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How to Sleep During Anxious Times

Most people are finding the news of the day overwhelming. We offer tips on getting to sleep during anxious times like these.
How to Sleep During Anxious Times
Sad depressed woman suffering from insomnia she is sitting in bed and touching her forehead sleep disorder and stress concept

In the grip of a terrifying global crisis, insomniacs have a lot of company. Many people who don’t normally toss and turn are finding it very difficult to sleep during anxious times such as these. Have you been having trouble? 

Tips on Getting to Sleep During Anxious Times:

Q. I have been having a terrible time falling asleep. The nonstop grim news stories about the virus have me on edge. I am tempted to go back on Ambien even though I had a hard time getting off it last year. Do you have any other suggestions?

A. We completely understand why you and millions of other people are feeling anxious. News of COVID-19 and the terrible toll it is taking here and around the world is indeed terrifying. We offer a few tips that may help.

Make Time to Relax:

Finding some quiet time to relax before bed is more important now than ever before. That means no news or video at least an hour before bed. Devoting that time to a hot bath instead can help your body prepare for sleep. If you have ever tried meditation, this would be a good time to brush up on those skills. Taking time to breathe slowly could help you sleep during anxious times. If you can safely get out for a walk in the middle of the day (maintaining physical distance), this too will often help you unwind when evening comes.

Going Back to Ambien?

If you can avoid it, we urge you not to start taking zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Zolpimist) again. As you have experienced, some people have great difficulty with rebound insomnia when they try to stop taking this drug. Occasionally, people who have taken zolpidem engage in dangerous sleep behaviors, such as driving. 

Nondrug Approaches for Getting to Sleep:

Instead, you may wish to consider nondrug approaches to getting to sleep during anxious times. Magnesium and melatonin may be beneficial. Herbal remedies such as valerian, passionflower, lemon balm or hops may help. In fact, a double-blind placebo-controlled trial demonstrated that lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) helps alleviate anxiety and reduce sleep disturbance (Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, Aug. 2018). 

An Indian herb called ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) might help you relax and turn off the monolog in your mind. You will find details on these and many other suggestions in our eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

These tips are intended for the worried well rather than for people currently ill with COVID-19 or those taking care of them. Our hearts go out to those who are struggling with acute illness or its aftermath and to all the healthcare providers who are working hard to save lives.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Haybar H et al, "The effects of Melissa officinalis supplementation on depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorder in patients with chronic stable angina." Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, Aug. 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2018.04.015
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