What Is Sleep Anxiety and Why Does It Happen? Understanding and Managing Your Symptoms

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What Is Sleep Anxiety and Why Does It Happen? Understanding and Managing Your Symptoms

by Eric Delloye — Posted in Luminette

Do you find yourself dreading bedtime, feeling restless and anxious as the night approaches? You might be experiencing sleep anxiety, a fear of falling asleep and staying asleep.

Sleep anxiety can lead to poor sleep quality with potential long-term consequences like mental health issues, physical health challenges, compounded anxiety, low energy during the day, poor work output, and more.

In this article, we discuss sleep anxiety, its causes and symptoms, and how it affects well-being. We'll also explore how you can manage it effectively.

Understanding somniphobia

Somniphobia is a phobia describing a person’s chronic fear of falling asleep and staying asleep. Like most phobias, someone with somniphobia will experience one or more of these symptoms as the time nears their bedtime or while in bed, tossing and turning:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Trembling
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath


Another prominent symptom of somniphobia is that the patient has a strong desire to avoid sleep at all costs, to the detriment of their health.

What causes somniphobia?

The root cause of most phobias is unclear, and the same applies to somniphobia, making them inherently hard to diagnose.

That said, somniphobia may be a symptom of other issues. For example, someone with nightmare disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will likely want to avoid sleep at all costs, not to experience nightmares that make them relive their traumatic experiences.

Additionally, sleep makes certain people feel vulnerable. So, there’s also the fear of getting attacked or succumbing to life-threatening health challenges.

Isolated sleep paralysis is also a potential risk factor for somniphobia. Isolated sleep paralysis is a condition whereby individuals cannot temporarily move when waking up despite being aware of their surroundings. Such episodes can also add to an individual’s fear and nervousness around sleep.

How do you know you have somniphobia?

As mentioned earlier, phobias are complex and challenging to diagnose. However, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) describes seven criteria for diagnosing phobias, including somniphobia. The highlights of the criteria include:

  • Considerable fear or anxiety related to the phobia, in this case, sleep
  • The fear and anxiety at night last for an extended period, exceeding six months
  • The individuals actively try to avoid the phobia
  • The phobia causes significant distress and impairs the person’s quality of life
  • There are no other reasonable explanations, like being diagnosed with mental disorders like social anxiety disorder

Is somniphobia treatable?

There’s no treatment prescribed explicitly for treating somniphobia. Mental health professionals will usually explore a combination of different behavioural therapies and medications to manage sleep anxiety and somniphobia.

Common methods include exposure therapy, eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

In terms of medication, drugs that help reduce anxiety or fear, like benzodiazepines, are often prescribed. Beta-blockers are another example of drugs health professionals may prescribe for someone who has somniphobia.

Causes of sleep anxiety

You’re probably here because you’re searching for answers to your “Why do I get anxiety at night?” question. Sleep anxiety can stem from a variety of issues, including psychological, environmental, and physical factors.

From the stress of daily life to the distractions of our modern world, each piece plays a role in keeping you up at night. We explore these factors below.

Chronic stress and lingering emotional baggage

Stress, whether from work, relationships, or other life circumstances, can trigger night time anxiety, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.

You’re heading to bed and suddenly remember that rent is due, and you don’t yet have the full amount. Or you remember the important deliverable at work that you’re yet to resolve despite the deadline looming.

And just like that, your body activates its stress response mechanism, including releasing hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. The presence of these hormones signals the brain to stay alert, making it harder to fall asleep.

Additionally, unresolved feelings such as anger, sadness, or worry can manifest as anxiety when trying to sleep, leading to racing thoughts and restlessness.

Per a study on the linkages between emotion and sleep, researchers found that “the higher the score of anger and the lower the score of control, the higher was the sleep-onset latency,” a term that describes how long it takes a person to fall asleep.


Sometimes, sleep anxiety may start moderately and inconsistently. However, repeated sleep anxiety can spiral out of control.

For example, as sleep anxiety becomes a nightly routine, you may start to worry about your inability to sleep, thus creating a vicious cycle where anxiety about sleeping begets more anxiety, further disrupting sleep.

