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How To Fall Asleep When You Have Anxiety

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What Are The Symptoms Of Nighttime Anxiety


Symptoms of nighttime anxiety take on many forms, as it is experienced differently by everyone. Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, pediatrician and medical consultant for Mom Loves Best, says, Before bedtime is no different than anxiety during the day. The difference is that you may be more aware of anxiety at night as fewer other stimuli are co-occurring.

While sleep anxiety is individual to each person, some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Nightmares and night terrors
  • Hypnic jerk

Another symptom of sleep anxiety is panic attacks. This involves an episode of extreme fear thats characterized by a sense of doom, increased heart rate, sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, and a feeling of detachment that could occur before or during sleep. After experiencing a nighttime panic attack, there can be anxiety about getting another attack, making it harder to fall asleep.

Getting Physical: Yoga Running Dancing Tai Chi

In order to get a good nights sleep and deal with anxiety, you have to act long before bedtime. Physical activity and regular exercise have been stated by medical professionals and researchers as one of the most effective ways of combating physical and mental conditions.

Physical activity can significantly reduce stress levels, improve cognitive function and help your mind and body to relax. Simply put, the benefits of physical activity and exercise extend to every aspect of your life, even beyond anxiety and sleep problems.

Studies have shown that a basic 10-minute walk can relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

A 45-minute workout can help you combat anxiety completely for the day. The reason for this lies in the fact that physical activity elevates the mood by helping the body produce endorphins. These are the chemicals that act as a bodys natural painkillers, stress-reducers and of course, sleep promoters.

People who exercise regularly, and lead an active life are 25% less likely to develop or experience anxiety, as well as sleeping problems. Heres a list of best exercises you can do to decrease anxiety levels and improve sleep

Why Is It So Hard To Sleep When You Have Anxiety

Lets start with a little about how sleep works.

Sleep happens by balancing two forces that oppose each other. The first force is called sleep pressure. Basically, the longer you are up, the stronger this force becomes. If you are up for 16 hours, youll be tired. After 24 hours of being awake, sleep is more likely. And after 72 hours, it becomes difficult to stay awake.

The second force resists sleep pressure by pushing you awake. This force is an alerting signal that cycles based on an internal clock. It gets stronger as the day progresses and then is supposed to drop off at night. When this force drops in the evening, all the sleep pressure you built up during the day pushes you to sleep.

So how does anxiety affect this? The alerting signal force runs off many of the same neurochemicals anxiety uses. This is likely a great adaptive trait that aided our survival in the past. Imagine you were being chased by a pack of wolves. That would be a really bad time to go to sleep. Anytime you feel anxious, worried or threatened, the alerting signal gets stronger. Its your brains way of saying, If this is a threat, you should stay awake and deal with it.

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Common Psychological And Medical Causes Of Insomnia

Sometimes, insomnia only lasts a few days and goes away on its own, especially when it is tied to an obviously temporary cause, such as stress over an upcoming presentation, a painful breakup, or jet lag. Other times, insomnia is stubbornly persistent. Chronic insomnia is usually tied to an underlying mental or physical issue.

Anxiety, stress, and depression are some of the most common causes of chronic insomnia. Having difficulty sleeping can also make anxiety, stress, and depression symptoms worse. Other common emotional and psychological causes include anger, worry, grief, bipolar disorder, and trauma. Treating these underlying problems is essential to resolving your insomnia.

Medical problems or illness. Many medical conditions and diseases can contribute to insomnia, including asthma, allergies, Parkinsons disease, hyperthyroidism, acid reflux, kidney disease, and cancer. Chronic pain is also a common cause of insomnia.

Medications. Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, including antidepressants, stimulants for ADHD, corticosteroids, thyroid hormone, high blood pressure medications, and some contraceptives. Common over-the-counter culprits include cold and flu medications that contain alcohol, pain relievers that contain caffeine , diuretics, and slimming pills.

Does Lack Of Sleep Cause Anxiety

How to Fall Asleep Fast with Helpful Tips

Just about everyone has felt a little high-strung after a bad nights sleep, and more and more, researchers are finding that a lack of sleep can contribute both to short-term irritability and to a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders over the long term.

In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that poor quality sleep amplifies reactions in parts of the brain associated with anxiety, such as the amygdala and anterior insula.

Interestingly, these reactions were strongest in people who displayed high levels of trait anxiety, suggesting that those who are already prone to anxiety may experience the largest increase in anxiety if their sleep is affected.

Other research has found that people who are affected by sleep issues such as insomnia may have an elevated risk of developing anxiety.

Put simply, sleep deprivation doesnt just affect your mood it appears to cause physical brain reactions that can trigger anxiety.

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How Anxiety Can Affect Sleep

Lack of sleep can lead to increased chances of anxiety, but anxiety can also cause a lack of sleep. Unfortunately, the two can intertwine quite a bit, causing one to exacerbate the other.

