Sleep anxiety is my bread and butter! Every night my friends, I lay my head on my comfy pillow. I’m fine. Nothings the matter. As soon as head hits memory foam suddenly EVERYTHING IS THE MATTER. Honestly, I’m so used to be stressed and anxious that I live my life in a way to try and reduce it as much as possible.
Doesn’t matter, my brain disagrees with me and considers it to be the perfect time to think about everything. The term ‘overthinking’ is strange to me. It suggests that there.s a normal amount of thinking and sometimes you think a bit more. I’ve never known a time where I’m not thinking at 100 miles per hour. Thinking about every possibility under the sun, the good, the bad and the ugly.
However, my brain’s a little bit cruel. It likes to double down on the bad and the ugly stuff. Then it will loop it. No amount of meditation or positive affirmation can really come between it for long enough.
The most beautiful part of this whole thing, is those times where I don’t have anything to worry about. What will I do? I’ll just worry about not being to sleep instead and that can keep me up! Perfect.
So does anxiety stop me from sleeping or is the lack of sleep causing anxiety?
Ah, I wish I could give you a simple answer to that. But honestly I can’t. Sleep anxiety can occur for a number of reasons. If you are stressed or anxious this can certainly lead to issues with sleep. Or, worsen preexisting issues. It’s also known that a lack sleep can cause people anxiety.
So it could be one, the other, or both. If you feel like you’re up against the wall with it, well I guess you are. It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are things we can do to combat all three of these issues. Stress, anxiety and insomnia may compliment each other nicely but they are not invincible.
Who does sleep anxiety affect?
No one is immune from sleep anxiety. It can happen to any one at any age so it’s something people should be aware of and equipped to handle. In the UK it is thought that 1 in 6 people have issues with anxiety. Usually, this will be mixed with depression. Suicide is the number one leading cause of death in young men in the UK. Anxiety and depression are on the rise. No one is immune.
Insomnia and sleep disorders are thought to happen to 1 in 3 people. I think that’s a conservative estimate but it still highlights the importance of understanding and tackling these issues. You have to treat your mind and body in the right way to give yourself the best chance and sleeping soundly.
One of the things they tell you when you are diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression is to get the right amount of sleep. This is because the amount of quality sleep you get can help you overcome these mental health problems. Of course, if you are suffering from anxiety and depression the first thing you should do is tell your doctor so you can work out a treatment plan.
Related: How much melatonin should you take?
What can you do fall asleep faster?
I have written a couple of articles about this, advice pertaining to what you should do before bed and things to do when you can’t sleep. The fact of the matter is we can start preparing for bed as soon as we get up. Sleep anxiety may only occur at night but we can start combating anxiety early.
- Get up at the same time every day — important part of sleep health is establishing a routine. This starts with getting up at the same time regardless of how much sleep you had.
- Aim to get your optimal hours every night — I can’t tell you how much sleep you need each night. Probably between 7–9 but it depends on the person. Try and figure it out and stick to it every night.
- Exercise early in your day — You should try and get some exercise in every day, walking, running, weight lifting or swimming. Your body will thank you for it. Exercise helps tire out your body come bedtime as your body will expend loads of energy during and post workout. Try not to do it late in the day as you run the risk of keeping your body awake during recovery.
- Don’t bottle it up — Talk to someone about any issues you have. Weather it’s a friend, a family member or a therapist. You are doing yourself a disservice by not talking about it. It helps to speak of issues out loud and as the saying goes a burden shared is a burden halved.
- Give meditation a go — A lot of people dismiss meditation but there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that meditation can help people. The basics of meditation are to sit somewhere quiet, somewhere you are comfortable and try and repeat a positive mantra. Letting all other thoughts go.
- Intentional breathing — The names a bit strange but it’s a great thing to do to help manage stress and anxiety. You need to try and focus on your breathing, take a long deep breath, fill up your lungs, hold for a few seconds, then breathe out. This helps me when I’m struggling at night.
- Don’t engage with stressful activities — This sounds obvious but I bet a bunch of people reading this can’t help but engage in an argument on social media. It’s not worth getting wound up for.
