Sleeping is a natural phenomenon just like breathing. For most people, sleeping is an effortless act that gives their minds and bodies much-needed rest. However, for some individuals, it becomes a reason for fear, worry, and distress. They feel anxious whenever they go to bed. This is what we call Sleep Anxiety, which is also known as Somniphobia or sleep dread.
Sleep dread could happen for many reasons. Some people cannot go to bed because they are afraid of night terrors and chills. Many people who are dealing with Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD) can also get extremely stressed during the night. This makes it difficult for them to go to bed.
If you relate to these situations, we totally get you. There are many reasons for sleep anxiety, and different people experience different symptoms of it. It varies from mild to moderate and can sometimes even get severe. While dealing with sleep anxiety is definitely not easy, with the right guidance and treatment, you can learn to manage your sleep problems. That's what this article is all about!
Today, we are going to talk about what exactly is sleep dread, what are its symptoms, and its causes. Together, we will walk through some ways that will help you manage your sleep anxiety. So, let's get started!
What Exactly is Sleep Anxiety?
Anxiety is a very normal and common human emotion, just like happiness or sadness. It is characterized by stress, extreme nervousness, and worry. We all have experienced anxiety at various points in our lives. The nervous feeling before an important meeting or interview, clammy hands, or a raised heartbeat before a first date. These are all symptoms of common anxiety, and they tend to vanish on their own.
However, many times, anxiety lingers for a longer duration. Instead of vanishing, the symptoms of panic disorder and nervousness increase. Sometimes it gets so severe that it starts to interfere and disturb your daily and nightly activities as well as your sleep cycle. Nighttime is one of the most common times when people feel extremely uneasy and nervous.
When anxiety starts it creates a sleep disturbance, making it difficult for you to get a full night's rest, it becomes a case of sleep anxiety or sleep dread. A good night's sleep is vital for our body and mind. Poor sleep quality can affect you the next day in many ways. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of any kind of symptoms related to sleep dread and contact your sleep medicine doctor if you feel severe anxiety or panic while sleeping.
Symptoms of Sleep Anxiety
Sleep anxiety affects different people in different ways. For some, it is a sudden wave of panic when they try to go to bed, while others feel sweating, chills, or a feeling of impending doom when they try to fall asleep. If you are taking medication for any mental health condition or psychiatric disorders and are experiencing sleep problems please contact your doctor.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of sleep anxiety:
- Extreme nervousness when trying to fall asleep
- Chills, sweating, and nausea
- Increased heart palpitation
- Shortness of breath in the middle of the night
- Dreadful thoughts and night terrors
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Intense fear that something terrible will happen if they fall asleep at night like a fire, earthquake, or even the death of a loved one.
- Restlessness or a panic attack
- Chronic Insomnia
If you have any such symptoms and feel they are getting severe or unmanageable, it is best to contact your doctor.
Causes of Sleep Anxiety
As we said before, having a good and peaceful sleep at night is extremely necessary for our body. However, sleep anxiety makes it difficult for people to fall asleep comfortably at night.
There could be many reasons why people suffer from sleep anxiety. Clinical trials have found that sleep deprivation or lack of sleep can be a cause of nighttime anxiety. Reduced or poor sleep quality also triggers anxiety in some people.
Different people have different reasons for feeling anxious and worried. Thus, there can be many triggers causing this intense fear towards sleeping. Let's look at some of them:
1. Worrying about not getting enough sleep
Many people get anxious when they believe that they aren't sleeping enough at night. Worry and anxiety go hand in hand, after all. So the stress of not being able to sleep worsens the condition. Instead of making them fall asleep, it has the exact opposite reaction on people's minds.
So when people worry that they are not getting a sufficient amount of nightly rest, it makes it even more difficult for them to fall asleep. Thus, this becomes a huge cause of sleep anxiety in people.
2. Persistent nightmares
Nightmares can also trigger sleep anxiety and become a huge sleep disruption. When people, especially children, suffer from chronic nightmares they may start fearing sleep. Some even try to avoid it as much as possible. This can become a cause of multiple health problems, too.
Young children are most vulnerable to nightmares. Adults who have suffered from some traumatic experiences and are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder can also have terrifying dreams at night that can disrupt their sleep patterns. This makes it very hard for them to go get a comfortable sleep.
3. Sleep Apnea and other similar health conditions
Sleep disorders like Sleep Apnea can also trigger anxiety at night. Sleep apnea is a medical condition wherein patients stop breathing abruptly while they are sleeping.
When people suffer from conditions like this, they may start fearing that they'll stop breathing altogether in their sleep. Thus, this intense fear of not being able to breathe, choking, or dying in their sleep often makes people unable to go to bed at night.