Anxiety can have a negative effect on your bodys ability to fall asleep as your brain is in fight or flight mode, thinking of all potential outcomes for whatever is causing the anxiety. Furthermore, anticipatory anxiety and specific anxiety about sleep can lead to sleep disturbance and insomnia, which then creates a feedback loop that can make both conditions worsen. Insomnia can also make you more irritable and more worried, as your brain is not getting all the sleep it needs in order to function at normal levels.

However, its not uncommon to experience anxiety related to sleep. As Winnie Yu, a writer for WebMD noted in her article Scared to Sleep, sleep anxiety is a form of performance anxiety. Many people may stress about not getting enough sleep to function, but the stress alone of trying to sleep can cause people to sit awake for hours. Additionally, other fears such as recurring nightmares, fear of sleep apnea , and more can all lead to disturbed sleep.

Anxiety And Sleep Disorders

As mentioned above, the relationship between sleep and anxiety isnt a one-way street. Not only does research show a clear link between not getting enough sleep and increased anxiety it also shows that anxiety itself can keep you awake and prevent you from maintaining healthy sleep habits.

Insomnia is a well-known symptom of numerous anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder .

Chronic insomnia can vary in severity from mild and temporary to chronic and severe. Common symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Lying awake for a long period of time after you get into bed

  • Spending a large percentage of the night awake, unable to sleep

  • Only being able to sleep for short periods of time before waking

  • Waking up early in the morning, before your alarm goes off

  • Feeling tired during the daytime, as if you havent slept

In addition to its link with insomnia, anxiety is also associated with sleep reactivity, which is the degree to which people develop sleep disturbances in response to stress.

This two-way relationship means that anxiety can worsen your sleep, which in turn may worsen your anxiety symptoms.

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The Demographics Of Anxiety

According to thedata made availableVerified SourceAnxiety and Depression Association of America Nonprofit organization that promotes awareness about anxiety and depression.View sourceby the Anxiety and Depression Association of America , anxiety disorders affect as many as 40 million adults in the US, making it one of the most common mental illnesses in the country.

What is more worrisome is that a large chunk of this population does not receive treatment. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable. But only 37% of those who suffer from this illness eventually receive treatment.

Not treating anxiety disorders in time may lead to other conditions. A person with an anxiety disorder is three to five times more likely to visit the doctor and six times more likely for hospitalization than those who do not have it.

Information about sleep-related anxiety is less readily available, though studies such as thissurvey from 2019Verified SourceNational Library of Medicine Worlds largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.View sourcehave observed the deleterious effect general anxiety has on sleep.

  • Verified SourceNational Library of Medicine Worlds largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.View source

How Can Healthier Sleep Habits Treat Sleep Anxiety

Sleep, Anxiety, and Insomnia: How to Sleep Better When You’re Anxious

Sleep habits, or sleep hygiene, are your routines around bedtime that can affect your sleep. Your healthcare provider may ask you to keep a sleep diary for several weeks. This is a daily log of your sleep habits. It can help identify things that might make it harder for you to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Some common ways to improve your sleep hygiene include:

  • Avoid drinking lots of fluids before bed, especially alcohol.
  • Do relaxing activities before bed, such as meditation or listening to soft, peaceful music.
  • Dont consume caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Dont go to bed unless you feel sleepy.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • If you dont fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed.
  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortable, quiet and softly lit.
  • Only use your bed for sleep and sex. For example, avoid watching television or doing work in bed.
  • Set a goal of getting at least seven hours of sleep every night.
  • Stop using electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Try not to eat right before bedtime. If youre hungry, have a light snack and not a big meal.

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Anxiety And Sleep Research

There is, however, plenty of research on how anxiety can affect sleep and vice versa.

According to the ADAA, research shows that sleep disorders occur in almost all psychiatric disorders.

In a small 2015 study , researchers examined the relationship between cognitive behavioral therapy and sleep quality in people with anxiety. Researchers found that both sleep quality and sleep latency improved in participants who responded to CBT.

The researchers believe that targeting sleep problems during anxiety treatment might be beneficial for those who have trouble sleeping.

Its important to remember that it can take time to find the right treatment approach for your anxiety. Because of this, you and your doctor may choose to use a variety of different treatment options.

Use Light To Your Advantage

Your ability to fall asleep is greatly affected by your circadian rhythm a natural, 24-hour cycle that forms part of your bodys internal clock.

A variety of factors can affect your circadian rhythm, including your exposure to bright light at certain times of day.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, exposure to bright light two hours before your typical bedtime can shift the time at which you start to feel tired later into the night, potentially preventing you from falling asleep in a normal way.

In contrast, bright morning light can shift your sleeping time earlier, helping you to relax and fall asleep sooner after you get into bed.

