How to Fall Asleep with Anxiety

Falling asleep can be difficult, especially when there is so much going on in our lives. Not only do we have to react to external stressors, but also internal stress that causes our body to respond in ways that don’t benefit us.

When we stress, our body goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Neither of these three responses are good for us, especially in the long run. When we react in such a way when there is no real immediate threat, it wears us down and causes us to lose sleep.

There are two main types of anxiety and sleep:

  • Anxiousness while trying to sleep
  • Anxiety about falling asleep

In this guide, we will look at both comprehensively and how you can practice giving yourself a better night of rest.

How Does Anxiety Affect Sleep?

Anxiety and lack of sleep are often closely associated with each other, where sleeping problems causing your anxiety and anxiety preventing you from sleeping. With over 40 million Americans suffering from long-term sleep disorders, another 20 million reporting the occasional sleeping problems, and around 40 million suffering from anxiety disorders, it’s no wonder sleep and mental well-being are becoming a growing concern in the U.S.

Does lack of sleep cause anxiety?

Does sleep deprivation cause anxiety or does anxiety cause sleep deprivation? Today, it isn’t clear which came first. One thing we do know is that both are so closely related to each other, it’s worth trying to solve both. Whether it is an anxiety disorder or sleep disorder, if you are having trouble with your mental well-being or your sleep health, speaking to your doctor about your concerns is the best way to diagnose and treat your health challenges.

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What Does Anxiety Look Like Before and During Sleep?

Anxiety comes to different people in different ways. However, there are a few known sleep anxiety symptoms to help you identify it:

  • Excessive worrying with restlessness, feeling on the edge, overwhelming fear or guilt
  • Shallow breathing, increased heart rate, and excessive sweating
  • Intense muscle tension, twitching, saking, or trembling
  • Mood swings such as irritability, panic, and depressive states
  • General fatigueness with difficulty concentrating, brain fog, and decline in day-to-day performance or energy
  • Recurring nightmares and night terrors

Can anxiety wake you up at night?

Yes, anxiety can cause you to wake up at night. Recurring nightmares and night terrors can cause nocturnal panic attacks. An overwhelming sense of fear and worry among physical symptoms such as sweating, racing heart, and shaking are some symptoms that you might not be aware of until you are woken up. In some cases, these symptoms can subside once you are awake for some time. However, they might make sleeping difficult and understandably frightening.

What is the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?

Although the two might seem similar, there are notable differences in their onset and how we react to the attack.

For an anxiety attack, it often comes as a reaction from a stressful situation. For example, when you enter your dark home and hear what seems to be footsteps or you struggle with studying for a class with an exam around the corner. Anxiety might make a person become fearful and apprehensive. They might feel their heart racing, sweat profusely, and breathe in a shallow manner, but these symptoms tend to be short lived, especially when what is causing the anxiety attack goes away.

On the other hand, a panic attack may be unpredictable and unprovoked. This is when you become paralyzed with terror and overwhelming fear. A feeling that you might die, lose control, or have a heart attack is common, with symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness takes over your focus. Anticipatory anxiety can develop as we begin to worry about when our next unpredictable panic attack might occur.

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Can You Have a Panic Attack in Your Sleep?

Also known as nocturnal panic attacks, they can happen in your sleep with no obvious reason or trigger. During the day, you can be aware of a panic attack from physical symptoms mentioned earlier. But when you are asleep, these signs aren’t noticeable until they are causing you the most discomfort and awakening you from sleep.

Why do I get panic attacks?

If you are having panic attacks in your sleep, chances are you have panic attacks during the day as well. Although the causes of panic attacks aren’t known, it’s been narrowed down to a few items including genetics, stress, and changes that have occured in the way your brain operates. Sleep disorders and thyroid problems can be underlying conditions that can cause panic-like attacks and symptoms.

How long does a panic attack last?

Most of the time, the nighttime panic attacks only last for a few minutes, but it might take some time to mentally and physically calm down before you can fall back asleep. The same also applies to panic attacks when you are awake. It might feel scary and uncomfortable, but they are not dangerous to your health or well-being. It does however warrant a discussion with your family doctor.

Can you die from panic attack?

As scary as it may seem to have your heart and mind racing, your breathing become heavy and shallow, and a feeling of imminent death, insanity, and fainting is overwhelming, you cannot die from panic attacks. You should speak to your family doctor because panic disorders are linked to increased risk of heart attacks and heart diseases. There is also the possibility that panic disorder symptoms could be a misdiagnosed heart condition.

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How Do You Manage Sleep Anxiety?

Being in the right frame of mind, particularly relaxed before bed is important. It improves your ability to sleep better through the night without disruption and feel well rested when you wake up.

How do you fall asleep with anxiety?

  1. Idle and be bored before bed. It’s common for your mind to wander out of control before bed. Often times, our brain needs a few moments to consolidate and get a grip of what is going on in our busy, daily lives. If we don’t have that time during the day, then before bed is the next best thing which can add fuel to our anxiety before and during sleep. Schedule a moment before bed to idle around. You can use a pen and paper to jot down everything going on in your mind so you don’t lose it, and take the first step of letting go of your thoughts.
  2. Practice relaxing with meditation, yoga, and journaling. Relaxation techniques either early in the day or closer to bedtime can help you relieve anxious thoughts, stress, and pressure from day-to-day worries. You can start big with 30 minutes each day or small with 2 minutes whenever you have the time. However busy you might be, you deserve a minute or two to yourself.
  3. Follow a consistent sleeping schedule. This applies to both the time you climb into bed to fall asleep and the time you wake up. In between the two moments, you should sleep a consistent amount of hours. Everybody’s sleep needs are different, so if you aren’t sure what time you should fall asleep, wake up, or how many hours of rest you need, it’s worth experimenting. Trial and error can find what’s most optimal for you.
  4. Get rid of some terrible habits and sleep interrupters. You probably heard it time and time again. Screen time from your phone or bedroom TV, working, alcohol, and caffeine can all throw a wrench into your good sleeping patterns and cause you grief before bed. It can be difficult to cut back at first, so you can always do so in small, incremental steps. If you need a solid guideline, the bedroom should only be a place for sleep and sex.
  5. Practice decent sleep hygiene habits. This point is to encapsulate points 1 to 4, but practiced on a daily basis. Your bedroom should also be cool, dark, and quiet. If you aren’t in a place that is quiet, in the heart of a city for example, white noise can help tremendously. Some people use their washroom fans. Other options include a smartphone app or a white noise machine (mechanical or digital can both work).

Sleeping with anxiety can be daunting and terrible. Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, treatment is possible. Talking to your doctor about your anxiety and sleep challenges can help with diagnosing the root cause. We hope this guide helps you in understanding your sleep and anxiety, and help you manage and improve your anxious feelings before and during bed.

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