What is Sleep Anxiety? – Causes & Symptoms

Last Updated on January 20, 2021

Anxiety is a common human emotion that can be indicated by feelings of nervousness and worry. Many people can find themselves having anxiety during stressful situations like a job interview or even a first date.

However, in some situations, anxiety might linger around for longer than expected. If that happens, it can interfere with your life, daily and nightly.

Having an anxiety disorder means that you may often experience it at night since sleep deprivation can trigger it. Many clinical trials and research talk about its effects on individuals with high risk for insomnia.

That’s why in today’s article, we’ll discuss the causes, symptoms and how to treat sleep anxiety in order to improve your quality of life.

sleep anxiety

What causes Sleep Anxiety?

Sleep issues and anxiety often go hand in hand. The reason for that is that the lack of sleep can be an anxiety trigger, but anxiety and stress may lead to lack of sleep. Throughout people with the set disorder, over 50% of adults say that their sleep ability at night is affected.

There aren’t many studies or scientific research on sleep anxiety, but there are enough reasons why it might worsen at night. For example, if you can’t stop your thoughts and your mind is racing or anticipating things that can occur the next day.

This can cause your body to experience an adrenaline rush, making it harder for you to fall asleep. You can look at our guide about “How To Sleep Better – Helpful Tips and Advice” and get yourself some rest.

If you or any of your loved ones are struggling with anxiety and it affects your sleep quality, you should become a member of “Anxiety UK” and find a way to help yourself and the people you care about.

What causes Sleep Anxiety

What are the Symptoms?

The truth is that sleep anxiety can happen for a multitude of reasons, like someone dreading going to sleep because they don’t want to have nightmares or they think something bad can happen during the night while they are asleep.

In general, someone with an anxiety disorder can be afraid of sleep or the night time. Therefore, they might become more anxious without a specific reason. Sometimes even the idea of laying in bed awake can be enough to leave them feeling anxious.

We, as humans are all different. Thus we experience anxiety differently. There are many symptoms that someone with anxiety can experience, but here are the most common ones:

  • Feeling agitated, nervous & restless
  • Fatigue can be a sign accompanied by excessive worrying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling highly irritable
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Fear and avoidance of social situations
  • Irrational fears that interrupt daily functioning
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Panic attacks
What are the Symptoms

Often a person with anxiety can also experience a panic attack. A panic attack is best described as a sudden episode of extreme and intense fear, which can trigger severe physical reactions with no real danger or apparent cause. It is often accompanied by physical manifestations and may occur when you think you’re losing control. Let’s talk about what these symptoms include:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Increased heart rate & chest pains
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
  • A feeling of detachment & unreality
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea & Abdominal cramping
  • Sweating & chills
  • Hot flashes & headache
  • Tingling sensation or Numbness

Some people may experience a nocturnal panic attack. Usually, they have the same signs and symptoms of regular panic attacks, but they occur at night while you’re sleeping. If you wake up from one, it might be hard for you to fall back asleep.

What are the reasons

What are the reasons for experiencing sleep anxiety?

As we’ve mentioned above, sleep anxiety can happen for many reasons, such as dreading going to bed because of having nightmares or night terrors. Sometimes you might be afraid that something terrible will happen during the night like a burglary or fire.

A person with a generalised anxiety disorder may worry about the night and sleep in general. The reason for that is they might not having anything that can distract them from their thoughts, which can make them even more anxious. That’s why many find the idea of lying awake worrying at night a trigger.

People are supposed to feel calm and relaxed when its time for bed. However, sleep anxiety can make you feel the exact opposite. If you’re stressed, your brain is stimulated. Thus you can’t fall asleep. The reason for that is people with nighttime anxiety see ‘dangers’ associated with sleep, which causes their body to fill with adrenaline.

Other things can occur, such as heart palpitations, loss of concentration, racing thoughts, sweating, shortness of breath, and even nausea. These symptoms can make it very difficult to get a good night’s rest, which is why we have to try and maintain our physical and mental health at all times.

Strategies & Tips to help

Strategies & Tips to help your sleep anxiety

People with anxiety often complain and waking during the night. There are different methods and strategies you can learn to see what works best. Here are some tips and ideas to help you get a good night’s sleep:

Good sleep hygiene

Having good sleep hygiene is crucial to getting a good night’s sleep. If you’re struggling with that, take a look at the following and whether or not you are doing any of them:

  • Have a strict sleep routine that you follow even on the weekends. Try to wake up and go to bed around the same times because it will help you develop a rhythm.
  • Avoid taking naps during the day.
  • Do some exercise outdoors, but do it at least 2 hours before bed.
  • Don’t consume alcohol and caffeine later than early afternoon.
  • Try to do similar relaxing activities every night.
  • Create a comfortable bedroom environment that is cool and dark.
  • Avoid spending time in your bed during the day.

