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Wide Awake and Worried: the Link Between Insomnia and Anxiety

wide awake and worried about insomnia and anxiety

Clinically reviewed by Katie Dobinson and Samantha Tang.

A large proportion of people who experience problems with sleep also experience problems with anxiety. In fact, research has shown that people living with insomnia are 17 times more likely to experience clinical levels anxiety than those without sleep difficulties.

We know that the processes that drive problems with anxiety are nearly identical to the processes that drive problems with sleep.

A key similarity between anxiety and sleep difficulties is the process of worry, whereby we think about the ‘what ifs’ of a situation and worst case scenarios. The focus of the worry in insomnia is about sleep and the possible impacts of poor sleep.  

feeling anxious about sleep and insomnia

Unfortunately, the more we worry about sleep, the more awake our mind and body becomes, making it even harder to sleep.

It’s like a tug of war with insomnia. When you can’t sleep, you tug harder, but that makes insomnia tug right back. 

the tug of war between insomnia and anxiety

Certain things we do to try and fall asleep – such as staying in bed, scrolling our phones and taking daytime naps – can also cause the insomnia to tug harder by making us feel more awake at night. 

the_CBT cycle of anxiety and insomnia

Loss of sleep can impact our lives in many ways. It affects our decision-making and makes us more vulnerable to experiencing difficult emotions, such as anxiety. Sleep deprivation has also been found to impact how we perceive things, making us more likely to view certain situations as dangerous or threatening compared to when we have slept well.

Sleep is essential to our overall wellbeing, and improving the quality of our sleep can often help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and low mood.   

You can learn to overcome difficulties with sleep with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT helps you to identify and shift unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that are getting in the way of your sleep.  

A little known fact is that CBT is the ‘gold standard’ treatment for insomnia, meaning it has the strongest evidence-base for effectively treating insomnia. Whilst sleeping pills are often used as a ‘quick fix’ for insomnia, they may not help to treat its underlying cause. In contrast, CBT can help to achieve lasting changes that lead to many good nights of sleep ahead.

Our evidence-based Insomnia Program uses CBT to teach you proven strategies for tackling common sleep problems.

You’re dreaming! Simple ways to overcome sleep worries

Below are some of the key treatment strategies that can reduce worry about sleep and have you feeling rested and restored: 

  1. Keep a Sleep Diary – A Sleep Diary involves keeping track of your sleep, to better understand what might be getting in the way of a good nights’ sleep. Each morning, take note of important information about the previous nights’ sleep, which you can later use to help you improve your sleep habits. You can access a free Sleep Diary through the Insomnia Program.  
  2. Quieten your mind with ‘Worry Time’ – If you tend to worry about the day’s events when your head hits the pillow, creating a dedicated ‘worry time’ will help to quieten your mind. ‘Worry Time’ involves designating a specific 10 minutes of your day to focus on any worries you have. If worries arise outside of this time, you can postpone the worry until ‘Worry Time’, and allow yourself to refocus your attention.  
  3. Create ‘Bed Boundaries’ – It’s important to associate your bed with feeling tired, and sleep, rather than with worrying. If you find yourself lying in bed worrying about sleep, try getting out of bed and engaging in a relaxing activity (e.g., reading), returning to bed only once you feel sleepy. 
  4. Creating a Wind-Down Routine – It’s important to engage in relaxing activities that are not activating before bed time. This helps the body to relax and know that it’s time for rest. This might mean reading, having a shower, stretching, having a warm drink, or otherwise.  

Learn more helpful tips, tools and strategies to help you sleep better and feel less anxious by enrolling into our FREE Insomnia Program.

If you’re not sure if this is the right program for you – try our free, anonymous Take-a-Test Tool for program recommendations based on how you’re feeling.

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