Is performance anxiety wrecking your sleep?
We all put pressure on ourselves to perform: at work, in the gym, at school, as a parent, and even at sleep.
We track our sleep like we track weights or steps, and get frustrated when we feel like we’re not smashing our targets. We worry about getting enough hours, how deeply we’re sleeping, and whether our slumber is interrupted.
It’s easy to feel like you’re all alone when you’re lying awake in the dark, but it’s a growing phenomenon in a world where we’re always expected to perform at our peak.
If this kind of worry sounds familiar, you might be dealing with sleep anxiety.
What is sleep anxiety?
Quality sleep is a cornerstone of your mental and physical health, and as our knowledge of sleep grows, so does our desire to get more of it, track it, and optimize it.
Sleep anxiety describes an obsessive worry about your sleeping habits centered around the fear that you won’t get enough to function at your best.
It’s normal to feel a little anxious if you wake up at 3 am the night before a big meeting, or you are dealing with insomnia. It becomes a problem when your anxiety starts keeping you up at night or causing you stress during the day.
Common sleep anxieties sound like:
“Why can’t I fall asleep quickly? What’s wrong with me?”
“My watch says I didn’t get enough REM sleep, so my workout is going to suck.”
“How will I be able to do my job tomorrow if I don’t get enough sleep tonight?”
“I got 30 minutes less than my optimal amount of sleep – today is going to be so stressful.”
The sleep anxiety spiral
Sleep is important, of course, but the problem is that worrying about it is likely to lead to worse sleep overall.
Anxiety about whether you’ll fall asleep (or you won’t get enough sleep, or enough deep sleep…) activates your stress response, which unfortunately makes it much harder to get to sleep.
So the harder you try to fall asleep, the less likely sleep becomes. Alanis Morissette might even call it ironic.
Is worry keeping you awake? Power Sleep with Chris Hemsworth has meditations to help you break the sleep anxiety spiral.
3 things to remember if you have sleep anxiety
If you’re prone to sleep anxiety, don’t despair. Try these tips to reset your attitude toward sleep.
1. Trust that your body knows how to sleep
If you’re the type who likes to be in control at all times, you’re gonna have to loosen your grip a little – because sleep is a bodily process that cannot be forced. If you are truly tired, there is nothing you can do to stay awake: your brain will take over and force sleep upon you.
The longer we’re awake, the more ‘sleep pressure’ builds up inside our bodies. This is why napping and sleeping in on weekends are not recommended if you have trouble sleeping well – they reduce sleep pressure.
2. Respect the sleep process (but be flexible)
Respecting the sleep process is all about setting up the right conditions for your body and mind to be able to switch off – things like avoiding caffeine before bed, setting a regular waking time, and using the mindfulness techniques you’ll find in our Power Sleep series.
Being flexible means knowing that even with the best sleep process in place, your body isn’t always going to be ready to power down at the exact same time every night. Accepting that you can’t control sleep, having patience, and accepting that sleep will come when it comes are all helpful elements of a flexible sleep mindset.
3. Remind yourself it’s not the end of the world
So you didn’t get enough sleep. That’s okay. You have survived when you were tired before, and you will again.
Next time you’re having a tough night and find yourself worrying about how you'll cope the next day, here are a few reminders you can use to ease your anxiety:
I’ll be able to cope tomorrow, no matter how much sleep I get.
I can take it easy if I’m tired.
I am thankful for this chance to do nothing but rest right now, even if I’m not sleeping.
Ironically, adopting this kind of non-judgmental and accepting attitude toward your insomnia might just be the thing that helps you to finally drift off…
Disclaimer: This content is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have experienced sleep issues for three months or more, are facing excessive drowsiness that causes safety concerns, frequently snore loudly, or have been observed having difficulty breathing during sleep, please seek qualified medical advice. For a list of registered healthcare providers worldwide specializing in behavioral sleep medicine, please visit The Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.
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