Anxiety and insomnia are sometimes intrinsically linked. If you have both, they can feed into each other and exacerbate each other’s symptoms. This vicious cycle can be hard to break, especially if you don’t know where to start.
If you’re looking to break the anxiety and insomnia cycle, you’ll need to work on treating and managing symptoms of both. Reframing your mindset around sleep is especially effective at relieving your anxiety near bedtime, and feeling rested can help reduce your anxiety symptoms.
In this article, we’ll talk about sleep anxiety and ways you can reframe the way you think about sleep. Read on to learn more.
What Is Sleep Anxiety?
Sleep anxiety is defined as having fear, worry, or stress about going to sleep. Typically this anxiety stems from the fear that you won’t be able to fall asleep or stay asleep, leading to you feeling tired or fatigued. This anxiety can be worse when you have something important to do the next day.
Sleep and anxiety are often connected. In fact, a lack of sleep can often bring on anxiety. These two conditions tend to bring out the worst in each other, and it’s important to address both if you want to get truly restful and restorative sleep.
What Are the Symptoms?
When you have sleep anxiety, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling restless
- Irritability or mood swings
- Feeling nervous
- A constant sense of impending danger
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Feeling fearful
- Frequently worrying about the past or future
- Fear or worry that you won’t get the rest you need
Anxiety can also manifest physical symptoms, such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Upset digestion
- Panic attacks that wake you from sleep
Sleep anxiety can happen to anyone and is often intensified by sleep disorders or medical conditions. Here are some of the sleep disorders or medical conditions that can worsen your symptoms of sleep anxiety:
- Restless leg syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Sleep deprivation
- Night terrors
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
It’s important to understand your symptoms and identify the other factors that could be contributing to your sleep anxiety. This can help you break the anxiety and insomnia cycle.
Sleepiness vs. Fatigue
When you’re trying to break the sleep anxiety cycle, it’s important to make the distinction between sleepiness and fatigue. When you’re improving your sleep habits and reframing your relationship with sleep, you’ll have to distinguish between the two when determining your sleep window.
Sleepiness is your body’s way of telling you that it needs sleep. In a natural circadian rhythm, this sleep drive will happen at night, making you feel drowsy and signaling you that it’s time to go to bed.
Fatigue, on the other hand, occurs when you feel like you don’t have enough energy or you feel especially tired. Note that feeling tired isn’t the same as feeling sleepy. You may have a desire to rest or lie down, but you won’t feel a strong desire to sleep like you do when you’re experiencing sleepiness.
When you mistake fatigue for sleepiness, you may try to go to bed but lie awake tossing and turning instead of falling asleep. This can cause you to feel frustrated and feed into your sleep anxiety. It’s important to only go to bed when you feel sleepy not just when you’re feeling fatigued.
How to Overcome Stress and Sleep Problems
Now that we understand a little more about sleep anxiety, let’s talk about some of the different methods you can try to overcome your stress and address your sleep problems. First, we’ll focus on addressing anxiety symptoms.
- Talk to a therapist: For many people with anxiety, the first step to take is to enroll in therapy. Therapy can help you talk through your anxious feelings and understand them better. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be particularly helpful for those who have anxiety and sleep problems. There is even a form of CBT called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBTi, that can specifically address sleep anxiety. CBT emphasizes developing coping skills and reframing negative thoughts and behaviors. CBTi may not work for everyone, but it’s a good start and doesn’t require medication.
- Lean on a support system: Overcoming anxiety isn’t a journey that you have to face alone. There are numerous support groups for people with mood disorders. It also helps to open up with your friends and family about your struggles. Some people feel the need to hide their anxiety from those they love, but this can actually make you feel more anxious. If you’re uncomfortable opening up initially, there are other options like online therapy or anonymous chat rooms for anxiety support.
- Be self-compassionate: Part of overcoming anxiety is having compassion and understanding for yourself. Those with anxiety can sometimes be unreasonably hard on themselves and may find it difficult to focus on the positives. Reframing this state of mind and giving yourself room to grow and live in the present can help you overcome the feelings and symptoms of anxiety.
- Remember you’re not alone: This goes hand in hand with seeking support, but it helps to remember that anxiety is a common disorder. Many people are going through the same kinds of emotions and having the same thoughts as you. When you feel alone in your anxiety, it can feed into your doubt and your fear that you won’t be able to overcome your condition. Just remember, anxiety is treatable, and many others have found their way out. You can do it too!
- Take care of yourself: We mentioned being self-compassionate, but that goes beyond just your thought patterns. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself in your daily life too. This means regulating your work-life balance, finding time to relax and rest, eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, and engaging in hobbies or activities that make you happy.