- Make time for winding down — Create a before bed ritual to help you get calm and give your body signals it’s time for bed. Things like reading a non-fiction book, a cup of chamomile tea and a bath are perfect ways to wind down at night.
- Start writing it down — Your stress and anxiety wants to be addressed. So write it down and acknowledge it. If your are worrying about things you need to do, let it go through a to do list. Keep a diary to write down the things troubling you. Once you’ve done so you may find yourself thinking about it less.
- Try to relax your muscles — Try and focus your attention to a specific muscle group, squeeze and then relax. Start with the toes and work your way up the body. Get rid of the tension in your body.
- Avoid sugars and caffeine — Sweets, chocolate, tea and coffee should really be saved for early in the day and avoided in the evenings. Sugar and caffeine both send signals to the body to stay awake which can quickly lead to sleep anxiety.
- Replace your mattress — If your mattress is uncomfortable then you need to invest in a new one ASAP. We spend a third of our lives in bed and your mattress should be fit for purpose. I’d advice doing the research and be willing to spend a little more for the right mattress.
How long does sleep anxiety last?
Sleep anxiety will depend on the person and the reasons you can’t sleep. You need to figure out the reason that you’re getting anxious at night. Are you like me and it’s down to overthinking? Or perhaps there’s a stressful event coming up or just passed. It’s not unheard of for happy occasions such as a home move or a wedding to cause sleep anxiety in the preceding days.
You should speak to your doctor if there are ongoing concerns. It’s important to rule out any significant medical issues. When I spoke to my doctor I used the term sleep anxiety and she didn’t know what I meant. After I explained it she decided to prescribe me some sleeping pills. These were not effective and I was still unable to sleep. My mind continued to race.
In my experience sleep anxiety comes in waves of intensity. Thankfully right now I am not struggling as bad. I still lay in bed and worry but I’m able to think through it and my brain is able to settle within an hour. However there are times when I won’t be able to think through and it will go on all night. This is when I try deep breathing exercising, relaxing my muscles and some of the other advice above.
Time to get out of bed
You need to give yourself enough time to fall asleep but if after 20–30 minutes you haven’t fallen asleep it’s time to get out of bed. Use this time to really focus on relaxation. Do something that won’t stimulate the brain too much. Make sure you keep the lights low and stay away from blue light devices (your mobile phone). Try having a bath, or having a cup of herbal tea. Read something boring and when you feel yourself getting tired get back into bed and try again.
With any luck you will find yourself in a position where you will sleep through the rest of the night. Try to get up at your normal sleep, don’t try to compensate the missing time by staying in bed later. Our bodies like a routine and it’s best that we try to stick to it.
How can you distract your mind?
Now all the advice out there tells you not to do it, but I do and most of the time it works. I watch TV in bed. The reason I do this is that it gives my mind something other than worry to focus on. I pick the shows I watch carefully to ensure I don’t want to engage too much with it.
Watch something you’ve seen before. I’ve watched the Office so many times because it’s easy to fall asleep to. Shows like Futurama, Bobs Burgers and Parks and Recreation work as well. The reason I watch these shows is because they demand very little of me. You see, I already know the plot, I don’t need to pay that much attention. I watch it on a very low light and I watch it at low volume.
I can’t necessarily recommend this for you, but it does work for me. It stops the worrying and helps me to fall asleep. Comedies and documentaries over drama or reality shows as they could wake you up and demand more engagement.
What else can I do sleep better at night?
If you have serious issues with sleep please please please do consult your doctor. There may be an underlying medical reason (there may not be as well). But it’s a great idea to speak with your doctor and discuss a treatment plan.
There is plenty of information on this website with information about sleeping well. Take your time to have a look around and put into practise some of the methods on here. This blog post focuses on sleep anxiety but the website contains lots of useful information for a variety of sleep issues. We also have a podcast that you will be able to find at the bottom of this page or click the podcast heading at the top.
Your sleep health is so important, sleeping well will benefit almost every aspect of your life and you will not only feel better but live better. Prioritise your sleep health over a night out and you will thank me later. Give up alcohol, it doesn’t help you sleep. It may make you feel drowsy and you may fall asleep faster but the quality of sleep is pants.
You can find more helpful information about getting a good nights sleep over on my website.