Do you have sleep anxiety? How to curb a very toxic condition

FREE course reveals 15 secrets to help eliminate sleep anxiety

Before we dive into sleep anxiety, I wanted you to know that you’ll find a link to 15 powerful strategies to help beat sleep anxiety at the bottom of this page. You’ll also find these strategies helpful if anxiety is interfering with you getting to sleep, and when disturbances to your sleep increase your anxiety levels. Not only that, they can also help you feel happier and more optimistic. You’ll find a link to this FREE course at the bottom of this article. Because let’s face it, who doesn’t want to eliminate sleep anxiety and start waking up refreshed?

Sleep anxiety

But now, let’s talk about sleep anxiety. It’s enough to drive you to tears.

A dark bedroom with reading lamp and radio alarm clock on the bedside table

I jolted awake to the strident sound of Kesha exhorting me to dance on Radio One. With my heart pounding and pyjamas dank from the night sweats that had roused me from sleep several hours earlier, I struggled for a second to get my bearings.

I rubbed my eyes to try to clear them a little, then peered blearily at the radio alarm to check the time, before extending an arm out from beneath my warm, silky duvet to hit snooze for the first time.

Arm poking out from under the duvet in bed of a person with sleep anxiety

It was 05:45. All was most definitely not well.

Radio alarm clock in a dark bedroom

Dancing was the last thing on my mind. What I needed was more sleep.

Heavy curtains with blackout linings prevented all but the faintest chink of light from the orange streetlight outside my window from illuminating my bedroom. Barely enough to make out the shape of my bedside table with the pile of books littered on it vying for space with the radio alarm clock. Nevertheless, I pulled the duvet right up over my head and rolled over. Was it an effort to shut the world out, rather than to exclude any more light? Pretend I had plenty of time before my alarm went off again in 9 minutes?

I experienced these symptoms when exhausted

Exhausted woman sleeping in work

It’s hard to explain how utterly exhausted I was… not just at that point but in general. Every day was a constant battle with fatigue. There were times I could have fallen asleep standing up or driving my car. In fact, rather than fall asleep at the wheel, it was becoming a pattern to pull my car in at the side of the road on my way home or to the hospital for a quick nap.

And the exhaustion made it so hard to think. Thinking felt like trying to swim through molasses. My brain was stuffed with cotton wool.

The effort it took to decipher the clues that helped me diagnose my patients and then formulate a plan to investigate them was gargantuan. Trying to coordinate my team and communicate what they needed to do became a huge undertaking. It felt like I couldn’t get out of first gear all day.

Not just that, my memory was suffering. It was like I had to reach deep inside to rummage around inside the clutter in my brain to pull out bits of information that I’d filed earlier. Even words didn’t always materialise unbiddenly.

Despite all this, I was still tired and wired. Try as I might, I couldn’t switch off or think about other things. It was impossible to rest. Insomnia and anxiety are common, but vexatious, bedfellows.

Chronic exhaustion and anxiety robbed me of my personality

Sleep anxiety making a woman despair

I no longer felt like myself. My confidence was obliterated, and I started to second guess everything. That just compounded my anxiety and eroded my self-esteem. I struggled to smile, joke, laugh and enjoy light-hearted banter.

So there I lay in bed with the beginnings of a headache starting to coalesce at the back of my skull. Disconsolate. Discombobulated. Nausea starting to gnaw at the pit of my stomach. Dreading my alarm going off again. Desperately but futilely trying to relax and get a few more minute’s rest. Worrying about the day ahead.

Have you ever been in the position where you’re exhausted but can’t sleep? I would have laughed at the irony if the joke hadn’t been on me.

I think I was just starting to doze off when the blasted alarm went off again.

This time it was Pharell Williams telling me to be happy. Don’t get me wrong; I love that song. But at that moment, I wanted to rip my alarm out of its socket and hurl the radio out the still-closed window. Naturally still bone-weary, I hit snooze for the second time.

By this stage, I was feeling nervous with an unpleasant buzzing, vibratory feeling in my feet and lower legs. Like someone was strumming an invisible, inaudible guitar attached to my soles. My stomach was churning and getting tied up in knots. The nausea was rising. Every morning the same disembodied sense of doom pervaded everything. Every night sleep-anxiety pilfered my dreams.

Anxiety is often worse in the morning, particularly after a bad night's sleep

So exhausted from work you fall asleep on the sofa

I couldn’t have explained why or what made me so horribly anxious early in the day. There was no way I was going to be able to get back over to sleep again now, but neither was I ready to arise and tackle the day head-on.

So I lay awake and pondered how I could possibly be so tired all the time, yet wake up 3 hours after falling asleep every single night. You could have set your clock by it. I could usually fall asleep ok, but then I’d come wide awake far too soon, dripping in sweat and yearning for more sleep, cursing the anxiety keeping me awake.

Listening to the traffic sounds outside, sometimes the deep rumble of a lorry lumbering down the street sounded more like an angry growl. Why’d it have to be so bloody loud? Didn’t they know people were trying to get some shut-eye?

I went to great lengths to deal with my anxiety and get some sleep

Full moon at night when you should be asleep

But ear-plugs didn’t solve my sleep problem.

Neither did: 

  • deep breathing, 
  • meditating, 
  • listening to stories, 
  • counting sheep, 
  • counting backwards from 1000 in sevens, 
  • reading,
  • blue-light blocking glasses, 
  • getting up and trying to do something mind-numbingly boring, 
  • self-hypnosis, 
  • eating more carbs in the evening, 
  • eating fewer carbs in the evening, or any of a number of things that I tried in desperation.

I could feel myself going mad. I was almost frantic to get more sleep. Then I’d catch myself worrying about being too weary to function the next day because of the inevitable sleep deprivation and double down on trying to relax away the anxiety.

Eventually, I could fall asleep again… but for no longer than 30-45 minute spells. Then I’d ping wide awake again and again and again, almost in a panic. Rinse and repeat all night.

This insomnia went on for years. Then just as my sleep was starting to improve, I had an MRI contrast with gadolinium and BAM! I hurtled straight back into anxiety and insomnia that was even worse than the sleep anxiety I had from burnout.

This is what anxiety insomnia is like for hypermobile people: It’s soul-destroying. Sleep anxiety is incapacitating. Sleep anxiety is torture.

Is there anything you can do about sleep anxiety?

It turns out there is. And I’ll tell you exactly what you can do to reclaim your sleep and sanity when inflicted by anxiety insomnia in my next post, all you need to know about how to deal with anxiety… If that’s not enough, you can learn what’s most frustrating about how exhaustion is too often mismanaged here.

But while you’re waiting, why not sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you that free course that I mentioned at the top of this article? As I said, it’s great for helping you destress and can help you sleep a bit better by reducing your tendency to ruminate. If you know you’re a self-critic, you’ll definitely want to sign up for it. It will change your outlook on self-criticism and will shield you from anxiety and stress. To sign up, simply scroll to the very bottom of the page and choose to sign up for my newsletter.

Burning dandelion clock signifying sleep anxiety

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