6 Habits That Can Be Signs Of Undiagnosed Sleep Anxiety

by Carina Wolff

For some people, going to sleep happens as soon as they hit their head on the pillow. For others, it may take hours before they can doze off. Those with trouble falling asleep may struggle with relaxing each night, and some may even exhibit signs of sleep anxiety. Stress and nervousness before bed and other similar emotions may mean you have anxiety related to sleep, and pinpointing these issues can help you get to sleep earlier, as well as your overall mental state.

Sleep anxiety is a fear of sleep, being able to fall asleep, and being able to sleep through the night, which ends up interfering with sleep itself and can impact daily functioning.

"Sleep anxiety can be a vicious cycle, particularly for those with 'sleep-onset insomnia' (meaning those who have significant trouble falling asleep when they go to bed)," clinical psychologist Dr. Shamini Jain, tells Bustle. "For example, If you’re used to not being able to fall asleep when you go to bed, your mind may race with thoughts about not sleeping and all the things you have to do the next day, your body might get tense, and you may worry about not getting enough sleep. Paradoxically, all of these behaviors will make it more difficult for you to sleep."

Like other types of anxiety, sleep anxiety can be treated with therapy and other at-home techniques. If you suspect you may have sleep anxiety, it's best to see a medical professional. Here are six habits that can indicate you may have undiagnosed sleep anxiety.


You Stay Up Worrying About The Future


Excessive worry or rumination at night about events that may happen in the future is considered a sign of sleep anxiety. "For example, you may worry about finances or a work situation at night while laying on your pillow," clinical psychologist Dawn M. Raffa, Ph.D, tells Bustle. "Classic 'What if?' thoughts [...] may run repeatedly in your mind with no solution." You may also have worried thoughts that are in a loop about past events which you cannot change.


Your Heart Rate & Breathing Are Affected

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Sleep anxiety can cause an elevated heart rate and breathing that is short and erratic rather than calm and rhythmic, Dr. Raffa says. "Our heart rate increases when we have worry and anxiety because we are breathing improperly," she says. "When we are anxious, we are in a state of fight or flight, so our body is gearing up to be active rather than calming down to rest." Some people may even fear that they won't be able to breathe if they fall asleep, something common in those with sleep apnea, Dr. Jain says.


You Repeatedly Check The Clock

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Do you repeatedly check your phone, worrying about how late it's getting? This could be a sign of your sleep anxiety. "The more time passes, the more anxious you feel, and the more anxious you feel, the more difficult it is to fall asleep," psychologist Nicole Issa, Psy.D, tells Bustle. This can lead to worry about how late it is. "As you notice it getting later, you begin to panic because you can almost see the hours of available sleep disappearing," she says.


You Worry About Not Getting Enough Sleep


"This fear is at the core of sleep anxiety and drives a lot of the checking behaviors like monitoring the clock, which perpetuates difficulty sleeping and therefore sleep anxiety," Dr. Issa says. You may also worry you won't be able to function if you don't get enough sleep. "Individuals with sleep anxiety seem to have a fixed idea of how many hours of sleep they require in order to feel rested, wake up on time in the morning, and/or function during the day." she says.


You Worry About Getting Nightmares

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Those who are prone to having nightmares may find themselves fearing sleep itself and trying to avoid it. "Instead, they will stay up reading, watching TV, or will load up on caffeine so they aren’t tired," Dr. Issa says. "If you are having chronic nightmares, it is important to talk to a professional about them to treat what is causing the nightmares."


You Think About Sleep Throughout The Day

For those with sleep anxiety, stress over sleep extends beyond the night. "It is worthwhile noting that numerous studies of people with insomnia have shown that these people also tend to think about sleep a lot more than the average population, throughout the day," psychiatrist and sleep medicine doctor Alex Dimitriu, MD, tells Bustle. "Symptoms of sleep anxiety may include a preoccupation with sleep in the form of thinking about it throughout the day."

If you engage in these habits, you may have undiagnosed sleep anxiety. Consult with your doctor to figure out how you can relax at night and get rid of sleep-related stress.