Sleep anxiety is essentially the fear or worry associated with sleep. It can be the fear of falling asleep, a fear that you won’t be able to sleep, a fear of not being able to stay asleep, or even a fear that something horrible will happen while you are sleeping.
Sleep anxiety can be caused by physical conditions such as thyroid disorders, sleep apnea, chronic nightmares, or even other illnesses, so it is important to check with your doctor to rule out any physical causes. But it also can have psychological causes.
Consider how the “fight or flight” response is at the base of all anxiety. This is our body's means of preparing for situations that it sees as dangerous and so as a result, it will increase your heart rate, you will breathe faster, your blood is directed from your digestive organs to your brain and to your limbs, your vision narrows, blood pressure increases, your muscles tense, and your pain response decreases. This response is at the heart of all anxiety. When you notice these symptoms, you become tense and anxious as your body prepares for something dangerous to happen to you. Now think about what will happen if you have these types of symptoms when you’re trying to fall asleep. There is no way you can fall asleep with all of this going on in your body. This then starts off a cycle starting with imagining the worst when you can’t fall asleep. This might cause you to have thoughts such as “I’ll never fall asleep!”, “How will I be able to work tomorrow if I can get any sleep!”, or “This is so horrible! I feel just awful!”. This type of thinking will in turn increase your anxiety and decrease your ability to fall asleep. In this type of cycle, insomnia will increase your anxiety, and your anxiety will increase your insomnia.
Sleep anxiety has a multitude of symptoms, both physical and emotional.
· Digestive problems
· Increased heart rate
· Increased breathing rate
· Tense muscles
· Feeling overwhelmed
· Feeling nervous
· Feeling a sense of impending doom
Prolonged sleeplessness can have some rather severe side effects. If you don’t sleep for long enough, you are at increased risk for the following:
· Heart disease
· Weight gain
· Compromised immune system
· Inflammation and inflammatory disease
· High blood pressure
· Even premature death
With these types of potential problems, it is important to treat your sleep anxiety before too much time has passed.
There are many different treatments that might be effective for treating your sleep anxiety. Your doctor might want to start you on medications for sleep. Many of these medications carry a risk of building tolerance with use over time, so be careful to use only as prescribed by your doctor.
Therapy is also very effective in treating sleep anxiety and can be done in conjunction with medications or on its own. Some of the therapies most often used include the following:
CBT therapy can help you to explore and change any thoughts or behaviors that are contributing to your anxiety
Sleep hygiene instructions are often a part of any therapy for insomnia. Some suggestions can be found in my blog here,
Mindfulness exercises can help you to gain a new perspective and to gain new ways of coping with the anxiety
Your practitioner will most likely ask you to keep a sleep journal. This will include what activities you did before going to sleep, what time you fall asleep, and how long you slept.