About the blog: Having difficulty going off to sleep? Has it been worse with all the news around COVID-19? You may be dealing with Sleep Anxiety. In this blog post, we tell you everything you need to know about sleep anxiety and related sleep phobias. We will be looking into questions, such as what is sleep anxiety, what are the symptoms of sleep anxiety, how do you get rid of sleep anxiety, how does lack of sleep due to sleep anxiety affect mental health, etc.
What is sleep anxiety?
We are all currently feeling anxious. How can we not, when a pandemic is wreaking havoc outside our doors!
This feeling of anxiety might seem innocent, but it is affecting your health way more than you are aware of.
Sleep anxiety or Somniphobia, is the fear associated with sleep.
Going to sleep seems like a very natural thing to do, but for some people, it can be a dreadful thing.
In a stressful situation, like the pandemic, the anxiety around sleep may not be all that unfounded.
You are constantly stressed, you are always receiving news that doesn’t help, and so it is natural for you to get nightmares, which can further create a fear of sleep, adding to your sleep anxiety.
Suggested read: How to get more sleep when social distancing
What are some sleep anxiety symptoms?
Sleep anxiety manifests itself in a variety of ways, and it may affect people differently.
However, some of the usual sleep anxiety symptoms, mainly include:
- Restlessness, or worry
- Difficulty focusing
- Struggle in falling asleep or remaining asleep
- Gastrointestinal issues
A panic attack is one of the most common sleep anxiety symptoms that you must know of.
A panic attack around sleep anxiety is characterized by profound and intense fear of falling asleep, which is often accompanied by physical manifestations, such as:
- A sense of impending doom caused a rise in heart rate and chest pains
- Throat tightness and shortness of breath
- Sweating, chills, and hot sweats.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- A sense of detachedness or as if nothing were real
You can also awaken from a nocturnal or nighttime panic attack in some cases.
Nocturnal panic attacks exhibit the same signs and symptoms as normal panic attacks, but they occur when you are sleeping.
When experiencing a nocturnal panic attack, it can be difficult to calm down and fall back asleep. This in turn can worsen sleep phobias like sleep anxiety.
Causes of sleep anxiety
Are you wondering why you are experiencing anxiety when trying to sleep?
Anxiety and sleep are very closely related. Sleep deprivation can trigger sleep anxiety, and sleep anxiety can add to lack of sleep.
Higher levels of sleep anxiety can severely affect your sleep, and in some cases, cause insomnia.
There isn’t enough scientific research on sleep anxiety. Even so, there are a variety of explanations why this kind of anxiety happens especially at night.
You may have the sensation that your mind is racing and that you are unable to stop your thoughts.
You may be preoccupied with the problems of the day or thinking about the stuff on your to-do list for the next day. This perceived “stress” can trigger an adrenaline rush in the body making it difficult for you to sleep.
Sleep and anxiety
Though there may not be enough evidence about sleep anxiety, there is, however, plenty of research on how anxiety can influence sleep and vice versa.
According to the ADAA, sleep disturbances are found in almost all psychiatric disorders.
Researchers have explored the relationship between cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and sleep quality in several studies.
CBT is a psychotherapeutic treatment where the patient is taught how to identify harmful thought patterns. Once these patterns are identified, CBT encourages you to challenge them and offers you ways to replace these thoughts with more objective ones.
A 2015 study on the relationship between CBT and sleep discovered that participants who reacted to CBT improved in terms of both sleep quality and sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep).
The researchers believe that addressing sleep issues during anxiety treatment can benefit those who have difficulty sleeping.
Suggested read: Deep connection between sleep and mental health
Sleep anxiety due to Covid-19
The sleep anxiety you are currently experiencing may be due to the pandemic.
Mental health deteriorates when people are facing a stressful situation, and very few things can be more stressful than a global pandemic.
Most of us are feeling anxious right now with news of the Covid-19 virus flooding our regular newsfeed and our social media. So even if you do not get infected by the virus, your mental health is bound to be affected by all the news and information surrounding it.
In such a situation, the daily activity that is affected the most is our sleep, and if we are not sleeping well, we are weakening our immune system, which in turn, increases our chances of contracting the virus.
No, do not get worried about this, we have got your back.
In the next section, we will be talking about how to sleep better at night with anxiety.
Dealing with sleep anxiety
Before we go into the tips on how to deal with this sleep disorder, let us recap how anxiety affects sleep.
People have various worries, from money and health to relationships and careers.
All of our worries keep us up at night as we cannot relax our mind which is obviously running helter-skelter because of these stressful thoughts.
The most common sleep disorder associated with anxiety is insomnia.
It is hard to fall asleep when you are worried. But it is also difficult to stay asleep, which is likely to cause fragmented sleep further resulting in sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness.
What is worse is that the lesser sleep you get, the more anxious you become, which means this is a downward spiral.
