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Sleep Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment | Sleep Reset

What to Do if You Have Sleep Anxiety

Sleep anxiety can make it extremely difficult to fall asleep at night. Those struggling with sleep anxiety may find themselves in a cycle of missing out on sleep because of their disorder and the compounding stress causing them to miss out on more sleep from the feelings of fear and worry. Even those with a generalized anxiety disorder may find it difficult to sleep at night.

Fortunately, sleep anxiety is a treatable sleep disorder. With the right treatment methods, you can break the sleep anxiety cycle. Read on to learn more about sleep anxiety and how you can fall asleep faster and stay asleep at night.

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What Is Sleep Anxiety?

Sleep anxiety causes a person fear or worry about falling asleep at night. Typically, the feeling of sleep anxiety causes you to worry that you’ll be unable to fall asleep even though you need to, or you worry that you won’t be able to stay asleep. In rarer cases, sleep anxiety can be brought on by somniphobia, which is the fear that something bad will happen while you’re sleeping.

Sleep anxiety can also be brought on by a generalized anxiety disorder, and the two tend to feed off each other. If you have general anxiety, you may feel anxiety around falling asleep and develop sleep anxiety. If you have sleep anxiety, sleep deprivation can worsen symptoms of general anxiety and make it more difficult to deal with. A lack of sleep can also increase the risk for other mood disorders such as depression.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sleep anxiety may cause various physical and mental symptoms. 

The mental symptoms you may experience from sleep anxiety include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling fearful or worried
  • Feeling irritable
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Feeling nervous or restless
  • Worrying that you won’t be able to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Negative thoughts about sleeping and bedtime

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Feeling tense
  • Night sweats
  • Upset stomach and digestive issues
  • Panic attacks
  • Shaking

What Causes People to Fear Falling Asleep?

Anxiety is a common feeling that everyone has at some point. When you’re in a situation that causes you to feel like you’re in danger or if you’re dealing with high-stress situations, anxiety is a common response from your body. This stress and worry cause hormones to be released that help us be more alert. However, when you have constant stress and worry, your anxiety may be triggered by situations that aren’t dangerous, like trying to fall asleep at night.

The fear of falling asleep can happen for several reasons. People with sleep anxiety will go to bed worrying about being tired and unable to perform necessary tasks the next day. That worry, ironically, causes you to miss out on sleep. As we mentioned, sleep anxiety is often a vicious cycle. You may wake from your anxiety in the middle of the night and find it difficult to fall back asleep because your mind is racing. Sleep anxiety may even cause rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to be affected, bringing on nightmares and night terrors.

How Does It Differ From Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Sleep anxiety actually shares many common symptoms with generalized anxiety disorder. In fact, the two often go hand in hand. You don’t necessarily have to have both, but many people with one will have the other. This is especially the case with generalized anxiety disorder. Difficulty sleeping is a very common symptom for people with GAD, and being sleep deprived can make their anxiety worse.

With that being said, people who have sleep anxiety don’t always have a generalized anxiety disorder, though the lack of sleep can increase their risk of developing it. The biggest difference between the two is that sleep anxiety is specifically fear and worry about falling asleep and is usually most prevalent near bedtime. Generalized anxiety disorder will be recurring throughout the day, and the stressful thoughts don’t necessarily center on sleep.

Common Triggers

Although there’s not always a specific reason behind your sleep anxiety, there may be triggers that cause your sleep anxiety symptoms to manifest or worsen, such as those listed below.

  • Stress: Stress is one of the most common triggers for any type of anxiety.
  • Lack of sleep: The sleep deprivation brought on by your sleep anxiety can cause the anxiety symptoms to worsen.
  • Caffeine: Stimulants like caffeine can bring on sleep anxiety symptoms.
  • Work environment: The stress of waking up and being ready for work can make sleep anxiety worse, especially if you don’t enjoy your job.
  • Home environment: A messy or disorganized home can increase your stress and your anxiety.
  • Financial worries: Finances can bring on anxiety and make it difficult to sleep at night.

These are just a few common triggers, and your specific triggers may differ. Identifying your triggers can be helpful for managing your sleep anxiety.

How It Relates to Stress

Stress and anxiety are intrinsically intertwined. Often, stress is one of the strongest triggers for anxiety. It could be stress about falling asleep, stress from the ways sleep deprivation is affecting your life, or stress about work or school. There are many sources of stress that can add to your sleep anxiety troubles.

What Are the Health Effects?

