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A strategy to use when anxiety makes it hard to fall to sleep

Updated: May 19, 2023

When anxiety around getting to sleep is often quite a tricky task. Here is a simple technique you or your teen can use to move away from any difficult thoughts and worries, to get to a calmer state so that it is possible to let go and drift off to sleep

The anxiety response is often triggered by thoughts and worries and when the lights are off and there are no distractions, your mind can go into overdrive with these. When these thoughts and worries kick off the brain's survival system it is so hard to get to sleep. Afterall, if you are in survival mode the last thing your brain is going to want is for you to fall asleep. Instead, it wants you to stay in an alert and perhaps agitated state ready to tackle whatever the danger is. There is often no real danger of course, just the thoughts and worries that are going round and round in your head.

This is a technique I teach my clients to help with getting to sleep. If your teen is struggling at night time, you may wish to share this idea with them as something they could try. I use this technique myself as I find it really helps me to move away from any concerns about the day just gone or about tomorrow so that I can fall to sleep in a calm way.

So, the trick here is to move away from the thoughts and worries so the survival response is not triggered. It is about getting yourself into a calmer state so that your brain allows you to go to sleep.

Here is how you prepare…..

  • When awake and in a relaxed frame of mind think of a place you have been to, like going to, or would like to go to. This place is somewhere where you feel calm and relaxed. Now imagine this place and take yourself to that place in your mind.

  • Conjure up the imagine of being there in great detail, consider what you can see there, what you can hear, what you can touch, what your body feels like, what you can smell and what you can taste there. This place might be a beach, a wood, a favourite resultant, a park.

  • Practice imaging being in the place, like playing a video over and over in your mind, noticing how it makes you feel to be there. What is the weather like, can you feel the breeze, sun on your skin?

My favourite calm places are my local park on a sunny day, a beach I went to on holiday years ago and a very distinctive and impressive hotel lobby I visited when on holiday.

Favourite places for my clients over the years have included sitting on a beach in Cornwall on a sunny day, running through a damp wood just after the rain has stopped, being on a hill looking out over the view at autumn time, going on a walk over fields on a spring day, walking the dog on a summers day, cuddling up with the cat on the sofa.

Once you have your place, you can now use it at bedtime. Here's how......

First, about half an hour before wanting to settle to sleep just check in and notice and acknowledge any thoughts and worries that are around. Then consider:

  • Is there anything that is really important to attend to now (as in that moment)? e.g. checking if you have put something you need in bag for tomorrow, putting phone on charge. If there is something, quickly do these things.

  • Is there anything you want to remember to do tomorrow? e.g. I must remember to take in my PE kit, ask my friend if they can make it to a planned outing. If there is, write these things down on a list for tomorrow on paper or on your phone.

Second, prepare for bed and settle down in bed. Again notice any thoughts and worries that come to mind, tell yourself they are just thoughts, you do not need to listen to them or do anything, the important things have already been taken care of.

Third, now it is time to take your mind away from the thoughts and worries to your calm and relaxed place. Think of the calm and lovely place you have been to or like going to. Imagine yourself there, imagine in great detail what you can see, what you can hear, what you can touch, what your body feels like, what you can smell, what you can taste. The trick is to immerse yourself in this place and play being there over and over like a video playing in your mind. Focusing on all five sense is important as it gives your body a chance to fully engage in the calming place.

Hopefully this allow your brain to move away from the survival response and get to a calm state, which will allow you to let go and fall to sleep.

You can also go to this place whenever you feel anxious during the day to regain a sense of calm in your body.

If you or your teen try this technique I would love to hear how you get on, you can email me direct at

Dr Beck x


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