4. Unfounded Fears
Many individuals have certain unfounded fears that prevent them from falling asleep at night. For example, many people fear that as soon as they fall asleep something terrible might happen to their loved ones. Or a fire could break out, or the roof could collapse.
People may have a multitude of such apprehensions for some reason or the other. Sometimes these fears arise from a past traumatic experience while other times they don't even have an actual base. Most of the time such fears never manifest into reality. However, they become a great cause of dread in people's minds.
Tips for Managing Your Sleep Anxiety
Sleep anxiety can be extremely daunting for people. Not being able to sleep properly brings multiple issues with it. However, that doesn't mean it has no solution. Adopting healthy habits, taking care of your sleep hygiene, and having the right guidance can help you effectively manage your symptoms.
Here are the six tips that can help you deal with sleep anxiety and get better sleep at night.
1. Take a balanced and well-nutritious diet
Eating healthy and nutritious food can do wonders for your body as well as your mind. Studies have found that our diet greatly affects our mental health. Plus, having well nourishing food can help you manage your stress and anxiety.
For example, eating nuts like almonds and walnuts can help you improve the quality of your sleep. Additionally, consuming herbal drinks like chamomile tea before going to bed aids in reducing anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Moreover, a well-balanced diet also helps you lead an overall healthy life.
2. Exercise daily!
Daily workouts and exercises help in easing your anxiety and improving the quality of your sleep. Yoga and mindfulness meditation are also great ways to manage your stress and calm your mind.
Doing daily workouts, breathing exercises, and light yoga can effectively manage insomnia and help reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea, too. Just ensure that you don't try any strenuous exercises right before going to bed as it can make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
3. Avoid watching TV or browsing social media before going to bed
Many people have the sleep habit of scrolling through social media or watching television before they go to bed. However, if you are dealing with sleep anxiety, it's best to avoid doing that. The reason being, for one, these electronic devices emit blue light that can mess with your circadian rhythm.
Secondly, the negative news on social media and television can worsen your anxiety and stir up negative thoughts. So it's best to avoid such activities before going to bed and just after waking up.
If you want to do something before sleeping, you can try reading or listening to some calming music. You can also try some relaxation techniques and exercises. They will help your brain relax and ensure you sleep better at night.
4. Cut down on stimulants like caffeine
Stimulants like coffee are known to keep you awake. So consuming them late at night should be avoided as it can inhibit your nighttime rest and increase your anxiety. Moreover, you should also say no to consuming alcohol before going to bed. This is because alcoholic drinks increase your heart rate, keep you anxious and alert, thereby making it difficult for your brain to slow down and relax.
5. Create a calming and sleep-inducing bedroom environment
Your bedroom environment also plays a huge role in determining the quality of your nightly slumber. A cluttered and messy bedroom would do nothing but give a boost to your anxiety and stress. So ensure that you keep your bedroom completely clean. Dim the lights, maintain a nice and cool temperature and keep it as quiet as possible. Doing this will help you have a good night's sleep and maintain a sleep schedule.
Additionally, you should also invest in comfortable and soft mattresses and pillows. If sleeping in total darkness increases your anxiety or fear, you can invest in good-quality dimmer lamps and night lights. Optimizing your bedroom environment according to your needs goes a long way in ensuring that you get stress-free sleep at night.
6. Don't let negative thoughts overpower you
Negative thoughts about your work, relationships, life, or basically anything else, can unnerve your mind and increase your anxiety. This will then prevent you from falling asleep. Therefore, it is important that you don't let these thoughts overpower your brain and cloud your thinking when you are trying to get some much-needed rest at night.
Writing down what you are worried about is one way to get these negative thoughts out of your head. You can also try deep breathing exercises and doing light yoga before going to bed. You should also practice techniques for calming your mind during the day. Take short walks during your breaks, meditate for a while, do breathing exercises, etc. This will make it easier for your brain to relax at night.
Dealing with sleep anxiety is not a cakewalk in any way. However, taking necessary steps and inculcating sleep health in your daily life can make it easier for you to manage your symptoms.
However, sometimes dealing with sleep anxiety becomes more complicated than just reducing your caffeine or switching off your TV. So if you think that nothing is working for you or you get severe panic attacks at night, it's best to take medical advice from your doctor as you may need further treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Never hesitate to ask for help from your health professional, a counselor, or a therapist. Taking the right treatment option as early as possible will help you manage your stress and ensure you get a peaceful sleep every night.
Sleep anxiety and other similar issues are treatable, so there is no need for you don't worry. Just follow the advice of your doctor, be mindful of your thoughts, practice good sleep hygiene, and you'll be just fine!