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How I Learned to Fall Asleep When Anxiety Keeps Me Awake

I was born anxious. Anxiety's cruel tactics often keep me from sleeping, but I've developed some techniques to help me get to sleep.

Congratulations! You just had an anxious baby....

Congratulations! You just had an anxious baby....

My Anxious Thoughts Keep Me Awake

I was born anxious. I can't remember a single day in my life, even in my childhood, in which I didn't feel anxiety or worry. My worries range from the tremendously silly to the reasonable yet rarely possible.

I have spent many hours worrying about anything from brain tumors (which I just know are causing my mild headache) to being bitten by a mosquito that will infect me with a deadly, unknown disease—and I will be the first known case.

Unlikely? Yes. Crazy? Sure. Easy to ignore? Not at all! Regardless of how much my brain acknowledges how silly and unlikely these things are, I still find them overwhelmingly nerve-wracking. Thoughts of unlikely catastrophes and inevitable diseases keep me up at night.

So by self-diagnosis, I'm not only hyper-anxious, but I'm also a hypochondriac.

Anxiety is like a puppet we control, the puppet doesn't control us. We need to remind ourselves that we can have control of our anxiety, just as we can control a puppet in our hand.

Anxiety is like a puppet we control, the puppet doesn't control us. We need to remind ourselves that we can have control of our anxiety, just as we can control a puppet in our hand.

The Monkey Mind of the Anxious

I recently came across the term "monkey mind," thanks to Daniel Smith and his awesome book Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety. It feels good to know that I'm not the only with crazy, outrageous thoughts that can only be real inside the asylum that my brain has become.

But I digressed. The term "monkey mind" is a perfect description of the hyper-anxious person. Have you ever seen monkeys actively and frantically swinging from side to side inside their cage? That's exactly what happens inside the mind of the hyper-anxious person. Thoughts of unlikely events jump from one side to the other without any order and any type of coordination. These anxious thoughts are thrown disorderly from side to side, causing the poor, anxious soul to start sweating, start tensing and clenching, and start dying gradually. Is it any wonder I can't sleep at night?

This anxiety is a great addition, or perhaps just part of my OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). I have been able to control the compulsion and the obsessions, but the anxiety still lingers. To make things more interesting, the anxiety also comes sprinkled with bouts of hypochondriacism.

My Brain Never Shuts Off

I'm sure I'm not the only one tortured by anxious thoughts right before going to bed. I'm sure I'm not the only whose eyes are kept open by anxiety's cruel tactics. However, I have some methods that have helped me get some sleep even during anxiety's rush hour.

Read to kill anxiety

Read to kill anxiety

Read to Kill Anxiety

The best relaxation technique for me has been reading. However, you have to carefully choose your reading material. I like to read mystery/comedy books, such as those written by Laura Levine or Nancy Martin. These are my guilty pleasures that have helped me relax. These books really help my mind escape my worries and become totally immersed in a story that I KNOW will have a happy ending. It's like living in a controlled environment which helps me get some kind of hold on my own uncontrolled mental environment.

Keep in mind that the reading material needs to be something that really grabs your attention and that you can read with ease. Stay away from anything that requires too much concentration or from anything that makes you feel anxious.

How can you know which book is making you anxious?

Learn to recognize the first signals of your anxiety. For me, it's clenched jaws and tense muscles. As soon as I start feeling this tensing up of the muscles, I know my head will inevitably visit the dark neighborhoods of my mind, and my anxiety will go through the roof.

I think clenched jaws and tight muscles are a pretty universal sign of anxiety. So my guess is that if you start feeling that way, you should drop the book and go find something less chaotic.

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What if I Don’t Like Reading?

Don't like to read? Try audiobooks. Audiobooks take me back to my childhood days when my parents used to read me a bedtime story. The best part is that you don't even have to buy them. Most public libraries now have e-libraries which allow you to borrow e-books or audiobooks for free. These e-books and audiobooks can be conveniently accessed on your iPad, Kindle, iPhone, or any other digital gadget similar to the above mentioned. Most libraries have a variety of titles and subjects to choose from.