- Medication: In some cases, you may need anxiety medication to help you manage your symptoms. Consult your doctor or therapist about medication options.
Once you start treating your anxiety, you may notice that sleep comes more easily. If not, that’s okay too! That doesn’t mean that your anxiety isn’t getting better, but it does mean you may need to rethink your sleep habits.
Think of Sleep as an Investment
It helps to reframe the way you think about sleep. Look at sleep as an investment. Every time you sleep for an hour, it’s like putting money in your savings account, and that account will pay dividends for you in the future. Looking at sleep as an investment can help you remember the big picture and bring your sleep goals into focus.
Get More Restful Sleep
We’ve talked about ways you can work on your anxiety, and we’ve reframed the way we think about sleep. Now let’s talk about what you can do to improve your sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene involves optimizing your sleep environment and improving your sleep habits. When you have good sleep hygiene, it can be easier to fall asleep at night, which can help you overcome your sleep anxiety.
Here are some tips for improving your sleep hygiene and getting more restful sleep:
- Create a calm sleep environment: Your bedroom should be a calming area that promotes sleep. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and bedding. Your bedroom should also be dark, quiet, and cool at night. To create a positive association between your bedroom and sleep, you should only use your bedroom for sleep and sex. Making sure your bedroom is a respite, rather than a place to stress about, can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep at night.
- Use a journal to purge anxious worries: Sometimes it helps to get your stressful and worrisome thoughts out of your head and down on paper. This allows you to contextualize your thoughts and let them go until the morning.
- Keep the same sleep schedule: Keeping a regular sleep schedule promotes healthy and restful sleep. Typically, you’ll need anywhere from six to nine hours of sleep every night, so give yourself enough flexibility to get the sleep time that is optimal for you. Do your best to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day to maintain your sleep schedule. Also, don’t stress if you miss your window every now and then. No one is perfect, so just try to get back on schedule the next night.
- Try relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques can help you ease your mind and body before bed. Meditation can be one of the most effective ways to clear your mind and prepare it for sleep. Guided meditations can help you visualize letting your anxious thoughts go. Breathing exercises can help you calm down and relax your body. You can also try progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing each muscle group briefly before releasing the tension. This can help you wind down and let go of any tension you’ve built up from stress.
- Make bedtime a time to look forward to: It’s a good idea to create a routine that you go through every night before bed. You can start your routine about an hour before your scheduled sleep time. Consistently sticking to this routine can help your brain associate these activities with bedtime, preparing you for sleep. Make sure this routine is enjoyable, so you can look forward to it instead of stressing about it. Things like taking a warm bath or reading a relaxing book could be part of your sleep routine.
- Exercise: We all know about the mental and physical health benefits of exercise, but it can also help you fall asleep at night. The key is to exercise early in the day or the afternoon. Exercising too close to bedtime can give you excess energy that may make it difficult to fall asleep at night.
- Get natural light during the day: Going outside and getting natural light can improve your mood, but it can also help set your body’s natural 24-hour clock. Our circadian rhythm is largely determined by light, so making a point of getting outside during the day can help you regulate it.
- Watch caffeine and alcohol intake: If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, make sure you’re not drinking caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime. Caffeine can take up to seven hours to leave your system, so it’s best to enjoy it in the morning or early afternoon. This can be adjusted based on your individual tolerance levels. For drinking, it’s best to have your last drink at least four hours before bedtime.
Now that we have some tools for getting better sleep, let’s do a quick recap of how you can think about sleep and what you should remember when trying to reframe your thoughts regarding sleep.
- Sleep is an active process.
- Sleep is an investment.
- Sleepiness and fatigue are different.
The way you think about sleep can have a big impact on your sleep patterns and habits. If you want to start treating your sleep anxiety, it’s best to start reframing the way you think about sleep. But you don’t have to do it alone, because Sleep Reset can help!
Take Our Sleep Quiz
When you’re starting your journey to overcoming sleep anxiety, choose Sleep Reset to help you every step of the way. Our science-backed sleep program uses proven methods to help you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling refreshed. There are no pills and supplements, either, which means no grogginess or side effects.
Sleep Reset can reduce your sleep anxiety and help you fall asleep in minutes with a personalized sleep program tailored for your sleep concerns. You’ll also get a dedicated sleep coach, sleep tracking, and access to our sleep app. Sleep Reset is a self-sleep clinic that you can do in the comfort of your own home.
Ready to fall asleep faster, stop waking up in the middle of the night, and wake up well rested? Take our sleep assessment today to see how Sleep Reset can help you!