This is an extremely frustrating problem for those of us who have stressful jobs, or shift based jobs where we are finishing late and starting early in different patterns, or else we have something else important on the next day (exams, assessments, job interviews, presentations, driving tests, family events etc).
It can be that we are anxious about getting to sleep on time to make sure we get enough sleep, but this in turn creates a negative loop, where the more we think about getting to sleep, the harder it becomes. We just lie awake tossing and turning, getting little if any sleep, and this leaves us groggy and unfocused the next day.
In our efforts to try and get to sleep early, our minds can work against us and ensure we don’t get to sleep early. Trying to make it happen often seems to push it further away for those of us prone to anxiety and overthinking.
In my particular case I always found I could never get to sleep when I was opening the shop for my job early the next day. No matter how early I went to bed, I could never seem to make myself fall asleep, and I always ending up getting just a few hours of poor quality sleep, and performing poorly at work the next day as a result.
I never had this problem when I didn’t need to get up early – late starts or days off were fine. Only when there was a requirement for me to be up early did this problem arise, indicating this problem was psychological rather than purely physiological.
Because my mind was focusing on trying to get to sleep, it was making it harder to get to sleep. Looking through the forums on this, I found lots of suggestion of certain medications you can take to help sleep, but I have never liked this solution as I never really feel it is addressing the core psychological issues that are making this happen.
I instead want to provide readers with actual psychological solutions that can help reduce anxiety around sleep and holistically help people get off to sleep when they have something important going on tomorrow. The most effective solution for this is something called EFT.
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Tapping has proven to be an extremely effective solution for this problem of not being able to get to sleep when you are up early the next day for something you consider important, like work or exams. Following the simple tapping exercise takes a few minutes and can quickly reduce anxiety about getting to sleep.
This is the solution we will focus on most in this article; however, we will also go over some of the more commonly cited ways to help get to sleep when they have an early start the next day.
However, EFT is going to be our primary focus, since it is:
- Very easy to learn and do.
- Takes only a few minutes once the process is understood.
- Completely holistic and has no side effects like medications.
- Has proven very effective especially in helping anxious people get to sleep when they need to be up early the next day for work, exams or something else.
- Can also be used for a whole host of other issues.
Let’s look at EFT in more detail, including a full breakdown of how to do it.
EFT Explained in Brief
Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT Tapping simply involves tapping very specific points on your body, whilst reciting a very specific phrases about what is making you anxious and preventing sleep.
This has been shown to be very effective in reducing anxiety around getting to sleep when you have something to be up for early the next day. It appears to take the wind out of the sails of the anxiety that can often make it harder to get to sleep when it is something we are intently focusing on and trying to “make” happen.
See the superb video below from Dr James Alexander, where he runs though the concept of EFT, including how to do, specifically from the perspective of those struggling to get to sleep because they have something they need to get up early for the next day.
EFT & Sleep Explained (Process & Theory)
Here is a very quick overview of the EFT process, drawn from the video above:
Create Full Setup Phrase – “Even though I (INSERT PHRASE), I deeply and completely accept myself”
Where INSERT PHRASE is an simple explanation of what is bothering you, what you are anxious about. Here are a couple of examples:
- eg. 1 – I am anxious about my exam/interview/test tomorrow
- eg. 2 – I am anxious about getting to sleep.
- eg. 3. I am anxious because I need to be up early for work tomorrow.
- eg. 4. I am anxious because I am struggling to get to sleep and I need to be up early tomorrow.
- eg. 5. I am waking up too many times during the night and can’t get back to sleep.
- eg. 6. I am anxious about what’s happening at work at the moment.
These are also known as REMINDER PHRASES (the snippet you insert, as opposed to the full setup statement).
Then you need to run through the EFT Process as by tapping on certain points while reciting the phrase. See the 29 minute mark of the video above for a full demonstration.
Here is the full tapping sequence:
- Karate Chop Points – Start by saying the FULL SETUP PHRASE (even though I……., I deeply and completely accept myself), whilst tapping on the part of your hand that a karate chop would use, just below the little finger on the side of your hand. Tap on this 8 times while repeating the full setup phrase (not just the reminder).
- After step 1, you only state the reminder phrase that you make up, not the rest.
- Beginning of Eyebrow – Corner of eye socket, where eyebrow hair starts, next to the top of the nose. State the reminder phrase whilst tapping 8 times.
- Side of Eye Socket – The outer side of your eye closest to your ear, tap the bony rim of the socket on the side. State the reminder phrase whilst tapping 8 times.
- Lower Eye Socket – The under side of your eye socket, bony rim again. State the reminder phrase whilst tapping 8 times.
- Below Nose – Simple one. Just under your nose and above your mouth. State the reminder phrase while tapping 8 times.
- Below Chin – On the chin below the lips. State the reminder phrase while tapping 8 x.