Unfortunately, lack of sleep and stress aren’t the only health effects of sleep anxiety. If you’re chronically sleep deprived because of sleep anxiety, your risk for several long-term health complications increases. 

These complications include:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Irregular heartbeat 
  • Mood disorders
  • Weakened immune system

Short-term health effects can also make everyday life more difficult. Difficulty concentrating, irritability, and memory loss can often be attributed to sleep deprivation. Of course, this can add to your overall stress and anxiety.

Diagnosis

Sleep anxiety will typically be diagnosed with a visit to the doctor. They will ask you about your symptoms and perform a physical exam to make sure your sleep issues aren’t the result of other health conditions. Most of the questions during the exam will be about your sleep habits and what you do during the day that could contribute to your sleep problems. Your doctor may also ask you to keep a sleep log so they can better understand your sleep schedule and the problems you have falling asleep and waking.

In some cases, a sleep study may be in order. A sleep study is conducted in a controlled environment at a sleep lab. A sleep study can rule out other sleep disorders and determine whether sleep anxiety is the primary source of your sleep problems. 

During a sleep study, they’ll observe several different metrics while you sleep, such as:

  • Breathing
  • Brain activity
  • Heart rate
  • Sleep cycles
  • Blood oxygen level
  • Movement during sleep
  • Eye movement
  • Time spent sleeping

The doctor may opt to send you home with a device that monitors your sleep instead of a full sleep study. Although this method isn’t quite as comprehensive, it is more convenient.

Treatment

Sleep anxiety is a fairly common sleep disorder. Fortunately, there are several treatments that have helped people manage and overcome their sleep disorders. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of therapy that focuses on changing your behavior by shifting your thinking. There is also CBTI or cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, which is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that is specifically used for insomnia. CBT does not produce instant results and can take time, but the results are often long-lasting. CBT is designed to help you:

  • Avoid and recognize your sleep anxiety triggers
  • Change the way you think about sleep and bedtime, creating a more positive attitude toward it
  • Provide you with techniques to challenge your negative sleep thoughts
  • Use biofeedback techniques like regulating your breathing to make falling asleep easier while reducing your stress and anxiety
  • Gain a more thorough understanding of your anxiety and why it affects you the way it does

Better sleep hygiene 

Sleep hygiene involves forming healthy sleep habits and creating a bedroom environment that is conducive to sleep. You don’t need to have a sleep disorder to practice good sleep hygiene, as it can help anyone get better sleep. It’s usually a good idea to improve your sleep hygiene along with your CBT. Here are some ways to improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Create the best sleep environment possible: Make your room a dark, quiet, and cool place at night. Only use your bed for sex and sleep, so you don’t associate it with stressful things like work.
  • Avoid caffeine later in the day: Caffeine can trigger anxiety, and if you’re consuming it too late in the day, it may keep you up at night. Everyone is different, but it can take anywhere from six to ten hours for caffeine to leave your system.
  • Don’t stay in bed: Staying in bed may just increase your stress about falling asleep. If you don’t fall asleep in 15 minutes, go do something relaxing and come back and try again later. 
  • Create a relaxing sleep routine: Doing a relaxing routine about an hour before bed can help get your mind and body ready for sleep. You can try something like taking a warm bath or listening to soothing music.
  • Try relaxation techniques: Breathing exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation can all help to clear your mind and destress your body.
  • Keep a sleep schedule: Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, so you can form a regular sleep schedule.

Medication

If you’re diagnosed with anxiety, you may be prescribed anxiety medications by your doctor. Anxiety medication may help to relieve your symptoms of stress and worry, and this can also help with sleep anxiety. However, some medications may make anxiety worse or come with undesirable side effects. CBT and changing sleep habits will usually be attempted before trying medication.

If you’re looking to get your sleep habits on the right track, Sleep Reset can help!

Start Sleeping Better Today!

Sleep anxiety can be difficult to treat without any help. That’s where Sleep Reset comes in. We resolve your sleep anxiety so you can fall asleep faster, stop waking up in the middle of the night, and wake up well rested. Sleep Reset is also all natural, so you can get the results you want without sleeping pills or melatonin, which can cause grogginess, dependency, and other side effects.

Sleep Reset is a science-backed sleep program using proven sleep methods. We personalize a sleep program for you designed to fit your sleep concerns and your lifestyle. You also get our sleep app and a dedicated sleep coach. If you’re ready to get rid of sleep anxiety and racing thoughts keeping you up at night, then choose Sleep Reset.

Take our sleep assessment today to find out how Sleep Reset can help alleviate your sleep anxiety.

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