You are not crazy!!! Sleep anxiety does exist.
Maybe you know the feeling. Sometimes your body wants to go to sleep but your mind is still fully engaged in yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Perhaps you can't drop your to-do list, a conversation that happened or didn't happen is driving you nuts, or you are afraid of what's going to happen in the real world if you drift off to sleep.
Nightmare on Elm Street has become somewhat of a reality because going to bed has become something scary. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, at least 50% of adults have reported that they barely get sleep due to their anxiety.
I can tell you from personal experience what mine looks like:
Feeling like I have minimal muscle control and will literally lose consciousness
Concern over home invasion or overnight fire so I sometimes stay up later to "keep watch"
Chestpain or gastrointestinal bloating due to late meals (work schedule) that I have to remind myself aren't heart-attacks.
Shortness of breath or the feeling of not enough oxygen in the room
Fears of passing away and leaving my toddler in the house alone
...and these are just a few examples of how psycho I sometimes feel!
As with other types of anxiety, sleep anxiety can be triggered by many things. Sometimes it can be triggered by actual health conditions that produce true symptoms and worry. It can also be caused by the stress of deadlines or imbalance in brain chemistry. Some researchers even suggest the late night information overload can be a trigger.
In truth there is no direct or conclusive discovery of why some people are more prone to signs of anxiety than others. Also some people experience it more severely. Some of us are much more functional with coping than others.
When I get my sleep anxiety, I often have to do things that focus my mind on other things, depending on which stressor is taking over:
When I feel like it's something I ate and I'm going to have a heart-attack or it's just going to stop, I do a few minutes of exercise. What better way to keep the heart going than to make it do stuff🤣? Crank, anyone? The exercise is light, such as stretching or floor work.
When it is a fear that something bad is going to happen I start mentally making plans for things I need to accomplish in the near future or I listen to a motivational speech while I try drifting off.
Sometimes I say prayers and use positive self-talk. Sometimes I just go and get a drink of water and change my sleep position. Sometimes my body starts going limp and I know I'm just tired and I let go.
I think most of my anxiety is triggered by past events and personal expectation. It is also triggered when I am going through multiple life changes.
It is easy to feel that we are running out of time when people are constantly walking around saying "life is short, etc" which is one of the phrases I hate the most. I hate hearing it. It doesn't make things enjoyable to me.
When I'm dealing with my anxiety, whether during the day or at night, for me it is always a reminder to SLOW EVERYTHING DOWN. Life is so rush-rush and there is always something that needs fixed. Fortunately I know when my anxiety is anxiety and I don't allow it to debilitate me.
If you find yourself constantly having sleep anxiety to where it has turned into sleep apnea or even as far as nocturnal panic attacks (panic attacks while sleep), there is help for you.
You should first see your doctor (or a quality doctor that you have access to) that can help you rule out any physical reasons that you should be worried.
Next, you can begin to monitor what type of insomnia you are having due to your anxiety or stress. The American Institute of Stress describes for us five different types of insomnia that can affect our energy levels, day time productivity, and moods:
Acute Insomnia - brief episodes of insomnia as result of a traumatic event that does not require treatment
Chronic Insomnia - Insomnia for a period of three months or more in which several nights per week there is difficulty falling asleep.
Onset Insomnia - The consistent obstacle of falling asleep at the beginning of the sleep cycle
Maintenance Insomnia - The pattern of being unable to stay asleep through the full cycle. This usually is the result of falling asleep and being awakened without the ability to return to sleeping.
Comorbid Insomnia - Troubles sleeping alongside struggles with other physical or psychiatric medical conditions.
You can use a calendar or a small notebook to chart the nights that you have difficulty sleeping and which category it falls into. You would need to do this at least four months if you plan to talk to your doctor about it and want to be able to thoroughly explain your symptoms. You may find that you only think you have regular difficulty sleeping but perhaps it is truly only a couple times per week or only after stressful periods.
It is important to confront any issues or fears you have about sleeping because the lack of sleep can cause or worsen feelings of depression, anxiety, or emotional instability. If you do not get adequate sleep which causes you to get up later, you may go through life pressured that you don't have enough time to get things done. If you struggle to perform you may feel trapped or that you will never get ahead in life. You may not communicate or understand the communication with others in a healthy way.
If you have severe sleep anxiety, it is best that you reach out to a professional to help you to put together an effective treatment plan or receive assistance with medication that helps regulate your body reactions. If your sleep anxiety is not causing extreme interference in your life, there are several things you can do to help decrease the number of times you struggle with sleeping.
Ways to Manage Sleep Anxiety and Sleep Insomnia:
1) Address the cause of the anxiety. Are you experiencing PTSD over a negative event, dealing with compulsive disorder, or a phobia that causes stress? Once this is identified, you can get it out of your head by writing it down before bed and working with your therapist on other CBT, ACT, or mindfulness methods you can use to cope.
2) Prepare Your Room. I talk a lot about energy on this site and this tip is no different! Invest in smells and textures that calm and comfort you. Invest in incense, candles, or wax melts between 30min to 1 hour before you want to drift off to sleep.
Ensure you have comfortable sheets and blankets, the pillow thickness that you prefer, and lower the temperature. Cooler temperatures. According to the Sleep Foundation and other researchers, getting your room to between 60 and 70 degrees is most effective for restful sleep.
3) Prepare Yourself. What did you eat for dinner and when was the last time you ate it? Did you have a glass of water before going to bed like you should? Gastrointestinal issues have been linked to sleeping problems in that struggling with one often affects the other.
If you make efforts before sleep to calm heartburn and other issues, you will have fewer negative thoughts at night about your health and less discomfort to be able to drift off or stay asleep. On the flip side, when you sleep better your body produces less bacteria and other imbalances that cause digestive problems.
In addition to watching the timing and elements of your diet, you can apply essential oils for anxiety or relaxation. Make night-time an event by doing a moisturizing skin routine when you have time or put on some luxury or comfy pajamas that make you feel "bed ready".
4) Cut the Electronics. You have heard this one before. You are probably just like me some nights and struggle to do it! The nights that I have definitely said I'm shutting everything down because I have somewhere to be early and made my room black, I have fallen asleep quickly and woke up rested.
The times that I'm fighting sleep because I have a little more work to do or I want to finish a show or I just want the alone time (sometimes late night is the only solo time I get), those times I
get hungry again or start my mental productivity lists or I get creative spurts I don't want to shut down.
For those of us that don't have the luxury yet of a set or routine schedule due to work or childcare, we have to prioritize at least getting adequate rest at least 4-5 nights a week, even if we can't do it every day.
I have been testing some of these tips over the last couple of weeks and I can, without question, say that I have seen a difference in how easily I am able to get rest at night without waking up exhausted, regardless of my bedtime.
Try a few of these for yourself if you have signs of sleep anxiety or if you have just been too stressed to sleep. Let me know what worked and leave a comment about why you have been struggling to sleep.