Do You Have Sleep Anxiety?

Many people have sleep anxiety -- apprehension about not falling asleep or not being able to stay asleep. 

Anxiety can result in a lack of sleep, and lack of sleep leads to sleep anxiety.  Those with a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea can be at increased risk of anxiety at night -- as they will tend to worry about their condition and whether they will be able to get a good night’s sleep

The body responds to fear or anxiety by releasing hormones to help you react to the perceived threat. However, for people with chronic anxiety the level of these hormones remains high, and if this is the case prior to bed the body will not be able to relax. 

If you are not relaxed when you go to bed. then sleep will not come easily. Even if you do manage to fall asleep, the high levels of hormones can still push you to wake up during the night with stressful thoughts. Studies indicate that anxiety at night may impact on the REM stage of sleep, leading to unpleasant dreams and possible nightmares.

Sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea and a number of mental health disorders can make you more susceptible to anxiety at night. These include:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia

What Are the Symptoms?

Any worries or heightened sense of doom will increase stress levels and anxiety. You may have started to feel overwhelmed by things, become more irritable or restless and have trouble concentrating. All these can be signs for and triggers of stress and anxiety.

Certain physical signs of heightened stress levels can manifest themselves prior to bed. These include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Breathing quicker
  • Tension
  • Trembling

The key here is that similar to sleep disorders like sleep apnea, anxiety disorders can be treated. It is therefore important to consult with your healthcare provider about your sleep problems.

Getting a Proper Diagnosis and Treatment

When you talk to your health provider about anxiety -- and how it is affecting your sleep -- they will ask you some basic questions about your sleep patterns and nighttime routine. They will inquire about what you tend to eat or drink before bedtime, the kind of activities you do in these hours, as well as whether your anxiety is worse just prior to bedtime.

Those with a sleep disorder like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea are prone to experiencing anxiety. Therefore, your health provider may recommend a sleep study to ascertain whether you have such a disorder. 

If a sleep disorder is diagnosed, your healthcare provider can work with you on a treatment plan. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This therapy aims to manage and reduce your anxiety by changing how you think and approach situations. CBT is a talk therapy that teaches you how to avoid behavior or outside influences which may trigger your anxiety. It looks to help you deal with stressful problems in a positive manner.

The aim is to remove any negative thoughts about sleep. This can include techniques to help you relax your body at night, control your breathing and re-focus your thoughts in a positive manner. People who use CBT can hope to see results from the therapy within six to twelve weeks.

Healthier Sleep Habits

Your healthcare provider will work with you to improve your nighttime routine to optimize the conditions that encourage sleep. This is also an approach taken when diagnosed with a sleep disorder like sleep apnea. Many of us can slip into routines and habits which are detrimental to good sleep hygiene.

The following are a few ways you could improve your sleep:

  • Develop a routine where you go to bed and get up at the same time each day
  • Try relaxing activities such as meditation and reading prior to bedtime
  • Avoid eating anything but a light snack before bed
  • Avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon and do not consume a lot of fluids in the evening
  • Set up your bedroom with a comfortable mattress, a dark environment and a comfortable temperature
  • Remove computers from the bedroom and switch off any devices you may watch at least 30 minutes before going to bed.

Preventing sleep anxiety

By adopting a healthier lifestyle with regular exercise and a good, balanced diet, you can help reduce your risk of sleep anxiety. 

A healthy lifestyle, combined with a good sleep routine, can help prevent the stress and anxiety which makes sleeping difficult. A mild sleep medication helps many people get the sleep they need.

Sleep anxiety can impact your overall well-being. Sleep deprivation can increase your risk from serious health complications including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Most people are able to manage their anxiety with a few lifestyle changes. Consult with your health provider, who can provide the appropriate treatment plan to help you sleep well once again.