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Sleep Fundamentals || V is for Vigilance

From our Sleeping is Fundamental series

Vigilance and hypervigilance are two obstacles to falling asleep that we have some control over.

hypervigilance sleepWhat is Vigilance?

Generally speaking, vigilance describes our ability to stay alert over long periods. It can be useful if you’re intentions for alertness matter—say, as an athlete, police officer, or soldier on the ground.

But when vigilance keeps you up at night, it becomes more akin to hypervigilance, one of the many behaviors that promotes sleeplessness and chronic insomnia.

What is hypervigilance?

Hypervigilance is defined by one’s enhanced state of sensory sensitivity (you hear sound, feel movement, or see more acutely ) which can become exaggerated, leading to an intense belief that one is threatened.

Hypervigilance is frequently felt, both day and night, by people with PTSD, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health concerns, as well as in those who may be taking medications (such as steroids) for physical conditions.

Racing thoughts at bedtime may be one milder aspect of vigilant behavior more commonly felt in people with no other health conditions but who are experiencing stress all the same.

Two other lifestyle choices to blame include consumption of caffeine after lunch and too much exposure to backlit electronics (the blue spectrum light is too stimulating to the brain and shuts off your own natural melatonin production and sleep drive).

Managing vigilance at bedtime

People with diagnoses disorders that lead to hypervigilance should address their solutions for restoring calm at bedtime with their doctors. There are treatments that include medications, cognitive behavioral therapies, or a combination of both to find relief.

But even those of us who are not diagnosed experience challenges with unwanted alertness and anxiety at bedtime. We all need to find ways to tamp down intrusions caused by anxiety that can keep us from getting adequate quality sleep.

Simple solutions to vigilance

  • Listening to calming music
  • Practicing progressive muscle relaxation
  • Focusing on yogic breathing
  • Keeping a nightstand diary to contain one’s anxious thoughts (or gratitudes, or To Do lists)
  • Practicing yoga stretches that help with sleeping
  • Enjoying a sleep-inducing cup of tea
  • Using lavender pillow spray or other calming aromatherapies
  • Meditating
  • Reading (but avoid LED book lights)
  • Avoiding caffeinated products (coffee, tea, chocolate, caffeine enhanced foods) after lunch
  • Removing backlit electronic devices from the bedroom (smartphones, gaming devices, electronic book readers, tablets, laptops, LED book lights)
  • Running a white noise machine
  • Wearing an eye mask or ear plugs to shut down external sensory stimuli

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