Sleep is a significant part of our everyday lives. Not being able to sleep can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and even depression, resulting in even more difficulty sleeping.
This sleep anxiety cycle contributes to many individuals’ long-term insomnia symptoms. Negative emotions surrounding one’s ability to sleep can make sleep a challenging, scary process that only worsens insomnia.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) is an effective solution for individuals experiencing insomnia and the sleep anxiety cycle. Read on to learn more about this vicious cycle and how CBTI can stop it in its tracks.
What Is Sleep Anxiety?
Sleep anxiety—also known as sleep phobia or somniphobia—denotes anxiety over going to sleep. While sleep anxiety can have numerous psychological causes, such as fear of something bad happening while one is asleep or dread of experiencing nightmares, many insomniacs experience sleep anxiety simply because they cannot fall asleep.
Insomnia is a frustrating disorder. If you have been unable to fall asleep or get no sleep several nights in a row, going to bed may induce feelings of anxiety or worry. What if you can’t fall asleep tonight, either, and you’re tired tomorrow at the office? What if being tired leads you to make a work error?
Falling asleep is a physiological process that involves slowing your breathing, lowering your heart rate, reducing auditory and visual stimuli, cooling your body temperature, and relaxing your mind. However, anxiety produces the opposite symptoms, such as:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath or fast breathing
- Racing thoughts
As you can probably tell, anxiety and sleep do not mix well. Sleep anxiety is a major component of insomnia and leaving this thought process unchecked could prevent you from sleeping well each night.
The Sleep Anxiety Cycle
The sleep anxiety cycle is a thought spiral in which being unable to sleep produces feelings of anxiety. Those feelings of anxiety prevent you from sleeping, which leads to more stress. If you have insomnia—or just have trouble sleeping now and then—you have probably experienced this cycle in the short term.
Attempting to ignore these anxious feelings and fall asleep anyway is not the most effective way to reduce insomnia symptoms. Instead, we recommend trying a treatment such as CBTI to combat your sleep anxiety cycle.
How Does CBTI Combat the Sleep Anxiety Cycle?
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) is an evidence-based therapeutic approach to relieve insomnia symptoms. This therapy focuses on altering your thought processes and behaviors before sleep and analyzing the relationship between these two factors.
CBT for insomnia uses several approaches that stop the sleep anxiety cycle in its tracks, leading to a faster sleep process and more restful sleep overall. The primary ways CBTI combats this cycle are through psychoeducation, stimulus control, and sleep restriction.
Psychoeducation is the process of analyzing how your thoughts, behaviors, and sleep impact one another and then taking action to correct any negative associations between these processes. One psychoeducation technique CBTI practitioners use involves keeping a sleep diary.
A sleep diary is a notebook that you keep next to your bed to record the thoughts you experience before bed and any activities, such as watching TV, scrolling through your phone, or eating, in which you engage before attempting to sleep. Sleep diaries are also suitable places to record what actions relieve your sleep anxiety and what behaviors worsen it.
Keeping a sleep diary is an effective way to monitor your pre-sleep habits and find correlations between your thoughts, actions, and inability to sleep. Simply writing down your thoughts can alleviate your anxiety and help you regain control of your sleep routine.
Stimulus control is a behavioral intervention CBTI practitioners use with their clients. Many people bring external stimuli, such as smartphones, TVs, tablets, and food, into the bedroom. These stimuli can impact their ability to fall asleep without them knowing it—leading to sleep anxiety.
Other times, the bedroom itself acts as a negative stimulus for people experiencing insomnia. Sleep anxiety can lead individuals to associate adverse emotions with their beds and bedrooms, to the point where simply stepping into the bedroom at night can produce these feelings.
Stimulus control focuses on changing these negative associations to reduce sleep anxiety and promote healthy sleep patterns. CBTI practitioners may encourage clients to only lay in bed awake for a maximum number of minutes.
Controlling the stimuli involved with your sleep cycle can help you gain autonomy over your sleep habits, reducing your symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.
Lying in bed awake, unable to sleep, can produce feelings of anxiety and restlessness that only worsen your insomnia. Sleep restriction is another CBTI behavioral intervention that focuses on changing and correcting your actions surrounding your sleep routine.
Sleep restriction limits the time you spend in bed to reestablish a healthy, regular sleep schedule and sleep debt. To begin this intervention, you will calculate the amount of time you spend sleeping on a typical night, then adjust your bedtime as directed by your sleep coach.
The sleep restriction intervention limits the amount of time you lay in bed unable to sleep, reducing your sleep anxiety in the process.
CBTI Through Somly
If you’re interested in trying CBTI treatment to combat your sleep anxiety and insomnia, we can help. At Somly, we offer proven online CBTI treatments that have helped numerous individuals reduce their insomnia symptoms. Sign up for a consultation today to learn more about how CBTI through Somly can combat your sleep anxiety cycle.