temples at bedtime for maybe a slightly more subtle but still soothing scent.

Honestly, whatever method I happen to use, I find that I always get a better night sleep if I use lavender aromatherapy to help me drift off and I highly recommend it - even if you hate the smell.

Herbal Tea
Let's talk about another thing that I used to hate that I now basically can't live without... Chamomile. For most of my life I absolutely hated chamomile and had absolutely no interest in any tea - or anything in general really - that tasted like chamomile. I can't remember how long ago it was, but I really specifically remember the first time I drank a cup of soothing tea with a strong chamomile component and felt a real, noticeable difference fairly quickly. When writing this, I didn't want to lean too hard on anecdote and wasn't at all surprised that there is actually clinical evidence that backs this up. Seriously, whether I need to go to sleep or I'm having day time anxiety that I need to soothe, I really do like to reach for a cup of chamomile tea to help take the edge off my nerves.

I also feel like there's something about the warmth, actually taking it in and really feeling it move through you, that has soothing effects as well.. but I can't imagine I can back that up with evidence. Either way, an herbal chamomile tea - my favorites are DAVIDsTEA Organic Calming Chamomile or Tazo Calm Chamomile, with the latter being the one that actually led to my initial revelation on how well it works for me - always goes a long way to helping me sleep.

Sleep Mask
When I first got the Saje Shut Eye Soothing Herbal Eye Shade, it actually smelled like lavender, but I've had it for so long that it doesn't really smell like anything anymore. Still, this is a must have for me because sometimes when my anxiety is really high, I'm super sensitive to any light in the room and I really need complete darkness. I love this mask because it's by far the most comfortable sleep mask I've ever worn and it doesn't feel restrictive or slide around on my face. It has these little cushions that sort of sit on your undereye area, making it feel like it's sort of conforming to your face, and the super soft fabric on the skin side of the mask is just really comfy.

I always genuinely thought that sleep masks were kind of bougie and silly, but I honestly don't know what I would do without it now. I almost feel like as soon as I put it on, my brain registers that it's time for sleep and starts the shutting down process. Obviously this isn't going to actually minimize anxiety, but I do feel like it goes a long way to putting my body into sleep mode and minimizing distractions that can be heightened in an anxious state.

Self Guided Meditation
This might sound a little bit weird, but I've kind of developed this technique that I use to help center my mind and it really, really works. I start by using an app called Alarm Clock Sleep Sounds on my phone (screencaptures from the app pictured above) where I've customized some nature sounds, generally something constant and water based like rain or waves. As you can see above, I have five different 1 hour programs that I've put together and I generally pick number 5, which is heavy rain with softish thunder in the background, but I also have a program that includes both the white noise type sounds with a guided meditation for sleep that is very nice. Once I get that playing at a volume that isn't too soft, but also isn't too loud, I start visualizing a place of relaxation that I've built in my head - usually what I call my Rain Room, but occasionally I also picture a deserted beach with a big cozy bed on it. Honestly, I feel like you can build whatever comes to you through visualization as long as it's a place that's safe, comfortable, and really relaxing. For me, the sounds help to really bring me to that place in my head and allow my mind to settle in there. Basically, from there, I imagine myself curled up in a bed in my relaxed space and start to visualize the finer details so that I can really almost feel like I'm in that space, safe and relaxed.

I know this sounds a little bit hippy dippy, but this actually might be the most effective thing I've found to really help turn anxious thoughts off by sort of forcing my brain to focus on something else and getting me to feel relaxed enough to drift off.

Nighttime Routine
I've actually just recently realized how important my night time routine is for getting myself into that state of being ready to sleep. Brushing my teeth, washing my face, and doing my skin care routine is both an act of taking care of myself, which is great for mental health, but also seems to signal to my brain that it's time to settle down, let go of the worries of the day and general feelings of anxiety, and settle in for sleep time.

I feel like this one seems both too simple to actually help with sleep as well as maybe being a bit of a given, but when I was sick recently it really hit home for me. When I was too tired and uncomfortable to take the time to really commit to doing more than the bare minimum of personal hygiene, my anxiety at bed time was worse and even though I was exhausted I had a really hard time falling asleep. On top of just getting the sleep on the day to day, I feel like a solid night time routine helps me generally look and feel better overall, which is a big part of dealing with and managing my anxiety. So yeah, it's simple, but it genuinely helps me.

I've been thinking so much about self care and the things that we do every day to practice it. Obviously, it's something that we have to think about and be mindful of, but it's also something that we can cultivate habits of. For me, making sure that I get enough sleep and a restful sleep really does mean that I'm able to do everything else, including the other acts of self care that I do. 

I don't know if this will be helpful, but if you're like me and struggle with sleep due to anxiety, I hope that some of these tips might help. Honestly, they all really, really work for me. I'm actually considering trying CBD for sleep as well, since there has been some good evidence to support it and I've actually seen friends and family members have great success with it, but I obviously couldn't include it in this post because I haven't tried it myself.

Thanks for reading!

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