Sleep Worry – How To Stop Worrying About Not Sleeping.
Sleep Worry = Worry about the consequences of not getting adequate sleep.
We all understand the importance of good sleep to our overall health. However, what you might not know is the effect worrying about sleep has on sleep. Feeling worried and frustrated if you can’t sleep is understandable. However, it increases our arousal levels and makes the body feel tense, making it even harder to fall asleep. Then when you are struggling to sleep you increase your sleep effort – you actively try to force yourself to fall asleep. However, the more you struggle and try to force yourself to sleep, the worse things get, you may then end up in a vicious Sleep – Worry cycle. Never fear, today we will be talking about how to stop worrying about not sleeping.
Sleep and Worry
For some people, getting into bed might be the first time that they have had a moment to reflect on their day. This may trigger worry, making it difficult to switch off, relax and fall asleep. There are 2 types of worries that may affect your sleep:
- General worries – such as worrying about things that are causing you stress – life, work, relationships.
- Sleep worries – this is worrying about the effects of not sleeping. Thoughts like ‘I wonder how much sleep I’ll have tonight?’ ‘I’m going to be so tired tomorrow if I don’t get enough sleep’ or ‘I’ll never get back to sleep’
For some people, it is a combination of both.
Today’s focus will be on sleep worry and will cover strategies to help your correct your thought patterns to break your Sleep-Worry cycle. Helping you learn how to stop worrying about not sleeping.
Bedtime Stress and Worry
It’s common for people who have trouble sleeping to start feeling anxious when getting ready for bed and to end up dreading bedtime. Many people with insomnia form an association between bedtime and not sleeping, bedtime becomes a trigger for worry and frustration around not sleeping. This causes increased arousal, making it even harder to sleep. I was an absolute pro at this when I worked a rotating roster. When I’d set my alarm I always had to calculate how many hours it was until it would go off and if it was less than 8hrs I’d start stressing and worrying about my performance at work/life the next day. I’d put so much pressure on myself to sleep, I’d end up winding myself up so tightly that I’d get next to no sleep. Seriously I didn’t need a worst enemy, I was 100% my own. It wasn’t until a colleague pointed out what I was doing and suggested I learn how to stop worrying about sleep, that my sleep finally started improving.
What can you do about sleep worry?
If you do experience sleep worry there are some strategies that you can use to break this cycle and form a healthy relationship with sleep, including:
- Change your thought patterns and actions around sleep.
- Come up with strategies to quiet your mind.
- Stop consciously ‘trying’ to fall asleep.
- Reduce physical tension.
Change your thought patterns and actions around sleep worry.
Try changing your thoughts and actions about sleep from being negative to being positive.
During the Day/Right Before bed:
- When you wake up after a poor night’s sleep don’t dwell on how badly you slept, this only increases worry and stress and may affect your sleep the next night. Instead, focus on all the good things your day ahead will bring. To combat any fatigue, keep moving, chat to someone and drink plenty of water. Also, limit caffeine and sugar as they interfere with sleep and increase anxiety.
- Accepting that it’s normal to sometimes have a bad night’s sleep and letting go of any sleep worry may help settle an anxious mind. Writing down your thoughts around sleep worry helps to let them go.
- Instead of worrying about sleep in the hours leading up to bed, plan to do something fun or relaxing. e.g. listen to a meditation, progressive relaxation/breathing track, or a bedtime story podcast/App, such as Get Sleepy or Calm Sleep Stories, and drift off to sleep to the sounds of whatever accent floats your boat. Check out my blog on How To Manage Stress for more relaxation tips.
- As your bedtime approaches prepare your body for sleep. Make a pot of nice relaxing tea, read a book, do some meditation, have a hot bath/shower. Now all you can do now is accept that the rest is up to your body.
- Another technique is to change your thoughts away from sleeping better being the answer to your problem to making your goal about something else. E.g. instead of ‘Tonight I want to sleep for 7hrs and not wake up so I’ll have more energy’ Try ‘I want to have more energy and ways I can do this is to exercise more, eat better, start doing mindfulness/meditation’.
When You Can’t Sleep:
- Remind yourself that it’s normal once in a while to have a bad night’s sleep.
- Acknowledge that you know you will be ok even if you don’t get a good night’s sleep as you know what to do if this happens. Keep moving, chat to someone, drink plenty of water, eat healthy, including healthy snacks.
- Don’t focus on ‘trying’ to fall asleep as this may affect your ability to fall asleep. Instead, accept that you may not sleep well tonight and that’s ok.
- Remind yourself not to worry about not sleeping as this only increases the risk of not sleeping. Again you can write down your worries. Writing down your worries can help you to figure out which ones are what-if/hypothetical worries versus worries that require attention. You can then choose to let go of the what-if worries and to action the others at a more appropriate time.
- Don’t focus on how many hours of sleep you might get.
- You’ve slept badly before and coped.
- Instead of worrying do something relaxing, this is still restorative to the mind and body. Meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, bedtime story podcasts. When doing any relaxation techniques remember that it is normal for the mind to wander and to always be kind to yourself if you find these techniques hard when first learning them.
- Instead of thinking negative thoughts, reflect on the things in your life that are good and what you are grateful for.
In summary, your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours all work together to maintain insomnia. Breaking these patterns can be used to break your Sleep-Worry cycle. Changing your thought patterns allows you to control the situation and stops your thoughts from going into overdrive. If you are reluctant to give this a go, challenge yourself to try it out for one week and see how you go, what can you lose? It’s only one week and you might find you benefit from making a few changes to your thoughts.
Sick of worry affecting your sleep?
If you’d like more help and guidance in breaking your Sleep-Worry cycle, I offer naturopathic consultations, including nutritional and herbal supplements, diet, and lifestyle advice.
It is common for people with insomnia to experience low mood and anxiety. If you feel that you may be experiencing clinical depression or anxiety, then it is important to seek medical help.
Keep an eye out for future blogs where I’ll talk more about strategies to quiet your mind, how to stop consciously ‘trying’ to fall asleep, and ways to reduce physical tension.