- Collarbone – Where the tendons in the neck end and the collarbone starts, there is a bone in the middle. You are actually looking for the junction point where the collarbone, sternum and first rib meet. State the reminder phrase while tapping 8x.
- Under Arm – Under your arm, in line with your nipple. State the reminder phrase while tapping 8x.
- Under Nipple – 1 inch below your nipple. State the reminder phrase while tapping 8x.
- Edge of Nails (All 5 Fingers) – Place your hands together in the prayer position. Where your thumbs meet (the corner nail point) is your next tapping point. Tap this point, and the same corner point on the all your fingers as well. State the reminder phrase while tapping 8x for all 5 fingers.
- Karate Chop Point – Back the the karate chop point. State the reminder phrase while tapping 8x
- Gammut Point – This is the ridge in between the little and ring finger, slightly back from the knuckles. You will feel a slight indent. State the reminder phrase while tapping 8x
- Roll Eyes – Continue tapping the Gammut Point as per step 13, whilst also looking down hard to the right, then down and to the left, then roll your eyes in both directions.
- Tune – Hum a tune that you can remember from before the age of 5. The “happy birthday” tune is a popular one. Continue tapping Gammut point.
- Count 1-5 – Simply count quickly from 1 to 5. Continue tapping Gammut point.
- Tune – Hum the tune again as per step 15. Continue tapping Gammut point.
- Repeat 3-12 – Return to Step 3 (Eyebrow Point) and Repeat Steps 3-12, finishing again at the Karate Chop Point.
- Stop and take a deep breath.
- Assess if anxiety level has dropped. Repeat process if desired.
- See the 29 minute point of the video above for a visual demonstration of the process.
- For sleep issues – If you are using the process to get to sleep, keep repeating until your mind starts to produce gibberish, nonsensical words instead of the reminder phrases. Once you get to this stage, you are very close to being asleep. Keep with the process for about another 30 seconds and you should be asleep.
EFT Tapping Points
The EFT Tapping Points (Image Credit – Eft-Punkte, Wikipedia)
There are different variants to the EFT process that may include or exclude certain points we mentioned above. However, the general process is the same and it is effective in all cases. Simple pick a version that works for you and stick with it.
Here are the key take away points of the EFT process:
- Make up a good reminder phrase that accurately describes what is bothering you at the moment (eg. can’t get to sleep, anxious about getting to sleep).
- Repeat the full phrase only for the opening Karate Chop tap for Step 1.
- For all subsequent steps, you only repeat the reminder phrase, not the full phrase.
- Tap each point 8 times, while stating reminder.
- Cycle back through from eyebrow to karate chop point with reminder phrase.
- Rate anxiety levels before and after and repeat if necessary to further reduce anxiety.
- The whole process may seem time consuming the first few times you do it, but once well practised, can be run through in 2 minutes or less each time.
- The EFT process can be used when actually in distress/anxious about something, or in anticipation of something stressful that will be happening in the future (exams, work, meetings, presentations, driving tests, interviews etc).
- If you find physically doing the EFT process wake you up more and interferes with getting to sleep, then it can be done in your imagination as well once it is well learned.
- Most of the touch points exist on both sides of the body. You can tap both sides if you want to, but it isn’t strictly necessary. You can just pick one side and stick to it if you want.
See the EFT Universe website for a fantastic body of resources on the entire EFT process, including diagrams and tutorials of the process.
How Does EFT Help With Sleep?
This whole EFT tapping process may seem very strange for readers who haven’t encountered it before, but it has been shown to be very effective when for dealing especially with sleep issues coupled with anxiety, where an expectation of something the next day is preventing proper sleep.
There are different explanations as to why this method seems so effective, but we will stick to a more Westernized, scientific, neurological explanation for the effectiveness of EFT is helping with sleep issues.
Put simply, when you are anxious about getting to sleep and /or something happening tomorrow, the Amygdala or “danger spot” in your brain is being activated. This is a very primitive part of the brain that is only concerned about danger and threat. It is highly involved in anxiety, anger, fear and stress
The tapping actually manually activates this process, so the energy around the Amygdala can then be dispersed, transformed and weakened, lessening it’s impact on the person.
As James Alexander explains in the above video, in order for this psychological “baggage” to be transformed and moved out the way, it first has to be activated. This seems to be what the tapping does.
Procedures like EFT create new neural pathways in the brain to replace old ones associated with stress and anxiety about sleep or other issues.
It activates the Amygdala, and then the tapping in different parts of the body, coupled with the eye rolling, then activates different parts of the brain, sending this neurological energy in different directions and dispersing it, rather than it remaining stuck in the Amygdala alone, and moving down the same neural pathways.
This seems to lessen the intensity of it, in turn helping the person relax a bit more and not be so caught up in the anxiety of trying to make the sleep happen, not being able to, and then getting more anxious that they aren’t able to.
