Do you often find yourself lying in bed, tossing and turning, worrying about not being able to sleep? If so, you might be suffering from sleep anxiety – the fear of not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep. So, how can you overcome it?
What causes sleep anxiety?
According to research, anxiety at bedtime is down to what’s known as pre-sleep arousal, which causes the body to enter into a state of heightened awareness. Sleep disorders and anxiety often go hand in hand, so this type of anxiety is common among people with insomnia.
The cycle of anxious thoughts that causes unease at bedtime is one of the main symptoms and causes of insomnia. And the fear of not sleeping adds an extra layer to the already existing anxiety – a vicious cycle.
Unfortunately, this anxiety doesn’t just happen at bedtime. If you’re prone to nighttime awakenings, you might catch yourself overthinking in the middle of the night. This is when the fear of not sleeping, or not getting back to sleep, can be even stronger.
In the long run, sleep anxiety can cause serious problems for the duration and quality of your sleep. During the day, you might feel more irritable, moody, and less focused.
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What happens when I finally fall asleep?
People who have overcome the fear of not sleeping (or were too exhausted to resist) do not necessarily sleep well. Often the quality of sleep is reduced.
Indeed, research shows that anxiety before sleeping decreases the quality of REM sleep, the phase during which we dream. Sleep anxiety can increase nightmares, which can feed a poor relationship with sleep.
How can I overcome sleep anxiety?
To overcome sleep anxiety and/or insomnia, it’s vital to adopt healthy habits to reduce negative associations with sleep.
Avoid coffee and alcohol in the evening
You know those negative thoughts that seem to spin out of control? As a stimulant, coffee promotes this cognitive arousal. Going caffeine free from 2 pm reduces the risk to your sleep.
As for alcohol, its sedative effect can give you the illusion that falling asleep is easier. But in the long run, it makes you more vulnerable to stressful thoughts and anxiety. It can prolong, or even trigger, your insomnia.
Make your room a pleasant place
Your brain needs to associate your bedroom with sleep – especially quality sleep. Therefore, it’s essential to have a room that induces calm and peace. Aim for a tidy space, comfortable bedding, dim lighting, and a pleasant temperature. In short, a cozy little nest that will stop you from dwelling on your sleeping problems.
Detach sleep anxiety from your bed by getting out if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes. Instead, do a calming activity, such as meditation, while you wait for your “sleepy signals” to come. This is a key technique to strengthen the association between your bed and proper rest.
Ideally, avoid keeping screens in your room. Doing so will reduce unnecessary distractions, noise, light, and heat.
Screens worsen sleep anxiety
Problem no.1: Screens emit blue light, which tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime.
Problem no.2: What you watch often requires too much brain activity to allow you to fall asleep quickly afterwards.
Therefore, it’s best to stop using screens at least one hour before bedtime. It reduces the risk of overloading the brain and having a restless night.
Create an evening ritual
To avoid dreading bedtime, create a ritual that helps you unwind. Take a shower, moisturize your skin, read a book, listen to relaxing music, write in a journal… Ritualizing these things will gently get your brain ready for bedtime. The more pleasant and soothing the ritual, the more you’ll look forward to bedtime every night!
Moreover, a ritual helps build a regular sleep schedule. By habit, your sleepy signals will align with your routine, which will help you fall asleep at about the same time each evening. Of course, this only works if you’re consistent with the timing of your ritual.
Promote positive thoughts
Easier said than done, but try to focus on the positive. Rather than rehashing the negative parts of your day or angsting about the day to come, try to take a different approach. What were the good parts of your day? Did you accomplish something you’re proud of? Did you give or receive any compliments?
Want to know more? Here are some tips to help you de-stress at bedtime.
Even if this fear of sleeping takes up too much space, ask yourself the above questions often. It will help you put things in perspective and prevent sleep anxiety from controlling your night.
Consult a doctor
If your fear is recurrent or you suffer from chronic insomnia, anxiety, or even depression, it’s important to consult a health professional. They will be able to guide you and target your difficulties. If you don’t know who to contact, turn to a general practitioner who will advise you according to your needs.
Remember that every experience with a health care professional can be different. If one doesn’t work for you, another may be more suitable!
Try CBT for insomnia
CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a treatment for anxiety and insomnia. This therapy consists of identifying the causes of behavioral problems and learning to deconstruct and eventually overcome them.
Choosing CBT as a solution for better sleep can help you understand where your fear comes from and reduce or even eliminate it. In addition, it’s a natural, alternative way to treat your sleeping problems without medication.
Overcome sleep anxiety with a zen outlook
Meditation, breathing techniques, yoga – the list goes on and on! There are tons of methods that do good for both the body and mind. Nowadays, it’s easily accessible and very varied.
If you’re curious, you can discover a complete library of relaxation audios to fall asleep on the Moonoa app.
Our sleep quiz assesses your sleeping issues so that we can provide you with a fully customized program. Along with your program, you can access CBT-i Sleep Tools and chat with a professional sleep coach anytime.