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Top Tips for Managing Sleep Anxiety

This Mental Health Awareness Week, Hypnos Beds, luxury British bedmakers, offers its advice on tackling sleep anxiety with its resident sleep and wellbeing expert, Natalie Pennicotte-Collier.

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While everyone’s experience of anxiety disorders is different, sleep is often the first to take a hit. In fact, in a survey of 1,200 people, 82% of respondents said general anxiety was the main cause of poor sleep.  As a result, 82% said they felt drained, while 70% felt irritable and 56% felt emotional*.


'In the UK, over EIGHT million people are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any one time'


What is anxiety?

Natalie explains:  “Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, afraid, or generally uneasy.  Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives, especially when coping with stressful or fearful situations.sleep anx.png However, anxiety can become a problem if it persists, intensifies, and interferes with everyday life".

“Stress and anxiety often feed off each other, especially when it comes to sleep. In its most basic form, sleep anxiety is the stress or worry relating to your ability to fall or stay asleep, which can make it difficult to get adequate rest".

“Sleep anxiety can affect people throughout the day, although it tends to be most prevalent at nighttime when the distractions of the day fade away. Unhelpful thoughts and feelings before bed cause a spike in cortisol levels,  the primary stress hormone, preventing feelings of calm and relaxation.”


What is the relationship between anxiety and sleep?

“Mood, anxiety, and mental health have a bidirectional relationship to sleep.  Anxiety can make it difficult to sleep, but poor sleep can also lead to increased feelings of anxiety,” explains Natalie.

“Sleep anxiety can be triggered by many factors, including stressing about not getting enough sleep or sleeping through an alarm, or the memory of a terrible night’s sleep.  These negative thoughts can manifest themselves into physical, cognitive, or behavioural symptoms that can inhibit healthy sleep routines. For example, anxiety can provoke disturbing dreams that increase the likelihood of sleep disruptions and can amplify anxiety surrounding sleep.”


Is sleep anxiety keeping you awake at night?

“It’s normal to experience some difficulties with sleep, especially when we’re stressed or worried,” notes Natalie.

She continues:  “Anxiety breeds anxiety.  For those who find it difficult to fall asleep, this means they also have more time to focus on their fears including worrying about the fact they’re not sleeping.  This makes it even more difficult to drift off, therefore triggering a vicious cycle.  This nightly battle not only contributes to sleep deprivation but can also worsen symptoms of anxiety.

“If you suffer from sleep anxiety, you may experience:

  • Increased heart rate or rapid breathing, as if you’re having a panic attack.
  • Avoidance behaviour: avoiding bedtimes, so that you can ‘deflect’ the anxiety of not being able to fall or stay asleep.
  • In some cases, people develop somniphobia, an extreme fear of sleep.  They may be afraid of what happens when they do fall asleep, such as nightmares, sleep paralysis, sleepwalking, or loss of control.”


5 ways to manage sleep anxiety

While sleep anxiety can feel utterly defeating, there are proven techniques to actively tackle anxious thoughts and cultivate a relaxed state of mind, Natalie says:


1. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

“CBT is a common treatment for anxiety disorders that works by teaching you how to change your behaviour by changing the way you think.  A special form of CBT called cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTI) focuses on reframing negative thoughts, practicing relaxation strategies, avoiding behaviours or environmental factors that trigger anxiety,  and better understanding how sleep and anxiety affect your overall well-being".


2. Relaxation techniques

“Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), can help combat stress and put your mind at ease before bed. Meditation is a particularly powerful tool for sleep that involves focusing or clearing your mind using a combination of mental and physical techniques, including visualisation and controlled breathing. Regular meditation practice can  improve your response to stressors and anxiety triggers.”


3. Regular physical exercise

“Regular exercise, and even short bouts of exercise, can help to improve the quality and duration of sleep, along with time spent falling asleep. Research has also shown that exercise can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress whilst stimulating production of endorphins, which together help foster relaxation.”


4. Stay social

“Sleep anxiety can feel scary and lonely at times, so don’t struggle alone.  Talking to close friends and family about your issue allows you to take some of the pressure off and they may even be able to signpost you to support. Spending time with loved ones more generally keeps your mind active and can boost your mood by releasing dopamine and serotonin, which promote relaxation.”


5. Reading and journaling

“Reading and journaling are popular ways to relax the mind and cultivate a more restful sleep.  They work by gently transitioning the mind from the day’s stresses and helping to release any tension. In particular,  journaling can help to identify sleep patterns and triggers, organise your thoughts, manage stress, and promote a calmer mindset. If you’re an avid bedtime reader, avoid e-books to reduce your exposure to blue light which can have a negative impact on your sleep quality.”

“Sleep anxiety can be understandably disruptive, but it is treatable,” Natalie highlights. “If sleep is causing you trouble, Mental Health Awareness Week is the perfect time to get your sleep back on track. Focus on establishing healthy sleep habits and allow yourself time to adjust, as better sleep can’t be achieved overnight.”


For more information visit www.hypnosbeds.com.

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