There are many different factors that can come into play when someone has issues with sleep. Mental and physical health, stress and many other problems can contribute to difficulty falling and staying asleep. In some cases, sleep problems may be caused by issues with fear and anxiety that may be causing a person to stay awake.
When someone feels fearful it activates a physiological response which increases adrenaline levels and puts the body on high alert. People with anxiety, general fears or a specific issue such as being afraid of the dark can find it both physical and mentally difficult to sleep. Their mental state can affect the body, resulting in insomnia or restless sleep that is not restorative.
People with issues like anxiety or bipolar disorder frequently have sleep issues because they may have irrational fears or racing thoughts that interfere with their natural sleep cycle. Mental health issues and sleep issues are often closely related as they both influence one another. Lack of sleep can increase anxiety and fear, leading to a vicious cycle.
How Fear and Sleep Problems are Related
Feelings of fear naturally activate the body’s fight or flight response called the sympathetic nervous system. This response increases certain chemicals in the body such as adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin and histamine which are all neurotransmitters associated with alertness. When the levels of these chemicals are high it can be much more challenging for someone to fall asleep or sleep through the whole night without waking.
Fear causes the brain and body to react in a way that will protect us from any potential danger. If there were a true threat present we would want our mind to be alert and aware and our body to have enough energy to run or fight if necessary. Unfortunately our body can also react this way to fears that aren’t based on real threats.
A common cause of sleep issues can be a fear of the dark from childhood that is never fully resolved. Studies have shown that people who sleep poorly tend to become more anxious in the dark than people who sleep well. It is believed that some cases of insomnia may be related to an untreated phobia of the dark.
When this kind of fear causes alertness and hyperarousal the brain is more aware of things going on in the environment. The sleeper may be woken much more easily or find it hard to go back to sleep after they have been woken up. More active and energetic muscles can also lead to nightmares and fitful sleep.
Resolving Fear and Sleep Disturbances
It is important for people with mental health issues like anxiety to improve both the symptoms of their disorder and get more restful sleep. The two problems can worsen one another if they are both left unresolved. Minimizing fear and anxiety as much as possible can help promote better sleep and getting 8 hours of sleep a night can be crucial for mental and physical health.
Coping with fear and addressing the causes of specific fears can help make it easier for the mind and body to become more relaxed and less alert during sleep. Many of the things that we worry about or are afraid of are not real threats and are simply our mind creating irrational anxieties. Recognizing fears for what they are and getting a more positive perspective can help you to overcome fear.
Talking to a therapist or getting treatment for specific fears can be helpful in promoting better sleeping habits. If you have a fear of the dark then discussing that in therapy and attempting to understand the underlying cause can allow you to confront the fear. Discussing your anxious thoughts out loud can help you realize how unfounded and irrational they are.
Another helpful technique in improving sleep problems is to try relaxation strategies before going to bed. For people that are tense, stressed out and afraid it can be difficult for them to get into a sleepy state. Relaxation tools like meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness can all help bring about a more relaxed and less alert state of being.
For people with very serious insomnia, medication may be helpful as a temporary solution while they are working in therapy to minimize their anxiety. Sleeping medication can be dangerous to use long term as it can become very addictive. Make sure to consult your physician about the use of any medication for sleep issues.
Even though fear can make it challenging to get enough sleep, there are many options to help make it easier to get the rest that your body needs. If you have any mental health issues affecting your sleep then seek treatment today to improve both your sleep issues and any other related symptoms.