Sleep is something we all take for granted. We do it every night (more or less) and it seems to be as effortless as breathing. No one thinks about falling asleep, we just do it when our heads hit the pillows. Formed in a duvet burrito we can forget about everything and just dream and rest for a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone. Sleep anxiety is a problem that’s not spoken about very often, at least not to my knowledge. I didn’t even know it was a thing until it happened to me. And it appeared in my life in the sneakiest way and stole my sleep without me even realising it. Out of nowhere going to bed started to be the reason of my anxiety attacks and instead of dreaming in my sleep I was dreaming about falling asleep.
Sounds like a nightmare, right?
It all started after I struggled to fall asleep one night. Normally, I just wouldn’t care about it, I’d go about the next day as usual with occasional moaning how tired I was. Then at night, I’d make up for the lost sleep. But it didn’t happen again. And it worked like a domino effect. Because of not sleeping for two nights in a row, I began worrying that my body forgot how to sleep in general. I couldn’t sleep anymore because I thought too much about it.
The problem with sleep is that, well, you can’t think about it for it to happen. What should come effortless, created the biggest amount of stress and I literally became the biggest ball of exhaustion ever. It’s been about 4 months now and even though I still struggle with sleep, I’ve developed new habits and I can trick myself into falling asleep (at least most of the time).
Create a peaceful routine
I can be perfectly fine during the day, but as soon as the evening hits my anxiety kicks in. I start contemplating whether I’ll fall asleep, get enough sleep to not act like a zombie out of The Walking Dead the next day and just worry about everything in general. Creating a good routine in the evening makes me feel that little bit more peaceful and relaxed which in turn gives me hope that I’ll actually sleep. Not gonna lie, I’ve had to change it a couple of times as for whatever reason once I think it’s working, I stop sleeping so well, but the good news is there is more than one routine that works. It can be a relaxing bath, hot shower, face masks, reading a book, watching TV, listening to podcasts, sleep music… Whatever works for you. If you’re lucky, you may even trick your partner to give you a massage. Unless they’re as good at that as Monica, in that case keep them as far from your shoulders and back as possible.
Listen to your body
Literally. When you can’t sleep, your mind keeps shouting !!!NO SLEEP, WHY, YOU NEED TO SLEEP!!! and it can be difficult to focus on anything else. In normal conditions, I’d start making up scenarios in my head and I’d drift off. Now, it can be more challenging to do so as my brain wakes me up just to check if I’m asleep already. I find it really helpful to focus on something very physical. When I feel my anxiety is taking the better of me and I’m about to burst out in tears because it’s 3am and I need to be up by 6am, I try to find any sort of noise that could hold my attention. My broken clock doesn’t always tick so the only ‘noise’ available is the one made by my own body. It can be a heartbeat. Or my breathing. Anything that I can count which has some sort of rhythm to it. And it does help me calm down. The only minus of that would be that sometimes I can count up to 700 and still not sleep which becomes a stress in itself.
Learn to accept it
Easier said than done. It takes a while but once you feel calm(er) about not sleeping a lot, it makes a massive difference. Yes, you still feel anxious about going to bed and not falling asleep, but despite that your heart puts a little bit less pressure on you to GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Of course, there are days when I’m not fine with it at all, but I know that I’ve gone to work after completely sleepless nights and I survived. I’m not saying you will always be full of energy after getting barely any sleep, if any. But once you accept that it’s fine to go without full 8h sleep, then your nights will be more peaceful. And hey, a sleepless night means you have so much more time to read! Or binge-watch Netflix, both work perfectly well (think of all the Friends episodes you can fit in!).
Ask for help
Sleep anxiety is a mental health issue. Like every other mental health condition, it needs to be addressed with a specialist. Whether that is your GP, sleep specialist or psychologist – ask for help and don’t be ashamed. It may feel like you’re the only person experiencing problems with sleep, but trust me, there are more people with the same issue. And the sooner you get the help you need, the sooner you will be able to get back to your sleeping self!
The good news is – there is hope. Sleep anxiety a condition that you can learn to live with and it’s something you can fight with. Just because you have developed sleeping problems, it does not mean you will never sleep again. Despite that fact that it probably feels that way. There is a solution to this and I will not rest until I treat it and put it in the past.
We’re all in this together!
Until next time xx
What do you do when you can’t fall asleep?