Restful Sleep for Restless Minds

     Insomnia (difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep) is a struggle for many people who deal with anxiety. It can be hard to remember which came first — did the disordered sleeping cause the anxiety, or did the anxiety cause/aggravate the disordered sleeping? What we know for certain is that bettering our quality of sleep has the power to improve our overall well-being.

With so many options out there, deciding where to begin your Sleep Improvement Journey can be so overwhelming that it actually keeps people from trying. That's not okay and I think we need to do better — so that's exactly what we're going to do...

Below you'll find a list of well-loved solutions from the hearts & souls of the Ellavate Instagram community. None of these endorsements were paid and all of them are from real people who struggle with anxiety. It's basically like they're USDA Certified Organic recommendations, but — you know — the anxiety version. Anxious Person Verified? APV. Cool.

I’ve sorted the advice into 3 main categories: external (doesn’t require you to ingest anything), internal (requires you to ingest something), and bedtime routines & assorted suggestions. I am not a doctor and your use of any information provided here signifies your acceptance of my Disclaimer. If I were you, I would start with the external options and begin working your way through that list. Hopefully you'll find something that works there, but, if not, then there's also the internal options to try. Definitely consult with your doctor before trying any of them, so you can be sure they're compatible with any restrictions you may have.

1) External Options (do NOT require ingesting anything):

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)

  • ASMR was a popular suggestion, which I expected because several of my friends have had great luck with it calming their minds at bedtime. YouTube is a great place to explore ASMR videos, as there's all different types ranging from videos of people typing at computers, to eating salads, to telling you stories in a hushed voice and beyond. Here's what someone wrote in, "You just focus on what they are saying and before you know it, it’s morning! I thought ASMR was weird before trying it, but it has improved my sleep SO MUCH!"

MEDITATION APPS

  • Buddhify: A couple people shared that the sleep meditation tracks on Buddhify are helpful. 
  • Calm: I received A LOT of recommendations for the Calm app Sleep Stories and Meditations, but also for for the Body Scan feature. Here's what that person had to say, "I use the Calm app Body Scan to calm down and go to sleep. It walks you through your whole body, area by area, relaxing it and letting tension go. You can do from 5 minutes to 20 minutes depending on what you need. It’s amazing."
  • Insight Timer: Several recommendations were given for the sleep meditations on Insight Timer. Here's what one person had to say: "The yoga nidra for sleep meditation (free!) on Insight Timer by Jennifer Piercey. It definitely helps me."
  • Relax Melodies: I only received one recommendation for Relax Melodies, but it sounded great to me so I gave it a try and HOLY CRAP I'm loving it. It knocked me out so fast last night that I woke up this morning to a dead phone because I didn't get a chance to plug it in. Here's what the person who recommended it had to say, "I downloaded an app called Relax Melodies that has meditations and you can custom set the background noise to be anything you like (rain, chimes, wind, etc.) which will continue to play after the meditation stops. Usually puts me right to sleep but also helps keep me asleep when I start worrying about stuff again at around 3am."
  • YouTube: You can also find lots of meditations on YouTube. I personally love The Honest Guys and have utilized their meditations for sleep for the past 6 years or so.  

Physical Exercise

  • Many of you mentioned that physical exercise is a key part of getting a good night of sleep. If you're someone who's able to engage in physical exercise then it's worth a try! When my anxiety was bad, I found that tough workouts made it a lot worse, but gentle exercises like yoga and long walks helped "take the edge off." Here's what someone said about exercise, "Doing sports for me is the key. Since I do things like walking or a long distance run, I am more tired and calm at the end of the day when laying in bed." Makes sense!

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation was highly recommended! Some people said they move through their bodies, engaging each muscle group on their own, others said they prefer to look up guided videos on YouTube. I've never used PMR for sleep, but I used to do it when I was very anxious during the day and needed a way to relax, so I can vouch that it's helpful and gentle.

Sleep with me — the podcast

  • Described as, "Bedtime stories to help grown ups fall asleep in the deep, dark night" I received MANY recommendations for the Sleep With Me podcast. The word that was most often used to describe the podcast was "magical." Quite a few people mentioned it took a few tries before it worked for them, so I tested it out myself and found that night 2 was a lot better than night 1. Granted I wasn't anxious, so it may take a week for an anxious mind to really get the full effects of this one. One of you messaged me this, "I’ve just discovered the Sleep With Me podcast. At first I was like, this guy is annoyi- zzzzzzzzz." The host does take a little getting used to, but it's definitely worth a try!

2) Internal Options (require ingesting something) :

CBD OIL

  • CBD Oil is a form of medical marijuana that does not contain THC, so it doesn't create an intoxicating or "high" effect. It's touted as an powerful sleep aid for people who struggle with anxiety and/or insomnia. And though I've never tried it myself, I received so many messages raving about it that now I want to give it a try! Overall, the advice I received suggested starting with a low dose of pure CBD oil and working your way up, based on how your mind responds since there's no need to take a high dose if a low one is sufficient. I'm currently researching different brands and will be sure to share my own journey because I'd like to have this option for stressful times.

Various Supplements

  • CalmAid lavender pills came highly recommended. 
  • Valerian root pills & tea were recommended by a few people, with one person providing a link to this brand (which they said have been a "game-changer" for them.
  • Magnesium pills & lotion were also praised as helpful sleep aids.
  • Melatonin was another crowd favorite! A couple people mentioned they use capsules that blend both fast acting and slow release, so that it helps them fall asleep AND stay asleep. 3mg was the dosage everyone recommended.
  • Pukka Night Time tea.

