Sleep Anxiety: How To Handle The Fear Of Sleep

Last updated on : June 23 2022

She is under the blanket.

For many people, going to bed is not a reward but a source of dread and anxiety because they know they’re in for another sleepless night. 

This experience isn’t about your run-of-the-mill tossing and turning before you drift off. It’s an actual problem that creates a vicious cycle. The less sleep you get, the more anxious you become, and the spiral continues. 

So, to better understand sleep anxiety, let’s take a look at what it is, what causes it, and what you can do to get rid of it.

What Is Sleep Anxiety?

Sleep anxiety is a form of performance anxiety involving feelings of dread, unease, apprehension, and any other anxious thoughts that occur before bed. The condition is also known as somniphobia

It turns out that there is a significant connection between anxiety and sleep disorders. The most common mental illness in the US is anxiety, which affects over 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population

As for what comes first, the chicken or the egg, the answer is either - since anxiety causes sleep disorders, and sleep deprivation leads to anxiety disorders. 

This puzzle is known as bidirectional comorbidity, where two separate conditions exacerbate each other. 

What Causes Sleep Anxiety?

Besides anxiety, there are many other causes of sleep anxiety or somniphobia. The most common ones are:

  • Sleep paralysis. Some people experience recurring nightmare-like hallucinations when they wake up during REM sleep. During REM sleep, your muscles can’t move, so any hallucinations result in a frightening experience that can cause sleep anxiety if it happens more than once.
  • Chronic nightmares. This type of sleeping disorder is linked to highly vivid and frequent nightmares, which often cause further stress to the person during the day. The more realistic they are, the more a person will find themselves dreading the prospect of going to sleep.
  • Sleep apnea. This sleep disorder is characterized by loud snoring and breathing that momentarily stops while a person is sleeping. Some people fear that they might entirely stop breathing in their sleep, which can lead to heightened anxiety. Those affected typically feel tired even after a whole night’s sleep.
  • Traumatic events. Traumatic incidents and events, such as the death of a loved one, car accidents, physical assaults, or any other type of experience, can lead to PTSD. This disorder often entails experiencing recurring nightmares. 
  • Sleepwalking. People who walk in their sleep may become nervous or fearful about what might happen to them while sleepwalking, which makes them dread the idea of falling asleep. 

How To Treat Sleep Anxiety

Sleep anxiety treatment methods depend on the underlying cause of the disorder. Some of the most common treatments for somniphobia include:

  • Exposure therapy. Discussing your fear with a therapist, practicing different relaxation techniques, imagining a good night’s sleep, or watching other people resting can act as a cue to feel safe while going to bed. In extreme cases, sleeping in a medical lab might be a solution.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT can help you face your fears and reframe them, so they don’t distress you as much. Another approach would be to restrict sleep during certain hours so that you go to bed and wake up at a specific time to develop sleep patterns.
  • Medication. Although there are no meds for sleep anxiety, a doctor can prescribe beta-blockers or benzodiazepines for a short period. Beta-blockers help with the physical symptoms by keeping your blood pressure and heart rate steady, while benzodiazepines are sedatives that treat anxiety symptoms. 

How To Prevent Sleep Anxiety

There is a whole spectrum of things you can do to prevent or at least make your sleep anxiety more manageable:

1. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to different routines and habits that help you maintain a good night’s sleep. 

Good sleep hygiene can include avoiding heavy meals before bed, drinking alcohol, coffee, or caffeinated drinks, keeping your bedroom dark and cool, and not engaging in challenging physical activity. 

Also, try to spend more time in the sun and avoid having naps during the days, or at least limit them to 20 minutes. Find any combination that works for you and stick to it.

2. Make Sure That You Are Comfortable

Stay comfy in bed

Something as trivial as a pillow can tremendously impact the quality of your sleep. 

Finding a bed that’s big enough and a comfortable mattress that will support your body weight as well as keep you cool during the night is crucial. 

Every quality mattress comprises different layers that provide support and have cooling perforations that help keep your body temperature in check while you sleep. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of options available that will fit your needs and your budget. 

3. Control Your Sleep Environment

Get more proactive about creating a sleep environment that will enable you to fall asleep more easily. 

For starters, make sure that your bedroom is quiet. Roll down window shades or blinds to avoid any excess light from outside and cool the room down. 

You can take it a step further by pairing up your mattress with an adjustable bed frame for maximum comfort, setting the mood with dimmable lights or lamps, and playing white or pink noise, known sleep aids.

4. Limit Screen Time Before Bedtime

While it’s pretty typical to have your smartphone, laptop, or tablet on hand even in the bedroom, avoid using these devices at least two hours before bedtime.

The problem is that their screens emit blue light, which tricks our brains into thinking it’s daylight. Blue light also suppresses melatonin production, which is a hormone that is produced during nighttime and which regulates sleep-wake cycles. 

If putting away your phone or computer is not an option, use a blue light filter.

5. Avoid Stressful Activities and Situations Before Bedtime

Allowing your brain to transition from one environment or situation to another could be a potential solution. Humans can’t fall asleep on demand, so enabling your mind and body to adapt is necessary. 

Watching the news, working, or even spending time on social media are all stressful activities, so you need to set up a large enough buffer to decompress after any of these before going to bed.

6. Get Some Exercise

Get some exercise

Working out might be beneficial in dealing with sleep anxiety because it inhibits the production of stress hormones. 

However, make sure to avoid any intense or even moderate exercise at least an hour before bed. Otherwise, vigorous physical activity can have an adverse effect before bedtime. 

If you like to work out late in the evening, switch to a morning or afternoon workout. 

7. Never Lie Awake in Bed

If you are having trouble falling asleep after 20 minutes, instead of tossing and turning and getting nervous about it, do the exact opposite and get up. 

While it might seem counterproductive, this will enable you to reset your brain. Make sure to leave your bedroom and opt for an activity that will cause you to get sleepy, such as reading a book. 

You may find that you will fall asleep faster this way than lying awake and staring at the ceiling.

8. Take a Shower

Although taking a shower might seem counterintuitive in this case, it can promote restful sleep as long as you do it at least an hour before bed. 

Although a shower will warm you up instantly, your body will begin to cool down when you step out as water starts to evaporate from your body. 

Also, showering will help you relax and relieve tension in your body and muscles. As for the temperature, avoid a hot or cold shower. Use warm water. 

9. Lower Your Sugar Intake

Eating foods with a high glycemic index, such as bread, sweets, carbonated beverages, and energy drinks, has been linked with poor sleep quality and increased risk of insomnia. 

Food items with high GI cause considerable fluctuations in blood sugar levels and cause your body to release different hormones, such as insulin, adrenaline, and cortisol, among others, all of which can trigger hunger and anxiety. 

10. Keep a Sleep Diary

Documenting your sleep in the form of a diary or journal can help you deal with anxiety and stress healthily. 

In addition to notes which describe the quality of your sleep, you can also write down your feelings, fears, and thoughts. This process will help you understand your sleep anxiety better, and once you know it, you will be able to manage it.

Final Word

Sleep and anxiety are closely linked, so breaking that vicious cycle can feel impossible. Fortunately, sleep anxiety is treatable. 

Also, as you can see from this article, there are plenty of things you can do yourself to prevent or manage it. And we hope you will find them helpful so you can finally get a good night’s rest.

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Editor: Charles Fitzgerald


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