Sleepless nights? We notice this in our minds

Do you wake up in the morning feeling uncomfortable at all? Ideally, you will ignore the alarm and go back to sleep to make up for the hours you spent awake last night. However, there’s often nothing you can do but to start your day tired. But what does that do with your behavior and thoughts, these sleepless nights?

Sleep is a period of rest during which we recover from the mental and physical exertion of the day. When we do not sleep well for a longer period of time, we often notice that we are working less well in various areas of our daily life. Adequate rest and relaxation are essential to have adequate physical and mental energy for daily activities such as doing well at work, adequate focus and seeking social connections. Additionally, they are also essential for an overall feeling of well-being. If we wake up multiple times during the night or if we wake up for a long time before bed, we are more likely to experience negative emotions, and we often see life more bleak and anxious more quickly. In short, lack of sleep can lead to physical and mental impairment. Therefore it is very important to ensure a good night’s sleep.

We all feel that we sleep less during the night. For some, this resolves after a shower or a cup of coffee, and then going to bed early the night before. When we experience this, we’re confident that sleep complaints will go away on their own. However, this is not the case for everyone. In some people, insomnia lasts for a longer period of time, which makes them anxious about their sleep patterns and how it affects their daily life. These types of mental factors can play a huge role in our sleep patterns. Stress, symptoms of depression and anxiety can make us feel anxious when we are in bed and have a tendency to be anxious at these times, which leads to certain stress and prevents us from sleeping at all.

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The negative thoughts we experience are primarily related to our sleep pattern. The anxious and restless thoughts affect each other. Anxiety makes you sleep worse, while the lack of sleep and the accompanying exhaustion make you worry more during the day (about how badly you sleep, among other things). In this way a vicious circle can arise. For example, constant fatigue may make us less able to focus, not complete tasks, make more mistakes, etc. This makes us less positive about our performance and as a result of these doubts about our performance, we can start to worry about this and worry about whether we are still doing well. In addition, we started to become wary of sleep problems and bad nights that were causing us to be tired. All these disturbing thoughts, along with fatigue, can lead to us feeling tension in our bodies, just think of tension headaches, physical tension and chaotic thoughts. We feel uncomfortable, uncomfortable and nervous. These tensions, in turn, will cause us to fall asleep less, become more anxious in the coming nights, and then again start worrying more about our sleep patterns. In this way, we get stuck in a vicious cycle, where sleep difficulties disrupt our daily functions and negative thoughts about it prevent us from sleeping well.

How do you break this cycle? There are several things that you can try. Anxiety is inherent in people, everyone worries from time to time. In our minds, we often spend whole days making plans, solving problems, thinking about ourselves, and the associated reflections on our feelings and thoughts. People tend to start thinking about the things that are important to them at night when they are in bed. This may lead to worrying thoughts about a variety of topics, but your bed or bedroom is actually not the place for it. When you start to get anxious every time you lie down in bed, after a while you start to associate your bedroom with anxiety rather than sleep. Therefore, when anxiety arises, it is best to get up and do something else that can provide you with a distraction, to break through these anxious thoughts. Additionally, if you start to worry frequently in bed, it may help to determine a time of daily anxiety. You can do this by giving yourself half an hour of “thinking time” at a specific time and / or place. In this way, you reduce anxiety in time and space. It’s best to do this somewhere you rarely go, or else you’ll also start to get anxious at inappropriate times because that place is linked to anxiety.

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Additionally, it is important to maintain good sleep hygiene. Try to find a consistent structure in your sleep pattern, sticking to the standard “wake time” and “bedtime” as much as possible. Avoid sleeping during the day and do not sleep until you feel sleepy. Try to limit your caffeine intake, especially at the end of the day. Exercise regularly during the day, but don’t do it right before bed. Do not use your smartphone when you are in bed, so you do not have to process a lot of stimuli but you can relax. Additionally, make sure your room is quiet and dark and that the temperature is good. Finally, there are also many relaxation exercises that can help you find calm in bed when you can’t fall asleep. It is important that you find the style that works for you. For some people, it is helpful to do some muscle relaxation exercises (such as yoga and breathing exercises), while for others it helps to listen to soothing sounds or soothing music before bed.

In short, sleepless nights, especially when they last, seem to be connected to our everyday thoughts. Breaking thoughts of anxiety and restoring a disturbed sleep pattern takes a lot of energy and time. So it is important to find a good sleep routine at your own pace and discover tools that can help you with that.

This article was written by Theeni Raemen, Researcher at KU Leuven. This blog post also appears in

Would you like to know more about this topic?

Kerkove, G., D. Geer, M, and Cerny, M. (2010). Dealing with insomnia. Woody: Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum.

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Kilgore, W.D (2010). The effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. Advances in brain researchAnd the 185, 105-129.

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