Dread going to bed at night? You might be suffering from sleep anxiety – find out what causes this sleep disorder and how to combat it!
For some people, the thought of heading to bed is blissful and welcoming. To others, it sparks a wave of worry about whether they’ll actually be able to fall asleep and get a good night’s sleep. Sleep anxiety is a problem that contributes to insomnia and all its associated health problems, from increased diabetes risk to fatigue and compromised heart health. Fortunately, there are strategies to combat it. If you’re suffering from sleep anxiety, these expert tips could put you on the path to a worry-free bedtime.
What is sleep anxiety and what causes it?
If you feel hesitant, nervous, reluctant or worried about falling asleep, you may be experiencing sleep anxiety, a type of sleep disorder. Experts think it may be linked to a fear of the vulnerability and lack of control that comes with sleep. Other theories suggest some people with sleep anxiety experience dreams with high levels of stress or nightmares that feed into a trepidation about going to bed. Or you may just have too much on your mind, thinking about all the things you need to do, problems you need to solve. Stress increases the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) in your body, making winding down and sleep a nightmare…
Insomnia, too, can play a major role. If you believe that you’ll spend your night tossing and turning and unable to fall asleep, the associated anxiety will directly impact how you felt about going to bed. It becomes a vicious circle. The more angst you have as bedtime approaches, the more likely you are to have insomnia. That unending pattern of sleeplessness and negative emotions around sleep amps up the stress factor each night, keeping your body from becoming relaxed enough to ease into sleep.
Sleep anxiety may be worse now than it has ever been for some people. The effects of COVID are still being felt – financially, emotionally and physically. And a return to “normal” hasn’t fully happened for many who were impacted by job losses, having to work at home, caregiving for sick loved ones, or coping with children at home who were doing online learning. Even those who have never experienced anxiety previously may struggle to fall asleep at night. For anxiety sufferers, the last year and a half have poured gasoline on worries and made sleep anxiety symptoms worse, including rapid heart rate, hyperventilation, and flushing of the skin.
What you can do to minimize and stop sleep anxiety
While there isn’t one single strategy guaranteed to reduce sleep anxiety, you do have options available. Here are some possible remedies that could offer some relief, and, of course, if you’re insomnia or sleep anxiety has become a chronic issue, please talk to your healthcare practitioner for diagnosis and treatment.
- Focus on reducing stress throughout the day. To help calm your sleep anxiety, do something to help reduce stress during the day like, exercise, eating healthy, getting sunlight, making to-do lists and prioritizing, advises Amanda Levison, a licensed professional counselor from Neurofeedback & Counseling Center in Harrisburg, PA.
- Build a healthy sleep routine. This involves avoiding caffeine and sugar in the evenings, switching off devices an hour before you go to bed, and putting a notepad next to your bed for any late-night worries, suggests Ray Sadoun, a mental health and addiction recovery specialist with OK Rehab. “If you find that you’re tossing and turning for hours, get out of bed and switch to another task such as reading or meditating,” he says. “This will help you associate your bed with sleep as opposed to panicking, making it easier for you to get to sleep in the future.”
- Try a weighted blanket. It’s no wonder that weighted blankets have been gaining popularity. They’ve proven to easy anxiety, inducing a sense of calmness that allow users fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer.
- Consider hypnosis. Eli Bliliuos, a certified hypnotist based in New York City, uses mindful hypnosis to help clients conquer insomnia. He suggests:
- Taking a shower or bath right before bed
- Watching a comedy before going to sleep
- Keeping your mobile phone in a different room
- Not working in your bedroom.
A hypnosis professional can create a relaxed state in which your mind can be programmed to relax and begin to shut down through bedtime routines so you can fall asleep and stay asleep. It can reduce, or eliminate, obsessive thoughts that keep some people up at night.
- Practice meditation or other relaxing techniques. When you find it difficult to fall asleep, start focusing on your breaths. Breathe in and out deeply and imagine yourself in some tranquil place where you’re surrounded by nature. Practice it for 10-15 minutes daily. It will help you to ease your anxiety as well as sleep problems, according to Dr. Amelia Alvin, a psychiatrist at the Mango Clinic in Miami.
- Stay off social media and put away electronic devices. Dr. Alvin also points out that social media is another significant factor accountable for sleep anxiety. People compromise their sleep while spending a lot of time on their mobile phones and other devices. These types of electronics emit a blue light that disrupts the circadian rhythms responsible for your wake-sleep cycles. Your body receives wake-up signals instead of gear-down ones.
- Turn your bedroom into a sleep oasis. “Design your bedroom to be the comfiest place on this planet,” says Dr. Alvin. “This includes keeping your bedroom cool, dark and quiet to avoid distractions.” Make sure your mattress is in good condition and is the best fit for how you sleep. Update as needed. Dress it in good quality pillows, sheets and duvet so you feel right at home and prepped for a great night of sleep.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- Can temperature affect how well you sleep?
- What’s the best mattress for your age and stage of life?
- The essential guide to creating a bedroom you’ll love sleeping in