3) Bedtime Routines & Assorted Suggestions

The following are messages sent in by members of our community:

  • "Alexa, play thunderstorm sounds (but seriously that and blackout curtains have helped my fiance and I...we both suffer from anxiety)."
  • "...as awkward as it may be to admit...masturbating."
  • "A solid bedtime routine, essential oils (orange, lavender, bergamot), writing stressful thoughts down. Setting reminders for the AM."
  • "Before I go to sleep I put in earplugs and start to do some light stretching next to my bed. After I lie on a spike mat to release tension in my back (on my bed and with the lights off) sometimes I fall asleep on the mat, sometimes I take it out from under my back and go under the duvet. This technique has helped me go from a very, very light sleep and easily woken up from 4-5 hours to 5-7 hours of deep, undisturbed sleep!"
  • "Deep deep breath and counting them. Lavender essential oils, a calming bedrime routine, and Melaleuca."
  • "For me…cuddles with a person or animal friend help a lot!"
  • "Eye pillow! Something about the weight of it, combined with total darkness works for me almost every time!"
  • "Getting a dog that sleeps in bed with me, it makes me feel safer and less lonely so I fall asleep better and much faster."
  • "I always get anxious about not being able to fall asleep so my therapist suggested me to take a warm bath before sleeping as it cools down the body. She also told me to remind myself every night that it’s okay if I can’t fall asleep so that I don’t get anxious about it."
  • "I go through words of a long quote/story/prayer or something word-for-word in my head and usually conk off in the middle. If I start thinking things outside of the words I deliberately say in my head, “I know I’m falling asleep.” Also 478 breathing. "
  • "I have struggled with insomnia for years. I have found lavender essential oil in my diffuser to do wonders. Along with yoga and tea before bed."
  • "I like to listen to podcasts when I’m falling asleep, or if I can’t I’ve learnt how to belly breathe which calms be down and I do it till I fall asleep."
  • 1. I take a shower. 2. I drink a cup of my favorite tea (very warm…so my body will feel comfortable) 3. I read some pages of my favorite book (my favorite because I wanna feel more concentrated on the pages, not in my anxious thoughts) 4. After a few pages I go to bed, close my eyes, and listen to some movie or tv series on Netflix (with headphones in my cellphone). I listen to it in a language I don’t speak completely fine (in my case In English because that way I concentrate on the dialogue and words I don’t know. I repeat them in my mind) I usually listen to a sitcom because they’re funny and nothing tragic will cross my mind while I’m listening to a show like Friends. 5. I begin to feel tired and when I don’t really know what’s happening in the show anymore, I turn my cellphone off. 6. Once I turned it off, I wear earplugs and I fall asleep pretty soon…it takes me like 15 minutes. I know it’s a weird ritual…but it’s working…I’ve been sleeping 7 hours every day."
  • "I used to have way more trouble sleeping (especially if it wasn’t perfectly dark and quiet) but a couple years ago I started saying “let yourself sleep” to myself and that has really helped."
  • "I used to rely on sleeping pills but it was becoming very unhealthy. Started a routine of chamomile tea before bed. Using lavender oil after a shower and ASMR thunderstorm when going to bed."
  • "Journaling! I keep a journal next to my bed and use it when my mind is restless."
  • "Lavender on my pillow and using meditation right before bed."
  • "Listening to music I absolutely love that doesn’t excite me -- Sleeping At Last, etc. Another that helps is using a pillow mist (mine is eucalyptus and spearmint)."
  • "Melatonin, CBD, Indica,Hydroxyzine, Benadryl. Not all together, but in that order depending on my level of desperation."
  • "Neuro Sleep is one of the best things out. Used to have to drink in order to sleep and this was a game changer for those insomnia bouts! A little goes a long way -- don’t drink more than a quarter of it at first. You’ll still get the same effect BUT you can stretch out the bottle."
  • "Playing some grounding games. Going through the alphabet and naming girls names/cities/foods etc. And saying goodnight and shutting off each part of you. From the top of your head, way down to your pinky toe."
  • "Putting my phone down a full hour before I want to fall asleep, and then doing stretches and breathing exercises in my bed before settling with a book. Reading really helps exhaust my anxious mind. I also go above and beyond to make my sleeping space the most cozy, lovely spot that I adore more than anywhere in my apt."
  • "Reading before bed, not scrolling on my phone, meditation, yoga, no caffeine after 4, and use of sleep aids like sleepytime tea or these sleep gummies by OLLY are really helpful."
  • "Reading my daily meditation book (Journey To The Heart) and completing my five minute journal page."
  • "Soft ear plugs. Don’t know why but the silence calms my thoughts down and helps me to relax."
  • "Weighted blanket, L-theanine (green tea herbal pill from Whole Foods), and never drink coffee!"
  • "Yoga before bed, after switching off all blue light. Lighting up a couple candles also works great as sleep prelude."
  • "ZzzQuil"

Advice for other physical symptoms:

On Thursday, September 6th, I'm sending all Ellavate members a letter that will provide support to those who are facing the challenges of living with the physical symptoms of anxiety. It will also include all of my techniques for gaining control over such physical symptoms as heart palpitations, dizziness/nausea, diarrhea/digestive woes, stressed breathing, tense neck, and more. My techniques were developed over years of suffering and once practiced, have the potential to change your life because when we reduce the power physical symptoms have over us, we can really begin to move through the anxiety (rather than feeling stuck in it). Membership access costs as much as a good cup of coffee and you can cancel at any time. Click here to learn more about what you'll receive with your subscription or click here if you're ready to join.

Sending my love to all of you, always.