Now that we are clear about what we are dealing with here, let us focus on how to sleep better at night with anxiety.
Suggested read: The effects of trauma on sleep
How to sleep better at night with anxiety: Medical treatments
It’s important to note that finding the best therapeutic approach for your anxiety will take time.
You and your doctor, therefore, can opt for a variety of different treatment options.
Treat the underlying causes
Anxiety symptoms may be caused by a number of medical conditions. They are as follows:
- Coronary heart disease
- Thyroid hypertrophy
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Certain types of brain tumors
Your doctor would want to handle all of these disorders first if they are causing your nighttime anxiety.
Anxiety may be treated with a variety of psychotherapies.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most well-established approaches.
CBT is a form of psychotherapy in which you are encouraged to change your thinking habits in order to enhance your actions and mood.
According to the ADAA, it can take 12 to 16 weeks for CBT to show results.
3. Prescription medication
In certain cases, managing anxiety requires a two-pronged approach.
To achieve the best outcomes, psychotherapy and medication can be used together.
Your doctor may recommend a variety of medications to treat your anxiety. Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed medications for acute anxiety attacks.
Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed medications for long-term sleep anxiety.
4. Alternate Medicine
Alternative medication is another treatment choice for sleep anxiety for certain people.
Herbal and botanical treatment evidence for sleep anxiety is much more restrictive than conventional medicine.
However, a 2010 systematic review discovered that both dietary and herbal supplementation could be beneficial therapies for anxiety.
There is also good evidence that supplements containing passionflower, kava, L-lysine, and L-arginine may be helpful. However, before experimenting with supplements, please consult with your doctor.
How to sleep better at night with anxiety: Lifestyle changes
Here are some sleep hygiene tips that you can try in order to sleep through your anxious thoughts:
1. Relaxation techniques
Meditation can go a long way in soothing that worried mind of yours.
There are several apps that are available today which guide you through meditation and how to put an end to thinking in order to relax into sleep.
Body scan meditation, self-love meditation, fear meditation, sleep meditation, etc. are some of the ways you can try in order to deal with sleep anxiety.
b. Grounding exercises
Anxiety can lead to dissociative episodes. Grounding is one technique for staying present in the moment. Grounding approaches require both cognitive and physical perception, such as pressing an object or saying out loud the current date. Doing this before bedtime will help bring you back to the present moment and allow you to sleep.
2. Deep breathing
When we are anxious or feeling panicky, our breathing tends to become abnormally fast. By entering your breath and breathing normally again, you can put your mind to rest. Bring your attention to your breath, and see how it becomes slow and deep, putting your mind and you to sleep.
Deep breathing is an excellent method for reducing anxiety and stress. Deep breathing can help to lower the heart rate and blood pressure. If you’re having a panic attack at night, try deep breathing to calm yourself down.
Have a look at the following video where Carolyn Theresa Simon shares 5 yogic practices for better sleep.
How to sleep better at night with anxiety: Preventive measures
1. Regular physical activity
Exercise will help enhance both the consistency and length of your sleep.
If you have sleep anxiety or any of the sleep phobias, exercise is a great way to deal with it.
However, make sure you complete your strenuous routine by afternoon. Exercise increases your body temperature and heart rate, and so working out before bed will interfere with falling asleep.
Light stretches before bed is a good idea.
2. Make a sleeping routine
Setting a sleep schedule will assist in keeping your circadian clock in order.
When you keep your wake and sleep cycles consistent during the day, you will find it easier to fall asleep at night.
3. Avoid stimulants before going to bed
Stimulants can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Furthermore, since stimulants increase body movement, taking them before bed will make falling asleep more difficult.
Both alcohol and caffeine may have a detrimental impact on sleep, and so it’s best to avoid them before bedtime.
4. Switch off all electronic devices before bed
When you finally get into bed, turn off your devices.
According to a 2017 study, the use of electronics after bedtime was solely linked to the amount of time it took to fall asleep in nearly 350 adult participants.
You find it hard to fall asleep before bed when you use your phones because the blue light from them inhibits the sleep hormone melatonin, making it even more difficult for you to fall (and stay) asleep.
5. Make yourself at ease
Since your bedroom is your personal space, making it a cozy, peaceful place to sleep will help you immensely with your sleep anxiety.
6. Try maintaining a gratitude journal
Since your mind is obsessing over bad thoughts, why not divert its attention to good thoughts instead.
Maintaining a gratitude journal is a great way to feel better about your life and yourself, which further helps lower your worries about the world around you.
Every night before you go to sleep, jot down five things you are thankful for and let your mind think about these thoughts.
Suggested read: Foods to help you calm down before bed
In today’s blog, we covered one of the worst sleep phobias, sleep anxiety.
Tell us if you found this helpful. Additionally, we would love to know what you do when you get anxious and cannot sleep? Share with us in the comments.