“Go To Sleep!” – Seven Techniques For The Anxious Mind

"Go To Sleep!" - Seven Techniques For The Anxious Mind

Having trouble getting to sleep? Anxious mind, perhaps? 


A few posts ago I wrote about sleep being an elusive fairy. She tickles my brain and then runs away only to come back and dance around. My brain, on the other hand, I described as an obnoxious bedmate. The moment I lie down he pokes me saying “Wanna think about stuff? Did you call the electrician? What if you don’t remember in the morning? Do we need apples? What are Catskills?” 

Between the elusive fairy and the obnoxious bedmate, sleep for me has been a journey. In my last post on sleep, I discussed reasons we may be sabotaging our sleep. Inconsistent routines, screens, and nutrition choices all have the ability to impact our sleep negatively. But even if you have all those sleep-impacting external issues figured out sometimes there is one other beast that keeps us awake when we should be fast asleep – an anxious mind. The anxious mind is like a broken faucet spurting water with no place to shut off the master valve. Having an anxious mind is troublesome anytime but debilitating if it hits when you are trying to get to sleep.

Anxiety has been a personal issue for me for many years, and my sleep has been terribly interrupted. It always shocks me when people say they fall asleep right away because I get to the point where I think everyone must take 90 minutes to two hours to get to sleep. Over the years, I have tried many techniques. The ones I have listed below are the ones that work. You perhaps may find some of them a little “out there” but trust me when you are two hours into trying to catch the sleep fairy you will have no problem counting stairs or putting bubbles around your troubles.

Come with me on a journey of sleep attainment that will have you snoring in minutes, instead of hours.


Seven “Go To Sleep” Techniques For The Anxious Mind

  1. Bubbles of Troubles: Lie on your back. Focus on what is on your mind. What are you thinking about? What is troubling you?  Picture a visual representation of that trouble right above your head where you are sleeping. Now encase the trouble in a bubble so you can no longer hear it and you can only barely make it out inside the bubble. Now let the bubble float up very slowly. Keep your “eye” on the bubble. Let the bubble slowly float higher and higher moving about, like it is in a light wind. Keep the bubble rising until it disappears. Then come back to your mind and repeat the same “bubbling your trouble” with the next thing that you are thinking about. Practice deep breathing with the process and you can even have a little fun “pushing” the balloon higher with a deep controlled exhale.
  2. Descending Stairs: Picture yourself at the top of a hike you have taken before or at the top of a very long stairwell. Slowly start down the path or stairs watching yourself put one foot in front of the other. Focus on the detail. Look at the color of your shoes, what is around where you are stepping. Keep the steps slow and methodical and count them as you go. Breath deeply in and out as you maneuver down your path or stairs. If you get to one hundred steps, start back at the top of your path and try to go even more slowly as you count your steps in your head.
  3. Dead Body: Lie on your back. Mentally head down to the tips of your toes. Starting with the big toes, consciously relax them as you breathe deeply in and out. Focus intently on the right big toe, and then the left big toe, until they both feel completely relaxed. Now work your way through your other toes slowly and methodically. Move up to each foot. Imagine all the muscles around each bone inside the foot relaxing as you breathe in and out. Move up to the ankles, the front of the lower leg, the calves, the front of the upper legs and then the backs, each time getting the right side to relax completely and then the left. Work through your whole body making sure to stick to one area for at least a slow count of 20. Once you get to your head, try to relax your eyes, ears, and mouth individually. Soften your face as much as you can. Most of the time you won’t even make it halfway through your body before you fall asleep!
  4. 4-7-8 Breathing: This simple breathing technique is extremely useful. Breathe in through the nose for a slow count of four, Hold that breath for a count of seven. Release the breath slowly through the mouth for a count of eight. While practicing this breathing you should gently rest the tongue on the roof of the mouth. Keep your tongue in that position throughout the whole cycle. You can do this technique sitting or lying down.
  5. Clench and Release: This is not dissimilar to Dead Body except I find this method works well if you find your body inadvertently stiff and clenched. Lie on your back and head mentally down to your toes. Clench all your toes as tight as you can make them for a count of ten. Relax immediately after the clenching and breath deeply three times. When you release your body forgets how tight it was prior t the clenching and can relax into a more sedated state. Work your way up your whole body, section by section until you reach the head and face. Again, it will be a surprise if you make it all the way to the head and face without falling asleep first.
  6. Blank Screen: Picture a huge white screen in front of you. Mine is a drive-in movie screen on the top of a hill that I have hiked so get creative. Focus on that screen, not taking your eyes off it. The tendency will be that the screen starts projecting your thoughts; perhaps a crazy issue at work, housework that didn’t get done, or a conversation you wish had gone differently. As soon as the projections happen “wipe” the screen white again and focus again on the blankness of the screen. Keep repeating this as your breathe deeply and try to relax your body.
  7. Alternate Nostril Breathing: This is one of my all time favorites and is so helpful for relaxation. You can do this one during the day as well! Occlude the right nostril with a fingertip (on the outside!). Hold the nostril closed while you breathe in deeply through the left nostril. At the top of the breath switch the side you are holding closed. So now the left side is being kept closed in this case. Breathe out slowly through the right nostril. At the bottom of the breath come back in through the right side and at the top of the breath switch sides you are occluding so now the right side will be occluded again. Deeply exhale through that left side until al your air is fully released. Repeat the full cycle twenty times.


[Tweet “Come on a journey of sleep attainment that will have you snoring in minutes, instead of hours.”]

You should have excellent luck employing one or more of the methods listed above. I would love to know which one works best for you. I love them all and find different ones work best depending on what is on my mind. I hope you do great with these and here is to happy sleeping!


This week pick one of the sleep inducing methods listed above. Practice it nightly in conjunction with a consistent schedule of retiring. See if those two things combined improve your time it takes to fall asleep and your sleep quality overall.




