If you are anxious all the time or suffer from an anxiety condition, chances are you don't find it very easy to fall asleep. Relaxing your mind at the end of a full day is challenging at the best of times, but when you also have anxiety to contend with, you may find yourself physically and mentally challenged when trying to convince your body to sleep.
Being anxious during the day is tiring, which makes it all the more important to make sure you don't have to deal with it at night when your body is trying to recover. This article will cover the causes and effects of pre-sleep anxiety, as well as tips for effectively shutting down your anxiety at the end of the day.
How Much Anxiety Do You Have When You Are Falling Asleep?
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Falling Asleep and Anxiety
The time before you go to sleep is a difficult one for anxiety sufferers. This is because all the worries you have accumulated over the course of the day choose now to float through your mind. Being alone in a dark room doing nothing but lying there with your worries allows you no distractions from them, which often allow them to seem to grow bigger and bigger and spiral out of control.
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Causes of Anxiety Before Sleep
Everyone experiences anxiety differently. Those that have anxiety when falling asleep may have that problem for their own unique reason. Some of the causes include:
- Focus on the Day - For some people, anxiety while falling asleep is caused by over-focusing on the ss caused by generalized anxiety due to events occurring throughout the day, while for others it is the result of an anxiety disorder.
- Feeling Scared or Afraid - Some people feel scared or afraid for no apparent reason, although it may be linked to the dark. Those that have a fear of death or mortality may also have moments where they just feel scared, afraid, or sad in some ways. The act of falling asleep can sometimes feel scary for those with anxiety.
- Falling - For some strange reason (perhaps the link between feeling scared and falling asleep), those with anxiety tend to have falling or "not breathing" sensations when they reach that first stage of sleep only to wake up in a panic. That anxiety can sometimes stick around.
- Rapid Thought Patterns - Those with anxiety tend to have thoughts that keep them awake that are difficult to calm. The longer those thoughts go on, the more anxious they tend to become.
These are only an introduction to the different issues that may cause anxiety when falling asleep.
Effects and Symptoms of Nighttime Anxiousness
Anxiousness, when you are trying to get to sleep, causes both mental and physical struggles. See if these descriptions of the types of problems encountered by anxiety sufferers trying to get to sleep match up to your own experiences.
- Restlessness - You may find yourself tossing and turning as you try and get to sleep because your body refuses to relax, and must continue trying to find a comfortable position. This can make you sweaty and get you tangled in blankets or cause blankets to fall off, which can cause you to wake up from cold or not sleep as well if you do fall asleep due to discomfort. The discomfort keeping you awake will give you more of a chance to think the kinds of negative, anxious thoughts that can lead you to a panic attack.
- Panic Attacks - A panic attack before sleep will usually be characterized by sweating, a rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, and chest pain. These symptoms can be alarming because they mimic some of the symptoms of a heart attack, and may trigger the panicked belief that you are about to die (imagining that you are in physical danger or about to die is common during panic attacks). Panic attacks before sleep aren't as common as panic attacks during the day, but the reality of panic attacks is that they can occur at any time.
- Nightmares - If you do manage to fall asleep after experiencing the above symptoms, you are far more likely to have nightmares. Nightmares can further disturb your sleep by waking you up, and if they are particularly bad, they may frighten you enough to keep you awake and cause you to have a panic attack.
- Limited REM - All these effects add up to a very limited REM cycle. Most people get 80% non-REM and 20% REM sleep in a night. REM sleep only occurs after some non-REM sleep has taken place. Therefore, if it takes you a long time to get to sleep or you wake up soon after you do, you don't have as much time in the night to achieve that REM stage. Regular REM sleep is required to maintain a healthy mind and body.
- Falling/Twitching - You may also find that you experience anxiety as a result of weird sensations you get while trying to fall asleep. Those with stress, for example, are more prone to this feeling as though their body is jolting them awake right before they're about to fall asleep. Scientists are not clear what causes this but know for a fact it's harmless. The belief is that your body thinks you're about to die, so it wakes you up. But since there's no danger, you get anxious from that feeling, thus increasing your nighttime anxiety and making it harder to fall asleep in the future.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms when trying to sleep, you should take the steps outlined below to help you escape the torture of being too anxious to get a good night's sleep.
How to Minimize Anxiety and Maximize Sleep
To get to sleep more easily, you can try changing some of your pre-sleep habits to decrease your mental and physical stress levels. Habit-changing takes time and persistence, but if you stick to these changes, you will find yourself adapting and feeling less anxious overall in no time.
- Time Travel This is a fancy way of saying that at least an hour before you want to get to bed, you should try to turn everything off and do something that engages more of your mind then, for example, gazing at your computer or the television screen. Dimming the lights helps alert your brain to the idea that it should be sleeping soon. Doing something casual that still forces your mind to engage, such as reading, drawing, or playing cards will help occupy your brain with something other than the worries of the day when it is time to lay down your head. Pictures on Instagram and funny scenes onscreen fade in comparison to real-life experiences, but the real-life experience of either winning or losing that hand at cards will stick more prominently in your mind and provide a longer-term distraction from your troubles.
- Pick a Bedtime Deciding on a particular hour that you want to be in bed by will relax your body by providing it with a comforting, familiar routine to follow. It will also train your brain to get tired at a certain time of night, which will help you fall asleep sooner after you lay down to do so.
- Keep a Journal Writing in a journal is another routine you can follow (and a good one to incorporate into your pre-bedtime time travel, as it doesn't involve any technology). Sometime before bed, jot down some thoughts about your day. If any worries or problems come up, be sure to write down possible solutions to accompany them. Once you do this, shut the book and imagine you are symbolically shutting away all the cares and thoughts from the day until you next want to open the journal and look at them.
- Consciously Relax Your Body Once you are lying down in bed, try relaxing your body one piece at a time. You can start wherever your toes, for example, but relax each toe individually. Then move up to your ankles, your calves, your thighs, and so on. Make sure each part is thoroughly relaxed before moving on to the next. You may start to feel tingly and almost numb. This is good: it means your body is getting ready to sleep. Once you are completely relaxed, focus on breathing comfortably until you fall asleep.
- Reserve Your Bed For Sleep Avoid doing non-bed-related things on your bed: for instance, texting, going online or doing homework. The more you reserve your bed for sleep, the more your mind will associate it with sleep, and the easier it will be to fall asleep on.
- Get Up and Walk Around If you find that your anxiety is too strong, don't keep trying to sleep. Distract yourself for a while by cleaning the house or reading a book. Falling asleep when your anxiety is that strong is very difficult, so giving yourself a chance to relax may be beneficial.
- White Noise Some type of white noise, calming music, or easy to ignore radio may also be helpful. Often these things can distract your senses, making it harder for you to focus on your anxious thoughts. Try something like talk radio, with a volume so low that you can only hear what they're saying if you try extremely hard. The noise and talking will make it much more difficult to focus on your anxious thoughts.
Avoiding the anxiety that keeps you from getting the sleep you need can be difficult, but following the above all-natural and healthy techniques may be all that you require taking back control over your sleep schedule.
You can also start to make life changes that are specifically designed to help you cure your overall anxiety. Start with my free 7-minute anxiety test. This test is an extremely valuable way to ensure that you're getting exactly what you need to reduce your anxiety and improve your sleep.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Jul 13, 2018.