Sleep Anxiety: Tips on How to Cope With Insomnia Worsened By Worry

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There’s one night, in particular, I remember most. It was my third night of zero sleep and the light was growing brighter in the living room — I had transitioned to the couch after tossing in bed for close to four hours. “Please,” I pleaded aloud. “Please, just fall asleep.” I was panicking, thinking I may never sleep again and that I’d end up in the hospital with delirium or drop dead from exhaustion on a city street. (Spoiler alert: neither happened.)

Insomnia can be an insidious, strange affliction, in that the more you care about its effects, the worse it gets. Though insomnia can be caused by a variety of issues, including physical and psychological factors, for many people a few sleepless nights can snowball into what’s referred to as sleep anxiety — wherein your worry about falling asleep feeds the cycle of diminished sleep. This cycle can feel impossible to break, especially for those of us who are already prone to other forms of anxiety and obsessive thinking. Sufferers usually grow more and more anxious as the night draws closer. Reigning in the anxiety usually means rejiggering how your mind thinks about sleep.

First, a few facts about types of insomnia. It can be acute (short-term) or chronic (usually defined as at least three times a week for at least three months), as well as onset- (have trouble falling asleep) or maintenance-based (have trouble staying asleep). It can be primary, in that it has no outside causes, or secondary, wherein it’s linked to periods of intense stress, mental illness, physical pain, sleep apnea, or a variety of other things. Speaking to a professional can be helpful in homing in on the root cause and can be especially important for those struggling with secondary insomnia caused by mental illness.


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