If you liked this post, you would lose sleep over these!



70 Responses

  1. There was a time in my life that I had trouble sleeping, thankfully those days are long behind me. I do know some people that have trouble sleeping these days and I’ll share your tips with them!

    1. Thanks. Beth. I always love earmarking certain posts to pass onto other. Anything to do with quality sleep is a good one!

  2. These are such great ideas! I’ve used dead body and clench and release before but I’m going to start using some of the other ones when my brain won’t turn off! Thank you!

    1. Nice to have a combination of tools to try, right? I used a couple of them just last night (big presentation coming up.) 🙂

  3. Great ideas! On the relaxing the face part, I find if my tongue is touching the roof of my mouth I am not relaxed, I realize I am tense all over especially neck and shoulders. When I drop my jaw and tongue my whole body seems to relax along with it. Thanks for the pointers, Heather. I will try them!

    1. Look a you commenting on your sister’s blog! Thank you! I know you and I have similar sleep issues so it is great to hear the things that have worked for you! xoxo

    1. I remember as a kid I used to listen to stories on the radio late at night. Remember when they used to do that? I loved it!

  4. These are amazing ideas! I have a terribly anxious mind and it is so bad whenever I am exhausted and want to get some shut eye. These tips may actually help me out! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Mine is if I have to get up in the morning and I am anxious about sleeping through my alarm! Luckily these techniques work for just about any situation!

    1. It is a combo deal, right? Your tired, frustrated and stressed when you can’t sleep! Let me know how they work for you!

  5. I love those tips and will definitely try them very soon. Thank you so much for sharing. Tonight I probably won’t need them … just reading those tips made me realize just how sleepy I already am 🙂

  6. I started the 4-7-8 breathing method (especially on airplanes) and I cannot believe how well it works for me. I’ll have to try some of your other tips, too!

  7. I used to really struggle with sleeping as well due to my anxiety and PTSD! These are some great techniques to help! I usually just start reciting the first chapter from The Hobbit (I have it memorized) and that puts me at ease and helps me fall asleep!

    1. Ha Ha! After awhile they just become more innate and less conscious. Good luck! 🙂

  8. The breathing and blank screen techniques work for me. One thing to keep in mind Heather, is that just like the heart never stops pumping, the ears never stop hearing, also the mind never stops thinking. So, at the time to go to sleep, pay attention to your thoughts the same way you pay attention to your heart pumping.

    1. Love it! I find that checking in with body signals is another relaxation technique in itself. What are you hearing, what are you feeling, what are you smelling…. Thank you!

  9. This post was right on time! I was awake for three hours in the middle of the night for no reason last night. I woke to feed the baby, then was awake nearly the rest of the right. I learned many of these techniques in my yoga teacher training but had forgotten them! Thank you for this post!

  10. This is such a great post, I am going to try these out. My mind seems to race like crazy when it’s time to sleep, and getting a good night’s rest is so important!

    1. It is everything, isn’t it Lezley? Good luck and check back to let me know how they worked for you!

  11. Your posts are always the best. It’s like your staring into my soul. I’ve suffered from horrible insomnia since I was pregnant with my second daughter and have been seeking ways to calm the anxious mind. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I am happy to help in any way. Thank you for your kind comment, as always!

    1. It’s weird, find some work better than others depending on the night. Thanks for stopping by Melissa!

  12. This is such a huge issue for me. I’m always jealous my boyfriend falls asleep in minutes! I need to give some of these techniques a try!

  13. Wow! I’m so happy to have found this post. I’m the lucky sleeper, I guess. I have NO trouble sleeping and staying asleep. My daughter however, is showing signs of anxiety and she’s only 8. I am going to use the tips with her!!

  14. Really good tips! I need to share these with my daughter, who says her mind definitely keeps her up at night. She’s about to graduate high school and has a lot to think about!

    1. For sure, Krista! A lot of these have meditation roots. Thanks or commenting.

  15. I have anxiety as well and it is maddening to listen to my husband sleeping next to me as soon as his head hits the pillow while I lay there for over an hour trying to go to sleep. I will try the Clench and Release method tonight, that’s one I haven’t tried before! Thanks!

  16. Great ideas! I haven’t tried some of these. But then again, I guess I’m lucky in that as soon as my head hits the pillow (or anywhere else for that matter), I can fall asleep pretty quickly. Great post!

    1. You ARE lucky! Seems like this is such a big problem for so many! 🙂 xo

  17. Yes! When I can’t sleep I meditate they include most of these techniques in there. I’ve never heard of the last two so I think I’ll give them a try. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Once I start thinking about something then my mind goes in all directions and sleep starts to walk away farther and farther.

    I must say it feels like I should try “Dead Body” technique 🙂

    1. It is a good one, IAmVagabond. I worked on blank screen last night. Out like a light!

  19. At the peak of my awful anxiety the breathing techniques you list above are also quite useful for when someone is panicking or overly anxious and just needs to calm down but stay awake. Awesome tips!

  20. Love these techniques! Before I even finished your post, I was already trying out #7. I love it and don’t think they’re out there at all. In fact, as I was trying out #7, I easily fell into the rhythm as if my body was saying “ya, I really needed this.” 😀 Definitely something I’ll use at work when I get mentally overwhelmed. Thank you again for these great relaxation and sleep techniques 😀

    1. Fantastic, Kathleen. Check out the other two posts on sleep as well. Combining them all will ensure healthy happy sleep habits!

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About Dr. Denniston

Dr. Denniston is a wellness strategist for elite leaders and their teams, bridging the connection between personal well-being and professional success. She provides custom solutions for burnout and stress and facilitates cohesive habit-training strategies that maximize vitality, productivity, and resilience.

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