The thoughts of the potential consequences of sleep deprivation, such as decreased performance at work or impaired cognitive function, mainly trigger anxiety. All of this can aggravate anxiety surrounding sleep, especially for those with high anxiety sensitivity.

According to research, individuals with high anxiety sensitivity pay more attention to anxiety symptoms and interpret them as dangerous or catastrophic, leading to reactions like panic attacks and waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night.

Excessive blue light exposure, coffee consumption, and other disturbances

Blue light exposure from phones and computers before or while in bed can disrupt the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, making it harder to shift from wakefulness to sleep naturally.

The body secretes melatonin at bedtime to signal all organs that it’s time to sleep. Exposure to light from screens delays when your body produces melatonin and, thus, when you fall asleep.

Stimulants like caffeine, especially close to bedtime, can impede your body's ability to relax and fall asleep. Research shows that taking coffee six hours before bedtime can still affect your sleep.

Excessive blue light exposure

Noise, light, temperature, and other factors like mattress and bedding within your surroundings can also disrupt sleep and contribute to anxiety surrounding sleep. Multiple studies have proven this to be true.

Health conditions

Mental and physical health conditions can all contribute to sleep anxiety. Individuals suffering from any of the anxiety disorders are particularly prone. Moreover, anxiety and sleep disorders are closely intertwined.

Examples of anxiety disorders that lead to sleep difficulties include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), PTSD, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For example, GAD significantly affects sleep initiation.

Chronic pain, respiratory disorders like sleep apnea, sleep disorders like chronic sleep problems, and neurological conditions can also interfere with sleep and exacerbate anxiety. As many as up to 86% of patients with chronic pain suffer different kinds of sleep disturbances, which may ultimately lead to sleep anxiety.

Environmental conditions

A chaotic or stressful home environment can make it difficult to relax and unwind before bed, contributing to sleep anxiety. An example of a stressful environment is a place that reminds you of past traumatic events.

Similarly, your bedroom can become a stressful environment when you do activities like work or scroll through social media while in bed. Job-related stress can spill over into bedtime, making it challenging to switch off and fall asleep. This is especially true for remote workers.

Think about it for a minute: while scrolling through social media, there’s a high chance that you’ll encounter something exciting, scary, or stressful. Exciting content stimulates the brain and keeps you awake.

Scary content can fuel your anxiety, making you scared of sleeping and stressful content, as we said earlier, can trigger reactions that prolong sleep onset.

Modern life pressures

There’s an expectation in the modern world where you’re expected to be constantly available.

Certain work dynamics demand more than the traditional 40-hour week, and working in a company with such a culture can pressurise you to stay connected even at the expense of your sleep, perpetuating sleep anxiety.

Even social media platforms are optimised to keep you perpetually online, from “For you” tabs to algorithms that curate content related to your interests.

All these make it challenging to establish boundaries between everything craving your attention, leading to increased stress and anxiety, especially when trying to wind down for sleep.

Effective strategies to reduce sleep anxiety

Reducing sleep anxiety involves different interventions, like lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques, and a conducive sleep environment.

Here are some effective strategies:

Practise relaxation techniques

Relaxation methods can help reduce and manage stress. Practising these techniques before bed can relax both body and mind, allowing you to fall asleep quicker.

Some of the methods you can adopt to overcome sleep anxiety include:

  • Deep breathing: This relaxation technique involves taking slow, deep breaths, which activates the body’s natural relaxation response. Ensure you inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
  • Mindfulness meditation or guided imagery: This technique helps you focus on the present moment or calming imagery and alleviates racing thoughts. You’ll need a quiet environment to optimise your gain from this exercise.

Make your bedroom a sleep-friendly space

Designing an ideal bedroom for sleep involves optimising your bedroom to promote relaxation and restful sleep.

Depending on where you stay and when the sun sets, you may need to install blackout curtains or blinds to block out light from street lamps or sunlight. If ambient light is unavoidable, consider using an eye mask.

Also, minimise noise disruptions. If you can’t help the noise levels, maybe you’re staying in a hostel, you can use earplugs. We also recommend investing in a supportive mattress and pillows that suit your sleeping preferences.

