Anxiety And Sleep: Examining Three Common Themes Surrounding Fear Of Not Sleeping
Many people dealing with anxiety disorders experience problems sleeping from time to time. Many anxious people also wind up stuck in mental loops where they obsess about sleep and worry excessively about not sleeping and not sleeping “properly”. This can result in a few common themes that revolve around disastrous feared outcomes associated with sleep or sleep disturbances.
“If I don’t sleep enough, I can’t heal and will never get better!”
This is a common fear that surfaces when the fear of never getting better and sleep disturbances get glued together. The glue that sticks them together is a mixture of fear, magnification, and distortion. An anxious brain will start from the premise that they may never recover, then add the idea that sleep is an important part of human function, and wind up drawing a heavily distorted catastrophic conclusion that sleep problems will doom them to a life of horrible anxiety forever. An anxious brain will take the idea that humans need to sleep (which we do), run it through a grinder of frantic fear, and extrapolate catastrophic conclusion.
Is sleep important? It is. But it is also naturally variable in a human life so transient sleep disturbances do not automatically equal lifelong chronic impairment and an inability to recover.
“If I don’t sleep enough, I will seriously harm my body and get very sick or die!”
This fear is a variant of the first and often comes alongside it. This fear is also related to the fear that anxiety is harming your body to the point where you will develop an illness or serious health condition. An anxious brain will read an article on a website that links sleeps to either health benefits or health problems, interpret that article as completely true and accurate without question, then work extra hard to draw a conclusion about what the article means in relation to the thing they current fear – not sleeping. The end result is a fear driven distortion that draws a direct line between current sleep issues and certain health problems in the future.
Again, we see the power of distortion at play when suggestions become facts and risk becomes a certain outcome.
Yes, sleep is important. We do not deny that. But not sleeping well for a while does NOT automatically mean that you will get cancer, heart disease, dementia, or any other major illness.
“If I don’t sleep enough, my anxiety will go through the roof!”
This is really just another expression of the one fear. You fear how you feel and what you think. Not sleeping enough means you will be tired. That’s not news. Tired people feed different. They feel bad. That’s also not news. Now connect the fear of how you feel to how it feels when you are tired. What does this tell us? Does a lack of sleep make you anxious and afraid? Or does a lack of sleep make you tired and does your anxious state cause you to declare that state to be a nightmare. Look at all the tired people around you. How do they interpret that fatigue? How do you interpret it?
It’s important to be objective in these situations. Anxious people run the risk of “collecting triggers” over time because they will assert that more and more things make them anxious. In reality, the anxious fearful state is almost always a function of “feeling”. Since life makes us feel all kinds of different ways – including tired – we mistakenly start to think that things like insufficient sleep, alcohol, coffee, and weather make us anxious. In reality, they make us feel, and anxious people HATE feeling.
Special shout out to Oisin O’Malley for inspiring the “Eddie” bits in this episode.
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Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)
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