How to Manage Sleep Anxiety
Cosying up in bed is supposed to be the most relaxing part of your day, feeling the weight slowly lift off your shoulders and drifting off into a peaceful deep sleep… perfect. Reality is, for some of us with sleep anxiety that just does, not, happen.
No matter how early you get to rest, how unreachable your mobile phone or how soft your bed sheets. Heck, you could drink your body weight in Chamomile and you still wouldn’t be able to calm down. Sleep anxiety affects a whole lot of us – one in three, in fact.
What actually is Sleep Anxiety? It’s the feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease associated with normal anxiety, except it occurs right before / during, sleep. Simple. But what’s not as simple is getting a handle on it. This article will help you to recognise exactly why anxiety causes sleep problems and issues around the topic, as well as some ideas and tools around managing it, so you can become a healthier, happier and calmer you.
Why Anxiety Causes Sleep Problems
Sleep anxiety could be caused by a number of things, the most common one being racing thoughts – when your to-do list, your finances, or what you should (or should not have) said to your new boss, all come at rocketing speed into your thoughts as soon as your head hits the pillow. Sunday Night anxiety is usually the cruellest, due to the pressures and responsibilities of the week ahead. But regardless of what it is you’re thinking about, those with stress simply struggle with quietening their thoughts no matter what they are.
More physical reasons why anxiety causes sleep problems include symptoms such as a racing heart – commonly associated with anxiety. When your body is under such tension and stress, it is difficult for it to reach a level of relaxation allowing you to slowly drift into the land of nod.
The Calm Clinic explains that: ‘each individual symptom of anxiety may affect your ability to sleep. Rapid heartbeat may cause concerns over your health. Weak limbs may make you feel less comfortable. Each symptom may contribute to the way you experience anxiety.’
Being unable to sleep because you’re anxious, then anxious because you’re unable to sleep, soon becomes a relentless never ending cycle. It soon becomes a nightmare (pardon the pun) that is simply out of your hands. Again, it comes back to the stress your body is under. But this time it’s not just the stress generated from sleep deprivation, it’s also your body’s inability to release the anxieties of the day during sleep. ‘Sleep is where your body repairs itself and relaxes the muscle tensions and other issues that are created by stress. Without sleep, that stress starts to build up, which can lead to further issues coping with stress the next day’ The Calm Clinic explains.
Mentally, sleep deprivation can also result in unusual behaviours of the brain, making it difficult to think clearly and emotions can be unusually unstable – causing the symptoms of anxiety to heighten further than usual.
Anxious About Going to Bed
Now, it’s easy for all of these concepts to accumulate to the point where you even begin to feel anxious about going to sleep before you’re even in bed. That’s not uncommon. Becoming anxious about going to sleep is, in fact, a type of Performance Anxiety, Matthew Edlund, author of The Power of Rest explains: “We’ve turned sleep into a job,” he says. “We think, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to have enough sleep to make everything work.’ They’re worried about sleep, so they can’t sleep.”
Something rather similar to this is another form of anxiety, one we call Anticipatory Anxiety – when your body recognises situations that have previously made you anxious, and consequently when you are confronted in that situation again your already anxious state is then supplemented by this added anxiety when confronted with stress. To relate this to sleep anxiety, if you go to bed anxious that you’re not going to get any sleep, you’re actually adding to the anxiety that you’re going to experience.
How to get a handle on it: idea’s and tips on managing your sleep anxiety.
It’s incredibly easy to tell you that ‘you’re not alone’ or ‘others are going through this, too’ – but that doesn’t change a thing and it simply doesn’t help the fact that you can’t sleep. So, it’s time to get proactive. Now you’re clued up on the science and psychology behind sleep anxiety, it’s time to make positive steps towards a calmer you. Here are some simple strategies from The National Sleep Foundation that may help you relax your body and mind so you can get the sleep that you need.
Learning to quiet your mind can be a helpful skill, both for navigating stressful daytime periods and for falling asleep at night. If you’ve never tried it, start with as little as a couple minutes of sitting quietly and focusing on your inhale and exhale. You can also explore apps that will help guide you.
- Add Exercise to Your Day
Regular exercisers fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. In fact, even a single moderate-intensity workout, like a brisk walk, can improve sleep among people with chronic insomnia.
- Take time to wind down.
A healthy bedtime routine allows your body and mind time to slow down before lights out. Take at least half an hour to play quiet music, take a bath, or read a book.
- Steer Clear of Stressful Activities Before Bed
Leave the bill paying for earlier in the day, stay away from heated social media exchanges, and skip the evening news.
- Put Your To-Dos On Paper
Instead of letting your brain swirl with all the things that you don’t want to forget to take care of, write them down so your brain can relax and let go.
Try this relaxation exercise in bed: Squeeze your toes for several seconds, and then relax.
It was mentioned earlier on that it’s easy to just say ‘you’re not alone’, however excuse me whilst I eat my words just slightly – because it’s easier to listen to someone else going through the same thing as you, sometimes, in order to come to terms with issues around anxiety. If you have a couple of minutes, listen to Jonny Benjamin’s Tips for When You Can’t Sleep – a video supported by the mental health charity Mind discussing how his mental health affects his sleep and how he has learned to manage it.
And finally, remind yourself – I don’t have to take this day all at once, but rather, one step, one breathe, one moment at a time. I am only one person. Things will get done when they get done. – Unknown
What tips do you have for managing Sleep Anxiety? Let us know in the comments.