Audio books and music can help you relax your stress and anxiety.

Audio books and music can help you relax your stress and anxiety.

I Don’t Like Audio Books...

Hard audience, I see. Here's a list of other things you can try to help you get your head away from the anxiety that is eating you.

Relaxing Music

Classical does the trick for me.

Work Out Before Bed Time

Okay, some people find exercise super energizing. If that's your case, then please don't work out before going to bed. But if you're anything like me, you will find exercise mentally and physically draining. Whenever I work out before bedtime, I sleep like a log, and my mind is too tired to feel anxious. Some consider sexual activity the best workout before bedtime.

Relaxing Beverages

Among my favorites are passionflower tea, which relaxes muscles and mind, and Serene Slumber by Lifestyle Awareness, which contains a mix of oat grass, rose petals and chamomile. This last one really numbs me and makes me fall asleep with ease.

Writing for Anxiety

When my thoughts visit the dark alleys of my mind, I just get up and write. What can you write? Anything! Sometimes I'm so afraid of my fears that I don't even want to write them down. When my anxiety doesn't even let me write down my fears, I start writing whatever my hand decides to write. Most of the time, I start writing about the events of the day and slowly transition into the thoughts causing my anxiety. It feels good. Once your anxious and scary thoughts take physical form in the shape of words, they don't look that scary anymore.

Once the thought is out of your head and into the real world, it is stripped of its scary costume, and it's left naked, without any power to scare you any longer, and looking quite ridiculous. It truly is a relaxing technique.

I drew my fear...

I drew my fear...

And this is my fear after I scared it, so it no longer controls me. I control IT!

And this is my fear after I scared it, so it no longer controls me. I control IT!

Drawing as a Coping Mechanism

If writing is not your forte or if you just don't even want to make the effort (although I strongly suggest you at least try it), try drawing.

Draw your fears. Give them personalities. Draw them as you think they would look if they were a person or a monster. Once your thought has a face, humiliate it by drawing funny accessories on it or by giving it silly words with word bubbles.

This will give you some sort of power over your anxiety, and you will feel in charge.

Don't force yourself to sleep. If anxiety is not letting  you sleep, don't stay in bed. Get up and do something relaxing or anything you enjoy.

Don't force yourself to sleep. If anxiety is not letting you sleep, don't stay in bed. Get up and do something relaxing or anything you enjoy.

Things to Avoid Before Going to Bed

Don't Watch News

News are food for anxiety. Anxiety feeds on negative news that travel to your mind and make you imagine all sorts of catastrophes. I avoid news at any time of the day, but particularly before bedtime.

However, that doesn't mean I'm completely oblivious to the world surrounding me. Instead of watching news, I opt for a newsfeed in my phone, which gives me the option to read whatever event interest me at the time and to skip the news that look too daunting for my tortured mind.

Don’t Eat Heavy Dinners or Too Late at Night

So this is true not only for those with hyper-anxiety, but for everyone who wants to get a good night sleep. Avoid eating heavy foods at least 3 hours before bed time. Some foods contain certain nutrients that can keep you awake at night. Also, avoid drinking too many liquids or you'll wake up to pee in the middle of the night, thus interrupting the seldom occurring slumber.

Stay Away From Stimulants

Don't drink or eat caffeine or energizing beverages. For some people, the use of electronic devices can also act as a stimulant, so it is preferable that you steer clear of electronic gadgets before going to bed to give your brain a chance to clear up.

Don't Force Yourself to Sleep

If you can't sleep, don't force yourself. This will only cause more anxiety, sucking you into a downward spiral of stress and insomnia.

If you can't sleep, get out of bed and engage in any sleep-inducing activity or simply do something you enjoy. But don't stay in bed.