If you’re interested in the subject, you can look at our article on: “What is Sleep Hygiene? – Tips & Advice” for more information.

Start a sleep diary

Sleep is something we all do and need since it’s essential to our health and wellbeing. We need to have a good night’s sleep in order to function every day. If you’re someone that has trouble falling asleep and staying that way, you might need to start a sleep diary.

In it, you can write down activities you were doing, when did you go to bed, when did you wake up, how you slept, etc. Understand that your sleep habits often result from doing the wrong activities during the day, like drinking too much coffee or taking long naps.

If you don’t know where to start, we are here to help you pinpoint your problems with our LightSleeper’s Sleep Diary. You can download the file and use it on your device or as a printed copy to improve your sleep.

Physical activity

Physical activity

Physical activity and exercise, in general, can immensely improve both sleep quality and duration. If you’re someone that experiences sleep anxiety, you should try exercising during the day because you might feel sleepier. Therefore it will be easier for you to go to fall asleep.

However, you shouldn’t do any physical activity in the late afternoon or at night, since that may stimulate your body and brain. Keep in mind that exercise can relieve your anxiety symptoms, improve your sleep and overall health.

Turn off electronics

Electronic devices can have a negative effect on your sleep and stress levels. The reason behind it is the artificial blue light they emit, which suppress the sleep hormone, also known as melatonin. With less melatonin in your body, its harder for you to fall asleep.

That’s when your thought can start to linger, and your anxiety can heighten. Your best bet will be to ditch all electronica devices at least 30 minutes before bed to allow your body to relax and calm down.

Consult a professional

Consult a professional

Suppose you are experiencing sleep anxiety and having a continuous negative impact on your life, despite all attempts to improve it. In that case, we highly recommend talking to a professional that can help you manage your symptoms.

You can start by consulting with your GP and talking through your problem. In some cases, they might offer help or at least offer advice on the next steps available to you. This may include accessing a private healthcare service for an assessment, diagnosis and specialist treatment.

Try Meditation

Many people underestimate the power of meditation and practising mindfulness. However, it has been proven that even one session of meditation might be beneficial in reducing your anxiety levels. Of course, a continuous course will benefit you even more.

Getting your body to calm down before bed is essential. One of the best ways to do so is by meditation. If you try to do it every night for 5 to 10 minutes before bed, you can significantly lower your nighttime anxiety.

Consult a professional

Avoid stimulants

Stimulants can worsen your sleep quality and heighten your anxiety. The reason behind it is that stimulants increase body and brain activity, which is why it can be more challenging to fall asleep.

There are three big no’s you should avoid before bed: alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine. All three can have a negative effect on sleep, which is why you should either not consume them at all or only during the day.

Avoid unhealthy strategies

A lot of people think that leaving the TV on at night helps them fall asleep. However, this is a coping tactic that is more of a myth than the actual truth.

Others think that medication, alcohol or drugs will be their saviours, but they are terribly wrong. If you’re one of these people, we highly recommended that you stop. These supplements will provide you with a short term solution, which is, later on, going to turn into a long term problem. Addiction of any kind is no joke, and that’s why we shouldn’t turn to it.

Instead, try to distract yourself from anxious thoughts by using different relaxation strategies, such as reading a book or listening to soothing music. Understand that this will require dedication and patience, but it will be benefical for you in the long run.

Create a To-do list

Create a To-do list

If you don’t want to fill in a sleep diary every day and night, you can try having a to-do list, which you only need to check off.

This way if your anxiety triggers involve worrying about your daily activities, you will make sure not to forget any. Creating a to-do list can possitviley improve your sleep and your anxiety levels.

Create comfort

Last but surely not least, you have to remember that comfort is crucial for your sleep. Don’t forget that your bedroom is your own, which means you can create a comfortable space for yourself.

Having the right mattress, pillow, and bedding is what you need in order to support your body correctly, which can make all the difference for your nighttime anxiety. Keep the temperature cool at night as it can help you sleep better too.

Final Words

Sadly, there are many reasons why your anxiety may worsen at night, such as poor sleep habits, health conditions, and even daily stressors, leading to increased stress levels and panic attacks at night.

The good news is that there are numerous treatments available that can help ease your anxiety, which will help your quality of sleep. Remember that’s it’s never too late to take advantage of the mental health resources!

After long research, many reviews and studies, we created a thorough guide on how to sleep better at night and reduce your sleep anxiety. However, please keep in mind that we are non-professionals in the medical field, and these are only recommendations.

As always, if any questions regarding the subject were left unanswered, we would gladly answer them in the comments below.

Isabelle Harris
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