Sleep Anxiety - Can’t Sleep Due to Anxiety? Everything You Need to Know
Does anxiety cause sleep issues? If you suffer from sleep anxiety, the feeling of stress or fear about going to sleep, you may be wondering what it actually is, and what causes it. This article aims to explain exactly that by delving into the causes, the symptoms, and what to do if you suffer from sleep anxiety.
What is Sleep Anxiety?
Sleep anxiety is the fear or worry about going to sleep. This may involve feelings of apprehensiveness about not falling asleep, or worries that you may not be able to stay asleep for long enough. Some people with this condition have also been found to have a specific phobia or fear about sleep called somniphobia.
Somniphobia is the fear that something bad may happen to their physical bodies while they sleep, or that they feel like they should fall asleep because they need to stay alert in case something bad happens.
Psychiatriatric disorders such as anxiety often coincide with anxiety sleep problems - so if you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you may find difficulty falling, or staying, asleep. In a similar vein, if you suffer from a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep deprivation, you may suffer feelings of anxiety or fear before going to bed because you may begin developing anxiety about struggling to sleep due to worries about not getting a fulfilling level of sleep.
One condition can typically make the other worse, so it can feel like a cycle that never ends.
The Causes and Symptoms of Sleep Anxiety
While anxiety is a normal part of being human, a normal emotion made to incite fear or worry about dangerous or unknown situations, if you feel stressed or worried all of the time you may suffer from chronic anxiety.
Feelings of stress and anxiety signal to our bodies that they need to release specific hormones that allow us to react quickly in order to escape any potential threats, but chronic anxiety can leave you feeling fearful of everyday situations - such as going to the shops or even falling asleep.
When you suffer from chronically high levels of stress and anxiety before sleep, it can be very difficult to make your body relax; and it can cause you to have a particularly hard time falling asleep. If you do eventually fall asleep, you may end up waking up in the middle of the night with thoughts of stress or worry which make it difficult to get back to sleep.
Suffering from a combination of anxiety while sleeping and insomnia can be caused by certain underlying health conditions. Hyperthyroidism is one such health condition, as this results in a lack of thyroid hormone in your bloodstream and a slower metabolism.
Studies have concluded that there are connections between anxiety disorders and changes in someone’s sleep cycle. This research indicates towards the fact anxiety and pre-sleep rumination may affect rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which evokes vivid dreams while sleeping. Those who suffer from anxiety are statistically more likely to have disturbing nightmares that create a higher rate of sleep disruptions - and nightmares can even reinforce these negative associations and sleep anxiety about not sleeping.
Just as anxiety can affect how you sleep, the opposite can also ring true with sleep affecting anxiety throughout your daily life. Sleep anxiety is a common trait of those who suffer from insomnia, as the person who suffers from the condition can begin to experience panic attacks and other symptoms of anxiety throughout the day and evening when thinking about poor sleep - this, in turn, can cause yet another bad night of sleep.
So, What Are the Sleep Anxiety Symptoms?
If you find yourself being unable to sleep because of your feelings of anxiety, you may experience certain behavioural changes. Some sleep anxiety symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Being unable to concentrate
- Feeling irritable
- A sense of impending danger, or impending doom
Some physical sleep anxiety symptoms prior to going to bed can also include:
Digestive issues High blood pressure Fast heart rate, or heart palpitations Rapid breathing Sweating Tense muscles Trembling or shaking
While a typical panic attack is a sudden and intense burst of extreme fear, some people also experience nocturnal panic attacks, or anxiety attacks in sleep, which are forms of panic attacks at night that can also wake you from sleep.
Who Can Get Sleep Anxiety?
Sleep anxiety can affect a range of demographics. From children to teens, to adults, you may be more likely to develop sleep anxiety if you also suffer from sleep issues. These include, but are not limited to:
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
- Sleep apnea
It is also found that people who suffer from certain mental health disorders may also develop nighttime anxiety. The disorders that lend into this include, but are not limited to:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Depression Addiction to drugs or alcohol Panic disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
What is the Relationship Between Anxiety and Sleep?
It has long been recognised that serious sleep disturbances, such as insomnia, are common symptoms of anxiety disorders. People who are filled with worry often find themselves ruminating about their concerns in bed. Those suffering from these anxieties at night can also be prevented from falling asleep.
A state of mental hyperarousal, frequently marked by worry, has also been identified as a key factor behind insomnia. People who suffer from anxiety disorders are also inclined to have higher reactivity during sleep, which means that they are far more likely to suffer from sleeping problems during periods of stress.
It has been found that, in people who suffer from various types of anxiety including generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleeping difficulties are particularly prevalent. It has been found that, during several scientific studies in the US, over 90% of those who suffer from PTSD sustained by military combat have reported symptoms of sleeping difficulties and insomnia.
Distress about falling asleep can also complicate matters in this instance, as this can create sleep anxiety that reinforces a person’s sense of dread and preoccupation. Such negative thoughts about going to bed can challenge healthy sleep patterns and routines - also known as anticipatory anxiety.
Research has also found that people who are prone to the symptoms of anxiety are especially sensitive to the effects of insufficient sleep, and lack of sleep anxiety is known to affect mood and emotional health, which can all lead to the provocation of anxiety symptoms. Depression is also known to negatively affect sleep, and suffering from anxiety and depression at the same time can further complicate this self-reinforcing sleep anxiety situation.
Someone who suffers from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder that can cause a repeated lapse in breathing as well as interrupted sleep has also been found to suffer from higher rates of mental health problems - such as depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.
How to Calm Anxiety and Get Better Sleep
Although the impact behind anxiety disorders can be significant on those who suffer from them, they are one of the most treatable mental health disorders today. While this does not mean that reducing the symptoms of anxiety is a simple feat, there are treatments that can help remedy the situation.
Anyone who suffers from persistent or significant symptoms of generalised or sleep anxiety can talk with their GP who can help to assess the situation and discuss the best potential treatment options to help them in their situation.
Not only are there a range of therapies and non-medicative options available for treating the symptoms of anxiety, but there are also several different types of medications that are able to effectively treat these disorders. These include things like anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, and beta-blockers, which are all intended to mitigate symptoms rather than fully cure the underlying anxiety, however, some of these medications can have significant side effects so it is best to speak to your GP to see what is the best option for you.
Anxiety and sleep has a very complicated relationship and getting better rest where possible may help combat the feelings of anxiety. In order to achieve this, building healthy sleep habits can make going to bed a more pleasant experience rather than one that reinforces feelings of sleep anxiety - try to facilitate a consistent routine to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Sleep habits and the environment you sleep in are a part of sleep hygiene. Steps can be taken to improve your sleep hygiene if you suffer from sleep anxiety, and this can help to eliminate these symptoms of sleep anxiety before bed. These steps include things like making your bed more comfortable, eliminating sources of sleep disruption by turning off lights and putting your phone in another room, and avoiding the consumption of caffeine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening.
Relaxation techniques can also help you identify effective ways to get rid of sleep anxiety and make it easier for you to get to sleep quickly and peacefully. Relaxation exercises can help to break the cycle of worry and rumination, and some who suffer from high-functioning anxiety even schedule times to actively worry so that they eliminate the time spent worrying just before bed. Some exercises can include deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, and guided imagery; and these can all help to put your mind at ease before bed, or if you wake up during the night.