It is important to understand how anxiety can affect your ability to get a good night’s rest. This guide explains what bedtime anxiety is, the effects of sleep deprivation caused by anxiety, and provides evidence-based tips for reducing anxiety levels and improving sleep quality.
What causes anxiety before bed?
Sleep anxiety is anxious thoughts that may occur before you go to bed, particularly those related to worry, nervousness, and worries. During the day, the brain is busy solving dozens of tasks, but at night it often has nothing to do with itself, and as a result of which it clings to any disturbing emotions and thoughts. Afterwards, it’s even hard to tell if you’re having difficulty sleeping due to anxiety or anxiety due to not being able to sleep.
According to research, sleep and anxiety go hand in hand. Anxiety can cause sleep problems and make it difficult to sleep, but lack of sleep can also trigger anxiety. If you can’t sleep, you may be afraid to go to bed and wake up feeling even more sleepy.
While there hasn’t been much research done on sleep-related anxiety, there are several reasons why anxiety can be worse at night.
Over-concentration on daily activities
Focusing on your worries during the day and anticipating the stressful events of the next day will make it harder for your mind to relax.
Some people feel fear, anxiety, and sadness at night. Stress can trigger an adrenaline rush that increases anxiety and makes it difficult to relax before bed.
Those who experience anxiety have a tendency to fast-paced thinking that is difficult to control. The longer these thoughts continue, the more anxiety people experience.
Sleep jet lag
If you’ve always been anxious or had difficulty falling asleep, you may have developed a disturbed sleep pattern. This makes the body more susceptible to anxiety and insomnia.
Research shows that sleep disturbances occur in virtually all psychiatric and anxiety disorders. Among them:
- Generalised anxiety disorder. Anxiety about everyday events makes it difficult to relax.
- Social anxiety disorder. The prospect of social interactions can often interfere with nighttime sleep.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Research shows that obsessive thoughts and fears can keep people awake.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder. Constant re-experiencing of traumatic events can trigger nightmares and deprive people of sleep.
The symptoms of sleep-related anxiety take many forms, as everyone experiences them differently. The most common symptoms include:
- Problems with falling asleep and staying asleep without waking up
- Difficulties with concentration
- Feelings of restlessness and nervousness
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Hypnagogic twitching (convulsions)
Another symptom of sleep-related anxiety is a panic attack. It includes episodes of fear that are characterised by feelings of doom, rapid heart rate, sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, and a feeling of detachment before or during sleep. After a nighttime panic attack, there may be a fear of having another panic attack, which makes it difficult to sleep.
What happens when anxiety disrupts sleep?
The effects of anxiety leading to inadequate sleep can go beyond fatigue. Sleep anxiety negatively affects mood, leads to poor performance at work or school, disrupts learning and attention, and reduces cognitive processing speed. A small study found that those who suffer from insomnia are four times more likely to develop depression.
In addition to mental health, those who suffer from sleep disorders are at risk for other health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
How to overcome sleep anxiety?
If you suffer from anxiety or sleep disruptions on a regular basis, there are some easy tactics that might help you quiet your mind, relax your body, and sleep better. Changing nighttime routines requires effort and care, but they can potentially minimize anxiety over time.
- Maintain good sleep hygiene. The term ‘sleep hygiene’ refers to a variety of behaviours that are necessary for restful sleep. The recommended behaviours include restricting daytime sleep to 30 minutes, avoiding stimulants like coffee and alcohol closer to bedtime, and getting up and going to bed at the same time.
- Put meditation into practice. Initially, take a few minutes to sit still and pay attention to your breathing. You may reduce stress both before bed and during the day by learning to meditate and calm your thoughts. If you have trouble meditating, try some calming yoga positions to get your body ready for bed.
- Exercise. People who exercise regularly report falling asleep more quickly and soundly. Even modest activity, like brisk walking, can help those with persistent insomnia sleep better.
- Take some time to chill. Proper sleep preparation allows your mind and body to relax before going to bed. Take a bath, read a book, listen to a podcast, or listen to relaxing music for at least 30 minutes. These transitional rituals might train your brain to identify particular activities with preparing for bed.
- Eliminate stress before going to bed. Spend the day away from the workplace, work, news, and social media. According to experts, scheduling a transition period between work and sleep can help you tune in to a restful night’s sleep.
- Put your concerns on paper. Write down your ideas and to-do lists instead of letting them float about in your head so that your brain has a strategy for the next day. According to research, it can make you fall asleep more quickly.
- Don’t try to fall asleep by lying in bed. Reboot if you haven’t fallen asleep after more than 20 minutes in bed. Get up, leave the bedroom, and do something that will help you go to sleep, like drinking some tea or reading a book. The process of ‘stimulus control’, which affects conditioned reflexes, can speed up the process of falling asleep.
- Reduce gadget use. Blue light from our laptops, cell phones, and tablets prevents melatonin production and tricks the brain into believing the sun has risen. To avoid messing with your circadian cycle, try to avoid using technology an hour or two before you intend to go to bed.
- Keep a healthy sleeping environment. Your odds of settling your thoughts and going to sleep quickly can be improved by controlling light, music, and temperature. The bedroom ought to be peaceful, cool, and dark. You may concentrate on getting to sleep by playing pink noise.
- Get the mattress of your choice. You toss and turn because of pressure and pain spots that develop on your body when you sleep on an uncomfortable mattress. Your body and neck will benefit from proper support from the mattress and pillow, which will also keep you cosy and comfy while you sleep.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.