10 Ways To Stop Anxiety From Infiltrating Your Dreams & Ruining A Good Night’s Sleep

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10 Ways To Stop Anxiety From Infiltrating Your Dreams & Ruining A Good Night’s Sleep
Health And Wellness

Have you noticed lately that your dreams are permeated with a vague or not-so-vague sense of anxiety, dread, or foreboding?

Sometimes, the stress and panic from our days seep into our nights. The daily news is challenging at best and, sometimes, downright scary.

We used to be able to escape more easily, but now our ubiquitous devices follow us everywhere.

And, unfortunately, it does little to help our mental health.

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An ancient curse says, "May you live in interesting times." Anyone who pays attention to the news knows that these are extremely "interesting times."

I find it an ongoing tightrope walk to find the healthy balance between sticking my head as deep as possible into the sand and staying informed enough to know what’s going on without living in chronic anxiety.

As a therapist, I can’t simply tell my clients not to talk about the events of the day or week that are upsetting them or turning their dreams into nightmares. But, I can titrate the news and protect my dreams in my private life.

I find that less is usually more for me — less news, less social media, and less 'round-the-clock checking my phone.

The key to knowing how to sleep better is by keeping a balance during our waking life and also keeping the barrage of politics, violence, and weather emergencies from interfering with our sleep and dreams.

Good sleep and good dream hygiene are critical so that your days don’t "haunt your midnight pillow" as Mary Shelly's did. When she wrote "Frankenstein," Shelly is known to have said that she practically dictated it word for word as she had dreamed it.

Good sleep hygiene means creating an environment conducive to sleep and peaceful dreams. Good dream hygiene means optimizing what you do have some control over at night, even though you can’t control your unconscious thoughts.

The following two lists give you some tips for both good sleep hygiene and good dream hygiene ,so that you can rest and renew at night.

First, here are the 5 steps to getting a good night's sleep.

1. Give yourself a media-free zone of at least an hour before going to bed.

This not only keeps the anxiety of the "interesting times" news at slightly at bay but also keeps the bright LED and blue lights at a distance.

If they shine into our retina, our brain gets the message to stay awake.

2. Make sure your bedroom is dark enough.

Any light seeping in through cracks in the blinds or the glare of your clock or phone can subtlety give your brain the message that it is awake time, and not sleep time.

3. Keep the temperature on the cool side.

Mid to low 60s is optimum for sleep. Better to be a little cool and snuggled under blankets than overly warm and awake.

Our bodies respond to messages of cocooning or hibernation with the production of more melatonin, a sleep-enhancing biochemical.

4. Meditate.

Speaking of biochemicals, stress produces cortisol, which we need for a fight or flight response, but not for rest and sleep.

Cortisol stimulates anxiety, so add some meditation to your day — even five minutes will help — to enhance relaxation.

5. Develop a consistent soothing nighttime routine that will signal your body that it is time to sleep.

The consistency of even a short ritual will cue your system to relax and let go.

For example, I brush my teeth, then put on my pajamas, then read something non-stressful for 10-15 minutes, then turn off the light and repeat a mantra like, "I am safe, I am at peace, I will sleep soundly" for three to five rounds.

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Now, here are 5 steps to keeping daily stress and anxiety out of your dreams. 

1. Use your dream journal to set an intention the night before.

Keep daily stresses out of your dreams by writing something like, "I will allow in and recall only the dreams that are in my highest purpose and best interest." Or, "I will be safe and protected in my sleep and dreams and screen out worries and anxiety."

2. Hang a dream catcher near your bed with the same intentions.

What Native tradition tells us that they are designed to do — they allow the good dreams to filter through the hole in the center and snare the upsetting dreams in their webbing.

3. Surround yourself, your bed, and bedroom with a bubble of light.

This is for safety, protection, and good boundaries. You can even pick your favorite most healing and protective color.

4. Imagine closing a door in your mind before going to sleep, like a portal between worlds.

You can also add a phrase such as, "I close the door to unwanted intrusions in the night."

5. Strongly say the words "no," "no more," or "enough."

Say it out loud to your dream muse to give you a break!

Not all of us are experts in dream interpretation, but we can be self-care experts for the sake of our mental health. At the end of the day, we all deserve peaceful sleep and sweet dreams.

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Linda Yael Schiller, MSW, LICSW is a body, mind, and spiritual psychotherapist, consultant, and international speaker. For more on healing nightmares for children and adults, as well as understanding and working with all kinds of dreams, look into her new book, “Modern Dreamwork: New Tools for Decoding Your Soul’s Wisdom” or visit her website.