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7 Steps to Conquering Sleep Anxiety

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

Getting good sleep is paramount to our health, both physically and mentally.

The average American gets 6.8 hours of sleep when the minimum recommendation is 7 hours.

Good Diet. Exercise. Sleep.

The holy trinity of having a happy and healthy life, right?

Sleep is just as important as a good diet and exercise. Good sleep is quite possibly the easiest of the trifecta to attain, but one that we often seem to eschew.

Poor sleep is linked to higher body weight, less concentration and productivity, heart disease, stroke, and depression. (Source)

Whereas good sleep positively affects social interactions and emotional health, immune function, athletic performance and mobility, mental wellbeing, focus, and weight. (Source)

What are some signs that you are getting poor sleep?

  • Yawning a lot

  • Being easily agitated or irritable

  • Being tired or dozing off throughout the day

  • Being depressed

  • Having a hard time keeping up or learning new concepts

  • “Cloudy” thoughts or having trouble concentrating

  • Finding yourself unmotivated

  • Finding yourself clumsier or less agile than usual

  • Craving carbs or just eating more in general

  • A reduction in sex drive

What if you are experiencing anxiety either when you are going to sleep or leading up to sleep?

I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep on saying it — the occasional ricochet of anxiety is normal. Everyone experiences that from time to time. It is a normal physiological reaction to a ripple from a past perceived “danger” that kicks our base “fight or flight” response into action. An echo.

We rarely, if ever, experience the kind of dangers that our “fight or flight” response prepares us for in the case of anxiety, especially when it comes to going to sleep!

Poor sleep can increase the opportunity for anxiety and anxiety often causes a lack of sleep

Unfortunately, this creates quite the catch-22, where one seems to encourage the other and vice versa.

I am having trouble sleeping. Could I have Insomnia?

Well, let’s talk briefly about Insomnia

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that is characterized by the inability to fall or stay asleep.

Insomnia affects approximately 35% of adults in the US. (Source)

  • Acute Insomnia: Lasts less than 3 months and has a cause that is usually easily identified.

  • Chronic Insomnia: Here the causes may be a bit vaguer and lasting longer than 3 months.

  • Comorbid Insomnia: This is insomnia that is accompanied by or occurs with other symptoms or conditions such as anxiety, depression, arthritis, or back pain

  • Onset Insomnia: This is insomnia that presents itself at the beginning of the sleep cycle when one is first going to sleep

  • Maintenance Insomnia: This is when one would have a hard time staying asleep or going back to sleep after they have awoken too early

5 different tiers or types of insomnia:

  1. Type 1: highly distressed, often struggling with neuroticism or prone to anxiety and feeling tense.

  2. Type 2: moderately distressed but sensitive to rewards or positive events.

  3. Type 3: moderately distressed and not sensitive to rewards or positive events.

  4. Type 4: slightly distressed and high reactivity or being very sensitive to stressful life events.

  5. Type 5: slightly distressed and low reactivity or being lowly sensitive to stressful life events.

If you feel that you may have insomnia, please consult your doctor. Don’t suffer in silence. Get help.

Let’s discuss some ways to improve sleep:

  • Have and stick to a sleep schedule — this helps to regulate your internal clock. This means go to sleep at the same time every night and get up every morning at the same time.

  • Develop a bedtime ritual — one that relaxes you and prepares you for a good night's sleep. This can be reading, stretching, drinking a cup of chamomile tea (this has many health benefits besides encouraging better sleep including lowering blood sugar, reducing inflammation, reducing stress, and boosting your immune system just to name a few!)

  • Avoid napping if possible — This goes back to developing a good sleep schedule

  • Daily exercise — Exercise is vital to our health in general but is a great way to prepare your body for a good night's sleep. Even just a leisurely walk around the neighborhood will do wonders!

  • Cool down — Have a fan going (great for a little white noise, too) and ensure your room is around 65 degrees

  • Avoid electronics! — I know how tempting it is to get on Instagram or Facebook and just start scrolling, but this kind of dopamine-fueled stimulus has the very opposite effect of what we are trying to achieve.

  • Avoid eating heavy meals, drinking alcohol, or using nicotine and caffeine before bed as this introduces kicks off all manner of disrupting chemicals and functions in your body

  • If you can’t go to sleep, get up — It does you no good to lay awake in bed trying to force yourself to go to sleep… if you absolutely can not sleep, get up, go read a book or a magazine, go do the dishes or wipe down the counters or prepare lunch for tomorrow. Stay away from electronics.

  • Keep a sleep journal — Log your progress, what worked and what didn’t. See if you can establish points of improvement or areas that you are doing well in!

And don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or a professional if you are still having trouble sleeping. There’s no shame in that.

Sleeping is natural. Your body knows how to sleep.

This is where you need to trust your body to know what’s best for you.

Of course, there are always medical exceptions and if you feel that you need or would benefit from seeing a professional, please do so. Always do what is best for you.

Sleep anxiety is a form of performance anxiety, according to Dr. Alexander Obolsky, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. Source

It is a cycle of not getting enough sleep, then worrying about not getting enough sleep, which causes you to not get enough sleep.

Steps to get the better of sleep anxiety

  1. When we are experiencing sleep anxiety, we need to change the way we think about sleep anxiety.

  2. We need to remind ourselves that having bad nights are normal and that there are A LOT of variables throughout the day that can affect our sleep and that we don’t have control over all of them

  3. Take responsibility for the ones you DO have control over (go back to the above list) and let the rest of it go.

  4. When you start to have negative thoughts about sleep or when you begin dreading going to bed tell yourself it’s OK to have a bad night or many…

  5. Allow the negative thoughts to come, say what they have to say, and then to just meander off as harmless and as meaningless as they came in.

  6. Remember, we can’t control our thoughts, but we can control our feelings and behaviors towards them.

  7. Take charge of the things you can affect and leave the rest behind.

Do these over and over - Repeat them - and you will be well on your way to a better night's sleep and saying “goodbye” to sleep anxiety.

Good sleep to you, Endurer!

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