Have you ever laid in bed, wide awake, worrying about the fact that if you don’t fall asleep soon, you won’t get enough sleep to feel your best the next morning? Or maybe you’ve gotten home from a late night, completely exhausted—but then aren’t able to fall asleep because you’re anxious about how your late night is going to make you feel the next day?
If those situations sound familiar, you’re not alone. But the truth is, worrying about not getting enough sleep isn’t going to help you fall asleep any faster—and can actually make it harder to get the rest your body needs.
But why, exactly, does worrying about sleep keep you up at night, and how can you shift your mindset to get better sleep, even if you find yourself awake in the middle of the night?
Why does worrying about sleep make it harder to fall asleep?
Getting high-quality sleep—and getting it consistently—is important. But the truth is, some nights, you’re just not going to get that restful 8 hours your body craves. Maybe you’re up with a fussy newborn. Maybe you have to pull a late night for school or your job. Or maybe your mind just doesn’t want to shut down and drift off to dreamland.
But worrying about the fact that you’re not going to get enough sleep isn’t going to make things any better; in fact, it’s likely to make things worse.
“Worrying about whether you’ll get enough quality sleep raises your stress levels—and stress is one of the top reasons people experience insomnia,” says Dr. Chelsie Rohrscheib, neuroscientist and head sleep expert at Wesper. “Stressing about sleep causes an overactive mind and racing thoughts. When we’re unable to relax and clear our minds, our brain can’t reduce activity levels enough to enter into the first stage of sleep.”
Worrying about sleep—and the stress that comes along with it—can also cause physiological changes that can make it harder to sleep.
“Stress also raises the stress hormone cortisol, and cortisol is extremely energizing and wake-promoting, which is not conducive to getting quality sleep,” says Rohrscheib.
And the more you worry about sleep, the more likely it is to continue to wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. One study, which tracked the sleep habits of 1800 people over the course of 18 months, found that people who reported insomnia at the beginning of the study were more likely to also report insomnia at the end of the study when they worried about their sleep.
The mindset shift you need for better sleep
Luckily, there’s a simple mindset shift you can make that will help you get more high-quality sleep overall—and that’s accepting that you’re not going to get high-quality sleep every night.
“We teach chronic insomniacs to accept that some nights will be better than others and accept that in some situations there isn’t a lot you can do to achieve a better night of sleep,” says Rohrscheib. “Interestingly, helping people accept that they may not get the best sleep has the positive benefit at reducing their ruminating about their potential sleep loss—and actually helps them to fall asleep faster.”
If you find yourself facing a night where sleep just isn’t happening, instead of sitting awake and worrying about it, accept it. And if you feel like you need to do something, try transferring that “worry energy” into an activity that might actually help you fall asleep, like deep breathing.
“[Try] techniques to reduce the activity in the stress centers of your brain,” says Rohrscheib. “This might include nightly meditation, deep breathing exercises, or visualization exercises. Not only will this help bring your nervous system out of fight-or-flight mode, but it will also help you redirect your thoughts away from your sleep anxiety.”
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