Don't Take Sleeping Pills

Although sleeping pills can be effective for the first few days, they will completely or partially lose their effectiveness after 3 or 4 weeks. They can also create dependence. That will only make you anxious and addicted.

Things to Remember

Quality Over Quantity

Don't stress out if you're not sleeping the recommended 8 hours. Everyone is different and your body may just not need that much time to recuperate. Focus on getting some quality resting time, as opposed to staying in bed for 8 hours while only half asleep.


Ask your doctor is any medication you're taking could be causing your insomnia.

Visit a Specialist

If you've already tried everything and still can't sleep or control your anxiety, visit a specialist. Your anxiety might just need medication

And remember, anxiety will roam free if we give it the liberty to do so. Keep it in control by learning to recognize the first signals.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Autumn on November 13, 2018:

Thank you so much I have really bad anxiety and me still being in school doesn’t help either. I often stay awake until about three a.m. trying to sleep.

chloe on February 03, 2018:

I struggle with emetaphobia, and I always get triggered or panic around bedtime, but sometimes not staying in bed is really good and sitting on a bean bag or a chair in tournament room or even moving to the living room and sitting down on the couch and read or write or draw, and when you feel tired again, you can move back to your bed. Another thing you can try actually moving to a different room or putting your head at the foot of your bed than at the head part. Changing your sleep arrangements can really help or your position:)

Mystery on December 25, 2017:

It is really hard to sleep but what I would do is close my eyes and say a word till you fall asleep that is my tip

Hannah5555 on September 05, 2017:

Thanks so much for this. A really helpful and honest accounaccount. I have chronic insomnia and sometimes don't sleep a wink for three nights in a row. It devastates me and is always fueled by crippling anxiety. I haven't found anything that works yet but I will try some of these for sure.

I have a tendency to go to bed early to relax. I must try and stop doing this.

Nicole Jakes from Denver, CO on March 17, 2017:

Reading always puts me to sleep when I read in bed. I seem to have worse anxiety when I am stressed about work or a project too. In those cases, listening to music used to help, but now I either have to listen to an audiobook or a TV show (I hide my iPad under my pillow so I can listen without the glow of the TV). For TV and reading, I only choose happier stories or comedies. Nothing that involves crime.

tony lara on February 19, 2017:

I use benadryl to help me sleep. Havent stressed out for awhile but the anxiety still lingers & i worry about not sleeping early since i would always stay up on the weekends & had trouble sleeping from time to time

Sam Shepards from Europe on May 05, 2016:

Great article! Keeping your mind of the "problem" can be the most difficult part. Making it a have to instead of just wandering of.

Arun Dev from United Countries of the World on July 29, 2015:

Anxiety sets in the day before examinations for me. Thanks for sharing these tips. They are very applicable. Voted up and shared!

Deidre Volinsky on May 24, 2015:

This is a lifesaver! I tend to have trouble falling asleep when something stressful awaits me. Also, when I am stressed about something. I usually just wait until I am to tired to think. But the next day is always awful after that. So, your ideas are so much better! :)

Brittney on January 14, 2015:

This is really upintflig *sigh* I don't like that I have this problem and I try to keep things in perspective because I know the world doesn't revovle around myself but at times I just get the feeling that everyone is looking at me and judging me for my every mistake, it makes it hard to even interact with people without being even in the least anxious. This is upintflig though and I will def turn my problems to the Lord because at this point he is the only one that can help me. Thanks for the post and your helping people like us by just talking about your situations and giving us all courage.

Silver Q (author) on September 07, 2013:

Hi Mel:

Yes, hard exercise always works for getting me to sleep. I'm glad that many more people are becoming aware of how bad anxiety can intrude in a person's life. Thanks for reading!

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on September 07, 2013:

Hard exercise can be a surefire way to get to sleep. Loved ones that are close to me suffer from the "Monkey Mind" that you describe, so I can certainly relate to what you are saying. Thank you for the tips.

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