Adjust your breathing – and four other ways to sleep when you’re worried

Limit news – especially before bed
Winding down without screens has always been key to getting a good night’s sleep – and it is more important than ever, says the sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor. More of an issue than the stimulating effects of blue light is the sense of being overwhelmed by the news. It is important to keep up with the coverage “within reason”, says Taylor; however, “for sleep, that means evenings without it”. Reading the news before bed may cause a spike in adrenaline that will impede sleep.

Clear your mind
If you do watch TV in the evenings, the sleep coach Katie Fischer suggests comedy shows as “a helpful distraction from anxious thoughts”. Taylor suggests spending some time (although not right before bed) writing by hand to clear your mind: “Thoughts, anxieties, worries – get it down on paper.” Studies have shown a link between the practice of writing, seeing your concerns written down before you, and reducing the mental toll of your worries.

If you struggle to get to sleep, or often wake up in the night, don’t lie there for long: it builds an association between your bed and wakefulness. Taylor suggests having a “nest” set up in another room with a book, a podcast or restful music (no TV or phones), to retreat to if sleep doesn’t come. “When you start to feel a bit more drowsy, take yourself off to bed.”

Regulate your breathing
Fischer says deep abdominal breathing can alleviate symptoms of anxiety – a busy mind, tensed muscles, a quickened heart rate or shallow breathing. One simple technique is “sama vritti”, or “equal breathing”. Lie on your back with one hand on the top of your belly and one hand on your heart, your shoulders heavy and your hips open and relaxed. Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four to six, filling your belly, then ribcage, then upper chest, as if expanding a balloon. When your lungs are full, pause – then exhale through your nose in a long, smooth motion. Pause again when your lungs are emptied. Repeat this for five to 10 minutes or until you feel ready to sleep.

Fill your day
Try to keep a routine that involves regular exercise. Photograph: Ryan Edy/Getty Images
Previously, Taylor says, the biggest impediment to sleep was the unrelenting stress of our daily lives. “Now we’re facing a different challenge: the possibility of excess time.” With many people working less or not at all for the foreseeable future, it won’t take long for mental health to suffer. Structuring your days with waking and wind-down routines and regular times for work, meals and exercise will help you stay focused.