It’s 2 a.m., and you can’t sleep. We’ve all had those nights when our minds keep racing, and falling asleep feels impossible. Anxiety can mess up your sleep, making you wonder why you can’t sleep. When your anxious thoughts are about falling asleep, it’s called sleep anxiety. Sleep anxiety happens when you worry about falling asleep or staying asleep. People with sleep anxiety may have trouble relaxing at night. They might also feel physical symptoms like a fast heartbeat, sweating, or trouble breathing. Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a sleep expert, explains this. Sleep anxiety is different from regular anxiety because it’s all about sleep. You might fear not getting enough sleep or not sleeping well. Some people even worry that something bad will happen while they’re asleep.
This kind of anxiety can make it hard to sleep, and it can feel tough to fix. But there are ways to deal with sleep anxiety and help yourself sleep better.
What is sleep anxiety?
Sleep anxiety is when you’re scared or anxious about falling asleep or staying asleep. People with sleep anxiety might struggle to relax at bedtime and feel physical symptoms like a fast heart rate, sweating, or trouble breathing. Dr. Mike Sevilla, a doctor in Ohio, says some people with sleep anxiety feel like something bad will happen while they sleep.
It’s kind of like a type of insomnia called psychophysiologic insomnia. This happens when you start associating bedtime with not being able to sleep. You keep thinking about not sleeping, what will happen if you don’t sleep, and that makes it even harder to sleep. So, the worry about not sleeping becomes a trigger for anxiety and keeps you awake.
What are the symptoms of sleep anxiety?
If you have sleep anxiety, you might find it hard to sleep because you’re worried, anxious, or scared about bedtime. You could also have other symptoms while trying to sleep or during the day, like:
- Feeling very worried
- A fast heartbeat
- Stomach problems
- Tight muscles, especially in your jaw
- Trouble concentrating
- Low energy and motivation
- Being easily annoyed
Dr. Robert Satriale, a sleep specialist, says that if you don’t sleep well, you won’t feel good during the day.
What causes sleep anxiety?
Anyone can have sleep anxiety, but some things make it more likely. These include:
- Already having trouble sleeping
- Having mental health issues like anxiety, PTSD, or ADHD
- Having nightmares
- Dealing with a lot of stress
- Being sensitive to changes in your sleep schedule
Your habits and lifestyle can also make sleep anxiety worse. Doing things that make you anxious at night, like reading scary news or watching upsetting movies, can contribute to sleep anxiety. Also, using screens too close to bedtime and eating a big meal before bed can trigger sleep anxiety.
How to treat sleep anxiety
There are ways to sleep better even if you have sleep anxiety. First, talk to your doctor about improving your thoughts and behaviors about sleep, like practicing good sleep habits or managing stress. They might suggest cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with relaxation techniques, which is a common way to treat sleep anxiety. In some cases, they might recommend medication to help with sleep anxiety. Improving your sleep hygiene can also help. This means having a regular sleep schedule, avoiding strenuous exercise close to bedtime, not using digital devices in bed, and getting out of bed to do something relaxing if you can’t sleep within 20 minutes.
Other things like meditation, mindfulness, journaling about your worries during the day, and progressive muscle relaxation can also help with sleep anxiety.
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