Scared to Sleep
These strategies may help take the dread out of going to sleep.
Fears Related to Sleep Apnea
Still others are fretful about sleep because they have health conditions. People who have sleep apnea for example, sometimes fear that they’ll stop breathing in their sleep.
Harris says that fear is rare, but may occur when someone first learns that he or she has sleep apnea and is waiting for a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device to treat the condition.
“Once the apnea is under control, people sleep better knowing they’re not waking up multiple times a night,” Harris says.
So what can you do to eliminate the fear of sleep? Here’s what experts suggest:
Change Your Thinking.
Like many anxieties, dread of sleep is all about perspective. Rather than dwell on the negative effects of sleeplessness, remind yourself that it’s perfectly normal to have occasional bad nights and that occasional nighttime awakenings are to be expected.
If you’re anxious because you’re anticipating a disruption, tell yourself to expect it. “I knew an internist who was on call and couldn’t sleep because he was always expecting a call,” Edlund says. “I told him just to expect calls and not worry about it, and he slept much better after that.”
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene.
- Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
- Don’t eat or drink any caffeine in the four to five hours before bed.
- Resist the urge to nap.
- Avoid exercise two hours before bed.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
- Limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex.
If you can’t sleep, get up and do something boring. “Keep a boring book on your bed table,” Obolsky says.
Also, create a restful routine. Prime your body for bed by doing the doing the same things every night. A restful routine that involves a warm bath, listening to music, or deep breathing can be especially helpful if you have insomnia, Edlund says.
Consider Getting Medical Help.
If you have a sleep disorder that doesn’t let up, such as insomnia or chronic nightmares, talk to a sleep specialist.
Insomnia can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or sleep medications. Chronic nightmares may require imagery rehearsal therapy that involves rewriting and rehearsing a new version of the nightmare during the day. It can also be treated with various prescription medications. You should also talk to your doctor if you think you have sleep apnea or another condition that’s disrupting your sleep.
For Coulter, training for a marathon in 2008 provided a temporary break from the sleeplessness. She also gets some relief by taking a sleep medication, though she says it doesn’t always work. She is now considering seeing a sleep specialist and in the meantime, has started running again. “Running does help,” she says. “I think I shift my anxiety to doing a good run or doing well in a race.”