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Health & Lifestyle

What Is Sleep Anxiety, And How To Manage It

In this article

Can’t sleep due to anxiety? Or are you worried that your lack of sleep is causing your anxiety to get worse? Sleep and mental health are very closely linked to each other, and if one is off-balance, then the other can often suffer too. Understanding your anxiety better could help you with managing your sleep, so let’s take a closer look at how they’re connected.

We’ll discuss the common symptoms you might experience during your sleep when your anxiety is bad, as well as another specific type of anxiety called sleep anxiety and what that is. We’ll also look at ways you can sleep better while you’re coping with symptoms of anxiety, and a good nighttime routine to set to encourage you to sleep much easier during hard times.

Head shot above top view exhausted young woman lying in bed under duvet, covering eyes with hands, suffering from sleep anxiety and insomnia.

What is sleep anxiety?

Sleep anxiety is similar to lots of different types of anxiety disorders, only it tends to happen more often when you’re asleep or trying to go to sleep. It can manifest as a fear of falling asleep, which can be because of multiple reasons. Perhaps you experience nightmares, or you fear that something bad will happen while you’re asleep that will put you in peril, such as a fire or a break-in. 

Sleep anxiety could be the result of trauma you’ve experienced at some point in your life, big lifestyle changes such as moving home, financial stresses or losing someone you love. You might be more likely to experience panic attacks at night with sleep anxiety, and it can severely affect your ability to rest and reset at night, sometimes even leading to insomnia.

What are common sleep anxiety symptoms?

A lot of the symptoms of sleep anxiety tend to be very similar to those of common anxiety disorders, however they happen at night:

  • Restlessness
  • Feeling scared
  • Increased heart rate
  • Continual feelings of worry or unease
  • Tensed muscles
  • Sweating

What causes sleep anxiety?

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the UK, with 6 in 100 people being diagnosed with anxiety disorders every week. Stress and anxiety are triggers from our brain for our body to react to danger, but when you have a generalised anxiety disorder, you can feel stress and anxiety much more often than is considered normal.

6 in 100
people are diagnosed with anxiety every week in the UK

The hormones triggered by these emotions can make it hard for your body to relax, causing you to either fail to fall asleep or wake up frequently with stressful thoughts. Studies have also suggested that anxiety can affect your rapid eye movement while you sleep, the period where you dream the most vividly – your anxiety can manifest as disturbing or scary dreams.

Woman with anxiety sat on the edge of her bed with head on her hand.

Does lack of sleep cause anxiety to get worse?

Not being able to sleep can make your anxiety feel worse, particularly if you’re not getting enough sleep to help you maintain good physical and mental health. We’re supposed to feel relaxed and tired when it’s time for bed, but sleep anxiety can leave you feeling the exact opposite. All the worries that circle your head can fill your body with adrenaline, keeping you in ‘fight or flight’ mode when you should be resting. 

Unfortunately, it’s a cycle of sleep and anxiety – not being able to fall asleep results in a bad night’s sleep, which then leads you to feel anxious about falling asleep the next night and again preventing you from getting the rest your brain and body needs to function well and help you feel better.

How to sleep better with anxiety

There are several different ways you can treat sleep anxiety, and help your mind to calm down before you go to bed each night:

  • Therapy
  • Medication
  • Healthy sleep habits and routines

Therapy solutions like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help you to change your sleep behaviours by helping you identify and deal with emotions as they come. This treatment could teach you how to avoid triggers and environmental factors that make you more anxious before you go to sleep or change any negative thoughts and associations you have about bedtime or sleeping. 

Some medications that are used to treat anxiety or insomnia may work for you too but be sure to check in with your doctor before starting any medications. One of the ways that you can try to address any issues you’re having with sleep anxiety or anxiety at night, without costing you a penny, is to try to form a calming bedtime routine.

Woman resting on her bed in a towel, ready to sleep without anxiety.

A sleep anxiety bedtime routine to follow for better sleep

Sleep hygiene is a phrase we use a lot here at MattressNextDay, and it describes all the steps you can take to ensure your sleep is as good as it can be – think about all the parts of your face you would make sure are clean in the morning. It’s a similar process for sleep hygiene, where you make sure every area of your physical and mental health is addressed before you climb into bed. Here are some tips you can use to improve your sleep hygiene:

  1. Don’t have any caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
  2. Set a routine with your sleep times, to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  3. Aim for seven hours of sleep a night.
  4. Try not to eat or drink for at least an hour before you go to bed.
  5. Only use your bed for sleep or sex – avoid working or watching television there.
  6. Make sure your bed is comfortable – a mattress topper can help with this.
  7. Make sure your bed is set up for your needs – an adjustable bed can help with this too
  8. Get into a routine that relaxes you, whether that’s reading a book, listening to music or meditating.

Our Ultimate Bedtime Routine guide has plenty more insights you can use that are recommended by sleep experts. Check out our blog for sleep news and tips to help get you the best night’s sleep, and remember to check in with your doctor if you’re struggling with your mental health – there are also lots of mental health charities, like Samaritans or Mind, you can reach out to where you can talk to a mental health expert if you are concerned about yourself or someone you know.

An image of the author, Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Bio & articles

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