How Changing My 'Sleep Hygiene' Habits Helped My Anxiety

by Caila Smith
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and EujarimPhotography/Getty

With so many folks’ schedules being thrown for a loop, as well as the extra “togetherness” taking place in households all over the U.S. at this time, I think it’s fair to assume that most all of us are experiencing an inconsistency in our sleep patterns. It’s easy to get off schedule — even worth it in some instances when you find yourself like me and have FOMO. But if you’re an anxious person who already wrestles with falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night, knocking your sleep routine could cost you a whole lot more than just some extra ZZZs.

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As I’ve had to teach and re-teach myself over and over throughout the course of my life, maintaining healthy sleep habits (often referred to as “sleep hygiene”) is the only way I will ever feel like the real me. It doesn’t mean that I’m always going to like going to bed or wake up at the same time every single night or morning, because I usually don’t… especially when there are a million other things I need or want to be doing. But just like I don’t like having to take my anxiety or blood pressure medication every dang day, and yet, still do, I know that I’m at my best when I prioritize and exercise my need for proper sleep hygiene daily.

“As a nation we are not getting enough sleep,” Wayne Giles, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of Population Health, says on the CDC’s webpage. “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need.”

Every once in a blue moon, staying up at night or sleeping in later than usual in the morning is okay — we get to decide whether the benefit of throwing the schedule out the window outweighs the possible consequences of disregarding a regular sleep routine. As for me, I’ve found that not getting enough sleep on a consistent basis invites my anxiety to step up its game big time.

As a busy mother, my night and morning routines are dependent on each other, which also means that they are contingent on me getting an adequate night’s rest. I go to bed at around midnight or a little before, and I wake up at 7:30 a.m., like clockwork, the following morning. As someone with a mental health disorder, I can’t always just lie down and “go to sleep.” Unlike my husband who is literally out cold the second his head hits the pillow, I have to trick my mind into believing it’s time for bed before it’s actually time for bed by setting up a routine, avoiding screen time, slowing down on caffeinated beverages, and saying an early goodnight to my much-loved wine slushies.

Depending on how my day unfolded or how I’m feeling that night, my nightly schedule typically starts off with dimmed lights and an aromatherapy shower or bath… you know, to help put myself in “sleep mode.” But since I constantly crave productivity, it’s not easy for me to avoid picking up my phone and start scrolling while my hands are idle and soaking in the tub. Knowing this about myself, I take steps to prevent my subconscious mind from physically acting out by placing my phone out of arm’s reach.

If my mind starts to wonder, reminding me of every little thing I ought to be doing or didn’t get done that day (which let’s be honest, it always does), I reel it back in and remind myself to focus on the only thing I really should be doing: breathing. Inhaling these hard-to-come-by-moments of being still and mindful, and then exhaling the newly-found, sleepy peace.

Sometimes I’ll massage my calves, arms, neck, or any other part of my body where I can feel the tension or anxiety building. Other times, I’ll allow myself a 5-10 minute time span entirely devoted to stretching. And if I’m really feeling like a zen-centered cliché, I’ll turn on some soft white noise or a meditation track to help achieve the level of rest needed for a good night‘s sleep.

Of course, what works for one person might not for another. For some, they could try all of these relaxation techniques plus some and still wrestle with falling and staying asleep. In such a case, it would be wise to consult with a physician just to rule out any underlying causes which could be a contributing factor. But when medical conditions aren’t involved, it wouldn’t hurt to challenge yourself with some self-discipline regarding your sleep hygiene — particularly if you’re like me and find yourself feeling anxious over every little thing every single day. Evaluating your sleep patterns could just be your saving grace.

My nightly routine allows me to focus solely on myself in a way that I find relaxing and soothing, in a way I wouldn’t have the time for unless I designated a slot in my day just for me. So although the reason behind maintaining this schedule has been to benefit my sleep health, it’s also left lasting positive effects on my mental health.

I still stay up a couple of hours later than my children, so I’m not robbing myself of “me time” before I go to bed. Because I lie down at a set time each night and typically have adequate-enough sleep, I’m ready to wake up early in the morning and drink steaming hot coffee, in the beauty of silence, while getting ready. When my kids finally roll out of bed in the morning, I’m able to give myself to them fully — already feeling good accomplished for prioritizing my needs first.

Do I skip a day here and there? Abso-freaking-lutely. I’d be the biggest liar if I said that I didn’t stay up until 2 a.m. on occasion watching stupid videos on my phone while drinking a Dr. Pepper. But the thing is, those days are meant to be a release… they are not meant to be my everyday reality.

What I failed to realize for so long is that my sleep hygiene habits actually align perfectly with what I need to do each day to feel like a real human being. By sacrificing what has come to be just an hour or two each day, I’ve found the secret to becoming one of the best versions of me.

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