If you find falling asleep difficult, try to limit your exposure to light, whether natural or artificial, for two hours before you go to sleep.

Keep lighting inside your home dim and limit your use of devices that emit bright light.

And to help yourself wake up in the morning, try to spend time in a brightly lit area of your home as you prepare for the day.

While this may not have a noticeable effect on anxiety, it can help you to feel tired earlier, which may improve your ability to fall asleep.

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Sleep Anxiety: Are You Afraid To Fall Asleep

by Gingras Sleep Medicine | Oct 15, 2020 | Insomnia, Sleep Deprivation, Sleep Medicine

Sleep is just as essential to life as food and water. We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. When we have difficulty sleeping, it interferes with our daily routine and it could really hinder us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Sometimes people are scared to fall asleep or just have trouble closing their eyes and relaxing, especially after countless hours of tossing and turning, this is called sleep anxiety.

With Halloween soon approaching, children may be too afraid to fall asleep after seeing ghoulish decorations in their neighborhoods. Whether it be a black cat, a witchs cauldron, or even what appears to be a friendly scarecrow, these images can linger in childrens minds, creating fear and anxiety. Perhaps they recently watched a scary movie, and now they are too scared to go to sleep. Fear takes over. A parent may need to stay with the child until the child eventually falls asleep.

Somniphobia is the fear of falling asleep and staying asleep. You may feel that you will not be in control of what is happening around you when you sleep, or you may miss out on life if youre not awake. Some people also fear that they will not wake up after having a good nights rest.

Set Aside Time For Winding Down

Help! I keep falling asleep during mindfulness

If youve been struggling with sleep anxiety, Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist, suggests creating a routine that winds you down and gets you in the mood for sleep. This can include things like dimming the lights, listening to calming music, or taking a warm bath.

Walfish also suggests opting for activities like light reading in place of a TV or computer, as using a screen can tend to rev up anxiety and excitatory thresholds versus relax and calm you down.

The best nighttime routine allows your mind and body time to slow down before you turn off the lights. Allot at least 30 minutes to take a bath, read a book, listen to a podcast, or play quiet music. These transition rituals can condition your brain to associate certain actions with preparing for sleep.

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How Can I Make Living With Sleep Anxiety Easier

Anxiety or sleep problems can affect every aspect of your life, from your performance at work to your interactions with others. It may help to talk about your sleep anxiety with a therapist, co-workers, friends or loved ones. Support groups can also connect you to a community of people dealing with similar experiences.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Sleep anxiety is a feeling of fear or stress about falling asleep or staying asleep. Sleep problems and mental health disorders such as anxiety are closely intertwined. One can often make the other worse, so it can feel like a never-ending cycle. But anxiety and sleep problems are both treatable. Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and work together to build the right treatment plan. Common treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy , good sleep hygiene and medication.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/13/2021.


Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Dr. Nikki Lacherza-Drew, licensed psychologist and owner of Vici Psychological Care, suggests engaging in proper sleep hygiene to help get better sleep. Lacherza-Drew says, If you have a routine and engage in appropriate sleep hygiene on a consistent basis, your mind will be less likely to go down the rabbit hole of anxious thoughts.

Sleep hygiene refers to various habits that are necessary for good sleep quality. To practice good sleep hygiene, Lacherza-Drew suggests:

  • No major physical activity or heavy meals close to bedtime
  • No caffeine or alcohol near bedtime or after a certain time in the afternoon

Other easy ways to practice good sleep hygiene include:

  • Soaking up the morning sun
  • Limiting power naps to 20 minutes
  • Keeping your bedroom dark and cool
  • Following a consistent bedtime routine

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Ways To Fall Asleep With Severe Anxiety

When you struggle to fall asleep night after night due to severe anxiety, you may find your symptoms getting worse lack of sleep is one of the main causes of stress. But when beating your insomnia seems nearly impossible, the need for sleep and the lack of it can cause a vicious, anxiety-ridden cycle. Regardless of what’s keeping you up in the middle of the night, there are tricks and techniques to get back to sleep.

1. Get in a Pattern

Having a schedule of when to wake up and go to bed every day is the best way to regulate your body and get the appropriate amount of sleep. Design a plan that fits your lifestyle and sticks to it, even on weekends.

2. Reduce Caffeine Intake

As a general rule, don’t have coffee or any other caffeinated drink after 4pm. Adjust this time accordingly your personal bedtime may call for an earlier or later cut off. Gradually reducing your 3 a day soda habit can also improve your sleep anxiety.

3. Turn off Electronics

At least an hour before you plan to go to bed, turn off all your electronics. This means computer, TV, and phone the light from these devices increase chemicals in the body that signal it’s time to wake up, not fall asleep. If you find your anxiety increases when you’re not able to check these portals, make time first thing in the morning to read emails and respond to phone calls.

4. Watch Your Health

5. Medicate

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