The EFT tapping process breaks this cycle and disperses the anxiety, making it easier to get to sleep. It discharges neurological energy from the Amygdala.
The different steps all activate different parts of the brain, creating new neural paths rather than simply revisiting the old well worn ones (need to get to sleep, can’t do it, anxious about not being able to, still can’t sleep, anxiety worsens, makes sleep harder, and so on in a negative cycle).
This in a nutshell is one simple explanation as to why the EFT process seems to work. For more on this issue, see the first video we embedded above, plus the second part of Dr Alexander’s talk on this which we’ll embed below.
EFT Explained – Background Theory
For more on the entire topic of anxiety, stress, REM sleep, and sleep in general, see Dr Alexander’s excellent book Getting the Z’s You Want : Sleep Sense in the 21st Century, available on Amazon, or alternatively from his website.
Other Solutions For Getting To Sleep When Up Early The Next Day
Here are some other commonly cited solutions for people who are struggling to get to sleep when they are up early the next day for something important or potentially stressful.
1. Meditation & Breathing Exercises – This is another holistic, totally free and portable solution that can help people get to sleep, and is an excellent complement to EFT. Simply spending a minute or two deeply breathing in and out can be enough to calm some people down to the point where they can get to sleep more easily.
Meditation is a slightly more in depth process, often involving focusing on a central anchor point, like the breath, and training into oneself the ability to notice when the mind has wandered and bring it back to this central anchor point over and over. Over time, this builds the attentional circuitry in the brain and allows for greater calmness and focus, and the reduction of anxiety and stress.
See our Mindfulness Resources page for a set of simple introductory meditations to help you get started
2. Medications – Some people also find that certain medications and supplements can help with anxiety and sleep issues.
This can be over the counter medications or brands such as Ambien, Lunesta, Benadryl, Night Nurse, Kalms (valerian), Melatonin and so on, or stronger presciption medication like Valium.
However, for many people, the weaker medications at least may not be powerful enough in counteracting powerful stress and anxiety. You can ask for something more powerful from your doctor, but again is this really resolving the core issue?
Also, many sleeping medications can block REM sleep, meaning that they do give you a lot of sleep, but it isn’t the high quality REM sleep that really allows the mind to refresh itself. See this video from Dr James Alexander for more on this.
3. Managing Substances – To help with sleep, it is also important to avoid certain things. More specifically, try not to consume any caffeine or sugar 6 hours before bed time, especially if you are particularly sensitive to them.
Alcohol is more of a double edged sword. Some people do find a glass of wine or beer can help with relaxation and sleep. However, alcohol can also worsen anxiety and stress. It’s down to individual choice, but on balance it’s probably better for most people to avoid alcohol as well. Recreational drugs like cannibis also interfere with REM sleep.
4. Hot Baths/Showers – Many people find a simple hot bath or shower just before bedtime is a good way to get relaxed and ready to sleep.
5. Avoid Bright Screens – Another important thing in modern daily life is to avoid staring at bright screens at least an hour before you go to bed. Avoid TV, tablets and video games. Try to do relaxing things instead like reading a book or listening to relaxing music or meditations. Also try to use duller lamps instead of bright lights that can again make it difficult to doze off.
6. Second Alarms – If fear of missing the alarm is part of your anxiety, firstly incorporate it into your EFT procedure, but also set a second alarm 10-15 minutes after the first for backup. Also, if you wake up during the night, try not to look at your clock, since this can increase anxiety about getting back to sleep. Also have an EFT phrase ready for if you do wake up and are anxious about getting back to sleep.
7. Change Body Clock – If you are routinely going to bed quite late, consider changing your body clock so that you start going to bed earlier, even if you don’t have anything to get up for the next day. This can make it easier to get to sleep. It is generally considered healthier long term if you try to get to sleep around 11pm or earlier anyway. If you’re currently only getting off around 1-2 am, it may be worth trying to change your body clock and routine.
8. Assess your Job – It may also be worth taking an honest assessment of how satisfied and happy you are with your current job. If you are more generally unhappy and anxious with work (atmosphere, unsociable hours, stress levels, bullying, management, politics etc), then it may be worth considering a change.
Looking through the forums on this, some people have found that they did have problems with sleeping when getting up for a certain job, but they found this anxiety disappeared completely once they moved to a different job they were much happier in. A more general change in environment can help with sleep issues. Consider looking for something more in line with your values, temperament and body clock.
See our article on how anxiety can sometimes serve as a facilitator of change in life, moving us on from situations that aren’t serving us anymore.
9. Counselling – If your anxiety is more generalized and/or intense, it may be worth seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist to see if there are any deeper issues in your life which are driving it. Some companies have EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) that you can get counselling through. It may be worth exploring this option if you think the problems are about more than just getting up for an early shift.