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Are you struggling with sleep anxiety? Here's how to tackle it

Are you too anxious to sleep? Do you lie in bed scrolling on your phone or watching TV until your eyes can no longer physically stay open?

Well, according to experts, you might have a form of sleep anxiety.

Sleep anxiety is an overwhelming feeling of stress and fear about going to sleep and can affect adults, teens, and children, sleep expert Phil Lawlor explains.

We also know that anxiety often gets worse at night time. Just as our head hits the pillow, our minds often begin to pick up the pace. 

We may start to overthink, become anxious and spend hours lying in bed thinking about our to-do lists, or the general anxieties that plague our minds.

There was a 5,000% increase for the search term ‘how to sleep better with anxiety’ between 2019 and 2021. And as of February 2022, this increased by a further 32% more than the same month in 2021.

Why does sleep anxiety happen?

There are many reasons why people suffer from sleep anxiety.

‘This can be down to poor lifestyle habits that may trigger sleep anxiety or health conditions,’ Paul tells Metro.co.uk. 

‘If you have chronic anxiety, you might feel stress or worry frequently. You may feel fearful in situations in your daily life like going to work or getting to sleep.’

Paul explains that sleep anxiety can also be caused by poor lifestyle habits such as bad diet, lack of exercise, stress, and depression. It can also be triggered by health conditions. 

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‘The part of the brain controlling your sleep cycle is different from the region where anxiety originates,’ Paul explains.

‘However, there appears to be a link between the two areas that lead to sleep anxiety. The symptoms of anxiety, such as fast heart rate, trembling and overthinking, can prevent you from falling asleep and increase sleep anxiety. 

‘The fixation of falling asleep can make it even harder to fall asleep.’

‘Sleep anxiety often also comes as a side effect of insomnia, nightmares, PTSD and other traumas,’ says empowerment coach Laura Connor. 

‘Nightmares create a negative feeling towards sleep and going to bed in general. But this lack of sleep can severely impair mental cognition and our health.’

Symptoms of sleep anxiety include restlessness, nervousness, irritability, and a sense of impending danger. 

Physical symptoms include fast heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, tense muscles, trembling, and digestive problems.

How our screentime makes sleep worse

‘Scrolling on our mobiles is a coping mechanism of distraction and also as we get a dopamine release from scrolling, so chemically we can feel relaxed and rewarded,’ says Laura.

‘It’s counter-intuitive, though, as the blue light from our phones affects melatonin (the sleep hormone) production. It tricks our minds into thinking it’s still daytime, keeping us awake longer and affecting the quality of our sleep.’

Sleep expert Katherine Hall explains that just one hour of screen exposure can delay the release of melatonin (the sleep-promoting hormone) by three hours, in addition to releasing it in much smaller quantities. 

‘Having your head buried in emails or checking social media right up until lights out can stimulate our minds, making it difficult to fall asleep in the first place. You should give yourself a technology cut-off time – I’d recommend at least 60 minutes before bed,’ she says.

But reading before bed can a good thing.

‘Recent studies have found that reading is one of the more effective things you can do to reduce sleep anxiety as the mind is distracted and body is relaxed, this will reduce symptoms of sleep anxiety,’ Katherine tells Metro.co.uk.

How to reduce the damage

Try to make your bedroom a screen-free zone to counteract the disruption posed by blue light.

‘Set a time to put your mobile down at night, at least an hour before bedtime,’ says Laura.

To move out of this cycle, Laura also suggests keeping your bedroom just for sleeping and creating new habits.

‘Get a routine down that makes you feel safe and relaxed,’ she recommends. ‘Try doing something new such as listening to audiobooks, calming music, reading, meditation or journaling. Anything off of technology is the way forward. 

‘Turn your phone on aeroplane mode if you use it for an alarm clock or get an old-fashioned one and keep your phone out of the bedroom.’

Laura does offer a note of warning, though. ‘Meditation sometimes makes trauma worse, as our mind can spiral. If this is the case, try an audiobook instead. Add in relaxing night lights, like candles and star projectors. Create a whole mood. It works.’

How to get to sleep faster

  • Stop watching the clock. This will only heighten your anxiety and fear of not being able to fall asleep, according to Paul.
  • Try breathing exercises – this will help calm your mind. Paul explains that breathing exercises are a great way to calm and relax your body and mind if you are feeling stressed or anxious. It can slow down functions in your body that can keep you tense and anxious, such as your nervous system. This will slow down your heart rate, and your blood pressure may drop, which may induce sleep. One exercise is called the 4-7-8 breathing technique. For this technique, you inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth.
  • Get out of bed and move around. Paul says that if you struggle to get back to sleep after 20 minutes, try moving into a different room and relaxing your mind and body through a range of relaxation techniques that work for you, such as reading, meditating, or breathing exercises. Being in a different room and distracting yourself for a short time could make it easier to fall back to sleep when you return to bed. 

How to tackle sleep anxiety

‘It is possible to reduce sleep anxiety through a variety of ways to manage sleep anxiety, including cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), medication, and healthy sleep habits (sleep hygiene),’ Paul explains.

Ultimately it will be a process of rewriting your beliefs, and after a certain period of getting comfortable with sleep again, you will find the anxiety dissipates. 

‘Remember those thoughts are not us. They are just words in our head,’ says Laura. 

‘The issues with this come when we give these thoughts more importance than they deserve, turning them into a belief, such as “I can’t sleep”.

‘When we say these things to ourselves, our subconscious listens and acts upon it. Change “I can’t” to “I am trying to”.’ 

If you continue to suffer from sleep anxiety, please consult your GP or a sleep specialist.

The best sleep-boosting buys

Keen to improve your sleep? Try our pick of the best sleep-boosting products…

Spacemasks self-heating eye masks five-pack

(Picture: Amazon)

We know what you’re thinking: Can some warm eye masks really make that big a difference when it comes to drifting off?

The answer is yes. Yes, they can.

The warmth of these eyemasks plus their lavender scent is super soothing, while the small amount of weight on your eyelids helps to tell your brain it’s time to snooze.

Honestly, it’s tricky to explain just how great these are for times when you’re struggling to fall asleep. Buy a pack and try them. You won’t regret it.

Buy for £19.21 here

Weighted blanket

(Picture: Mela)

Are you being kept up by anxiety? A weighted blanket can make a massive difference in soothing your mind and body.

Expect the deepest sleep ever.

Buy for £74.50 (down from £139.97)

Sleepy Body Lotion

(Picture: Lush)

One of our favourites – this is a super soothing cream that you can smother yourself in the next time you’re struggling to drift off.

Buy for £10 from Lush

5-HTP+ by FutureYou Cambridge

(Picture: FutureYou Cambridge)

This supplement uses 5-HTP, an amino acid produced by the body by tryptophan, saffron, which some studies suggest improves sleep quality, B6, and lavender oil, all of which are claimed to help you drift off.

You can get a free 28-day trial here, then a box costs £14.40 a month.

This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray

(Picture: Amazon/Metro.co.uk)

‘This stuff is like magic,’ wrote one reviewer. ‘Absolutely amazing, I’m so pleased i bought it.

‘I’ve had issues with sleeping my whole life and tried nearly everything under the sun to try and aid my sleep.

‘I had my eye on this product for a while but was hesitant to buy because of the price, however I finally caved and it’s worth every penny!’

Buy for £13.87 from Amazon

Knee pillow

(Picture: Amazon)

For side sleepers!

Buy for £16.95

This fact box contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through one of these links but this never influences our experts’ opinions. Products are tested and reviewed independently of commercial initiatives.

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