Sleep Anxiety

Over the past year I've had several bouts of sleep anxiety. When I lay down to try to get to bed I get so anxious about not being able to fall asleep that I end up spiraling in my head and the anxiety compounds and grows out of control. I can get very uncomfortable in situations I can't control, like when my kids are sick, and this feeling of helplessness is particularly difficult and sometimes scary for me. I’m a pretty cerebral person so my instinct is to use my thoughts to manage my feelings and sometimes that can backfire.

When I was building companies I'd frequently wake up in the middle of the night and obsess about a conversation I needed to have with a team member or a lingering issue I needed to address (like firing someone or providing tough feedback), or I'd just stew about a competitor’s feature release. The issues would range from trivial to existential. I'm somewhat used to the struggle to get back to bed and fortunately don’t grapple with it frequently, but having trouble falling asleep in the first place is a new and intimidating thing for me.

It started in March when I had to wake up at 4am one day for an international flight. Ironically, it was the night I finished reading Why We Sleep which probably put some artificial pressure on me. I was recovering from a cold and so concerned about making sure that I fell asleep so I'd be rested for my trip that I couldn't sleep at all. It was the first time I felt anxiety physically manifest in my body as an incessant tingling in my arms. Since then I’ve had a couple more instances of this, mostly catalyzed by a feeling of helplessness about an event in my life. 

While I’m extremely grateful this is a rare occurrence, I of course am concerned that it will happen with more frequency in the future. Sleep anxiety is really uncomfortable, and I have a great deal of empathy for people who struggle with sleep related issues. Perhaps an overreaction, I’ve started to research (ie completely fallen down the rabbit hole) CBT techniques to help. I’ve also cycled through various sleep products from the Eight Sleep mattress which we returned (I may try the ChiliPad since it seems less tactile and has a half-bed option), an Oura ring, and other smart sleep devices. I’ve found that the more things I buy for sleep and the more I focus on it, the more I feel pressure to perform. Oftentimes the obsession with the act has a counterproductive impact.

I’m going to play with a couple apps like Stellar Sleep and Sleep Reset to better understand how CBT is used for managing sleep anxiety. It makes me really happy that entrepreneurs have worked to help people with digital tools and education in this space. I'm somewhat surprised I haven't stumbled on a dedicated network for people to connect and share their sleep experiences and tips outside of Reddit.

Getting older is a weird thing. The problems I heard about when I was young and seemed like made-up adult issues gradually creep their way into life. I’m so appreciative that I made it 36 years without experiencing sleep anxiety, and I’m optimistic that tackling the issue will be a rewarding adventure. More than anything, I’m going to do my best to accept that sometimes things are very much out of my control and my world won’t collapse if I struggle to get to bed (or back to bed) on occasion. If anyone has any tips or recommended resources, please do send them my way.

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