Lastly, keep the room cool. According to the experts, the ideal room temperature for the bedroom is 65 degrees Fahrenheit or 18.3 degrees Celsius.

Use light therapy devices like the Luminette

The Luminette light therapy glasses produce light that extracts the same response from the body as sunlight exposure. This light has many benefits for your circadian rhythm and sleep pattern.

The circadian rhythm regulates our sleep pattern using the sun’s rising and setting. For an optimal circadian rhythm, you need regular, daily exposure to sunlight.

When the sun sets, your circadian rhythm facilitates melatonin secretion around two hours before bedtime, triggering an increase of the hormone in the blood. Higher melatonin is essential for transitioning from wakefulness to the sleep state.

light therapy devices like the Luminette

Lack of regular sunlight exposure can throw your circadian rhythm out of sync. An out-of-sync circadian rhythm affects your energy levels during the day and your ability to fall asleep at night.

Research shows that using Luminette light therapy glass leads to “significant improvements in the experimental group with respect to the delay of sleep onset, the quality, and the daytime sleepiness.”

Embrace good sleep hygiene

If you’re wondering how to get rid of bad anxiety at night, then an excellent place to start is making some lifestyle changes.

Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as having a fixed sleep-wake schedule and nighttime rituals, can help reduce sleep anxiety and help you rest better without needing to take sleep medicine.

You can embed your adopted relaxation technique into your sleep routine to turn it into a habit.

Other helpful tips for reducing sleep anxiety include:

  • Practice time management: Break tasks into manageable chunks and do them based on their priority to reduce feeling overwhelmed and prevent late-night worrying about unfinished work.
  • Set boundaries: Establish boundaries with work or personal obligations to prevent them from encroaching on your sleep time. Learn to say no to commitments that can wait until the next day. Setting boundaries includes avoiding electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, or computers at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Avoid stimulants like coffee and alcohol many hours before bedtime.
  • Limit naps to less than 1 hour and avoid them once it’s 3:00 PM.
  • Avoid large, heavy meals and excessive fluid intake close to bedtime to prevent discomfort and disruptive nighttime awakenings to urinate.
  • Try to get at least 30 minutes of sunlight daily.

Takeaway: Sleep anxiety is disruptive but manageable

Understanding and managing sleep anxiety involves recognizing its various triggers, from stress and unresolved feelings to environmental factors like blue light exposure and noisy surroundings.

By adopting relaxation techniques, using the Luminette light glasses, creating a sleep-conducive environment, and practising good sleep hygiene, you can reduce sleep anxiety and improve the quality of your night’s rest.

Seeking professional help is essential if sleep anxiety begins to significantly impact your daily life and well-being.

Check out our Luminette light glasses to begin a journey of reduced sleep anxiety and high-quality sleep.


What is sleep anxiety?

Sleep anxiety refers to feelings of stress, worry, or fear that interfere with a person's ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get restful sleep. It can manifest as difficulty falling asleep, racing thoughts at bedtime, waking up frequently, or experiencing restless sleep.

How do I stop sleep anxiety?

You can stop or reduce sleep anxiety by addressing the underlying stressors or treating the mental or physical health concerns causing it. Examples of underlying stressors might be changing jobs if your current job is the reason for your condition.

Adopting healthy sleep habits and learning relaxation techniques are other methods to reduce sleep anxiety.

More importantly, it’s vital to seek professional help if your sleep anxiety is beginning to impact your quality of life, including but not limited to your health and output at work.

What triggers anxiety during sleep?

Many factors can cause the anxiety you feel before or during sleep. Stress and worries play a significant role. Other things that can cause sleep anxiety include:

Lifestyle habits: Too much screen time, drinking lots of caffeine, or not having a regular sleep routine can make it hard to transition from being awake to feeling sleepy.

Health problems: Chronic pain, trouble breathing, or certain brain conditions can also make you anxious at night.

Mental health issues: If you have anxiety or if you've been through something traumatic, it can affect your sleep.

If you often wake up feeling anxious at night, talking to a doctor can help determine why.