Check out this helpful and informative piece on Bustle that I was featured in! -Alyssa
It’s pretty easy to have good intentions when it comes to your night routine, but much harder to actually follow through on the good habits you want to do. Once you find yourself deep in a Netflix hole or buried under a mountain of laundry, you might rush through your bedtime preparations until you finally drop into bed. It probably comes as no surprise that your night routine can have a pretty big impact on your sleep health, but according to experts, what you’re doing at night can make your anxiety worse the next day.
“Right before you go to sleep should be a time to relax, slow down, and ease your way into a restful state,” Reshmi Saranga M.D., a psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry, tells Bustle. “Try doing some relaxation exercises before bed,” she says. “Focus on slowing down your breathing and letting the stress and tension from the day leave your body.” Do your best to devote the last hour of your day to preparing yourself to fall asleep, whether that means lighting some fragrant candles and snuggling with your dog or working on an art project while listening to nature sounds.
Here are a few of the seemingly innocent things in your night routine that you may want to consider changing to reduce your anxiety the next day.
1. Sticking To A Strict Routine
It may feel comforting to you to do pretty much the same things every night before you go to bed, but being too strict with yourself can take a toll on your mental health. “
This can exacerbate anxiety because if someone with anxiety does not do what they have always done, they will feel unsettled, unaccomplished, and sometimes defeated,” Charese L. Josie, LCSW, tells Bustle, “thereby increasing anxiety and feeling as if they need to over compensate the next day to ‘get back on track.'” Instead of getting upset with yourself for not meditating every single night or writing a certain number of pages in your journal, be kind to yourself on the nights where you run out of time.
2. Making Yourself Finish All Chores
Going to bed with a clean house can feel amazing, but being too productive right before going to sleep can pose a problem. “This can exacerbate anxiety because people with anxiety believe they must do certain things to eliminate or reduce anxiety,” says Josie. “In actuality, this increases anxiety because what they don’t realize is that the trigger is actually always ‘doing’ instead of them learning to sit still,” she says. Try to fight the feeling that sitting still for more than 20 minutes at a time is “wasting time” and instead lean into the way that curling up with a good book can help your mind relax.
3. Going Straight To Bed Without Unwinding
“People with anxiety need to learn to stop and breathe,” says Josie. If you love completing a detailed skincare routine and packing a lunch for the next day at the end of the night, that’s great. But be sure to give yourself time to unwind from the day before you crawl into bed. Focusing too much on your to-do list at night can be counterproductive when it comes to anxiety. Try cutting yourself off from any tasks at least 30 minutes before your bedtime, and dedicate that time to whatever makes you feel peaceful, whether that’s a warm bath or listening to your favorite podcast.
4. Dwelling On The Next Day
It seems like the moment your head hits the pillow, your brain sometimes begins thinking about all of your worries, but allowing yourself to ruminate about the next day’s fears can make your anxiety worse, Mollie Eliasof, LCSW, a psychotherapist and founder of ME Therapy, tells Bustle. If, for example, you find yourself stressing about an awkward situation with a coworker, avoid being too critical with yourself. Instead, Eliasof says, actively work against negative self-talk by reframing the situation in a positive light.
5. Reading Non-Fiction
If you’re a big fan of reading before bed, think carefully about what kinds of books you’re enjoying. Avoiding thrillers or psychological mysteries might be pretty obvious, but it could also be helpful to stay away from non-fiction altogether, Natalie Miller, a master certified life coach, tells Bustle. “[Non-fiction] engages our left-brained, learning, analyzing, and problem-solving faculties at the very time we are trying to wind those skills down,” she says. Instead, go for something that engages your imagination, like a fantasy novel. “Escaping into a fictional world before sleeping reduces stress levels, expands our perspective, and piques our creativity,” says Miller.
6. Using Lots Of Lights At Night
Once the sun goes down, it might seem like common sense to switch on every last overhead light, lamp, and twinkly string light you have in your home. But this seemingly tiny thing can actually have a negative impact on your anxiety, says Miller. “Make a habit of switching to smaller, localized light sources — using lamps with ‘warm’ bulbs rather than overhead light fixtures — as the sun goes down,” she says, “to give your body the consistent message that it’s time to sleep.” This small trick can make your circadian rhythm more regular, which can in turn make you feel more calm.
7. Hanging Out In Bed Before Sleeping
Alyssa Prete, a licensed mental health counselor specializing in anxiety, depression, and stress management, tells Bustle that your bed should be saved for only two things: sleep and sex. “Don’t watch TV, read or do work, or anything else not associated with sleep in your bed,” she says. “Your brain will start to associate you lying down in bed as time to do another activity and you won’t be able to shut down your mind and racing thoughts, a huge contributor to anxiety.”
To help you avoid this, try to make a habit of watching any pre-bed TV or doing any reading in the living room. That way, once you’re finally ready to doze off, you’ll be able to just collapse on your bed and fall straight to sleep.
8. Varying Your Bedtime
Chances are, your bedtime varies a lot depending on what day it is. On a Tuesday night, you probably go to sleep on the earlier side to get ready to wake up for the next day. On a Saturday though, you’re probably more likely to stay up late to enjoy the weekend. While you don’t need to be too strict with yourself, not having a consistent bedtime can be rough for your mental health. “Try to stick to a consistent bed time and wake up time as best you can, even on weekends,” says Prete. “You will feel much more even-keeled and won’t worry about catching up on sleep, which is also a contributor to anxiety.”
8. Doing Any Last-Minute Work Tasks
You might feel super productive for finishing a spreadsheet for work the night before or just replying to a few work emails. But getting a head start can actually exacerbate your stress and anxiety levels, Jessica Serber, LMFT, tells Bustle.
“Our state of mind while working is likely, and hopefully, very different than our state of mind before going to bed,” she says. “We don’t want to fall asleep at night in a state of stress or in too much purposeful thinking as this can impact the quality of sleep.” Resist the urge to do anything work-related before bed unless it’s an absolute emergency. Putting your phone on airplane mode at a certain time could be a way to remove the temptation, and help you create healthy work-life boundaries.
You might not be able to change every habit in your night routine immediately, but that’s OK. Gradually forming new habits can help you benefit your mental health so that you start each day on a good foot.