How to Manage the Fear of Not Being Able to Sleep

Most human beings know what it’s like to not be able to sleep at one point or another. Sleeplessness is common, especially in times of high stress. Many people will go through brief periods of insomnia, after which their sleep normalizes again. 

Sometimes, though, these sleep problems are harder to kick and can hang around over the long term. This may be because of an underlying medical condition, and there are many (from anxiety and depression to sleep apnea to chronic pain, diabetes, asthma, Parkinson’s, and others). 

Another explanation for lingering sleep issues, (whether the insomnia occurs on its own or in combination with another medical issue), is the fear of not being able to sleep. “Sleep anxiety” is a powerful, self-fulfilling prophecy:

  • As bedtime draws near, you grow more anxious about whether you’ll fall asleep.
  • You worry about another night spent tossing and turning. 
  • You stress about how you’ll do that work presentation the next day or manage your parenting duties. 
  • Soon, you’re in panic mode just when you could be easing into a restful night’s sleep.

Why Addressing Sleep Anxiety Is Important 

Researchers are learning more every day about the critical importance of sleep to health and function. Chronic sleep loss, they’ve found, does indeed have adverse health effects, and it can lead to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, as well as anxiety symptoms and a depressed mood. 

Strikingly, too, for every known psychiatric condition, research has unearthed an accompanying link to sleep issues. That’s how critical and widely relevant sleep is to overall health and function. It is also why addressing a major cause of sleep loss (namely, sleep anxiety) should be a priority.

Some Suggestions for Addressing Sleep Anxiety

Many of the suggestions for addressing sleep anxiety are behavioral tips. For example, sleep experts recommend a consistent daily sleep routine that involves going to bed and waking up at the same time. Experts also encourage healthier boundaries with technology, like shutting off screens at least two hours before bedtime. (Like other lights, blue light interferes with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin—only much more powerfully, a Harvard Health article stated.)

Behavioral practices that promote relaxation can also be conducive to sleep and mitigate sleep anxiety. Some meditations encourage mindful connection with one’s breath and its slow, hypnotic rise and fall, for example.

Bedtime Affirmations to Reduce Sleep Anxiety

Because pessimistic thoughts and alarmist predictions are often at the core of sleep anxiety, some experts encourage the repetition of positive affirmations throughout the day. The goal is to replace the negative or untrue thoughts with these more positive or realistic affirmations. In an article in April 2021 in the publication, the neuroscientist Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib, Ph.D., provided some helpful tips for making bedtime affirmations, as well as a list of examples. 

Other Interventions for Sleep Anxiety

Not everyone can conquer sleep anxiety by tweaking their lifestyle and/or bedtime routine or adopting positive affirmations. Some people find they need help from doctor-prescribed medication and/or a mental health professional.

The good news is that many people have found relief for sleep anxiety from non-medication therapies and interventions like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). In fact, CBT-I has shown such effectiveness that it is now a first-line treatment for insomnia. 

Others have discovered better sleep from neurotherapy administered by a clinical psychologist who specializes in the use of neuro rehabilitative technologies to improve brain health and function.

When an accumulation of bad nights is causing sleep anxiety, panic and depression can quickly set in. Over time, severe and chronic sleep loss can even give rise to a sense of despair and helplessness. Don’t let it get that far and don’t go it alone. Consult a doctor or mental health professional for next steps. 

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