Can't Sleep from Worrying?

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

We've probably all experienced times when our sleep is disrupted. If this happens occasionally then no real harm is done and we quickly make up the deficit. Worry, however can intrude on sleep night after night and this disrupts our sleep pattern and can ultimately have health implications.

Two types of worrying affect sleep. The first are things that we've been unable to shake off or resolve during the day. The second we can think of as worry about sleep itself, or more accurately, getting sufficient sleep. I've experienced both and I can truly say that neither have ever solved a problem or made me feel better. I suppose there may have been times in the still of the night when I've achieved a moment of clarity, but these must have been so rare that I can't actually recall them

On balance I think I've experienced relatively few sleepless nights. When I was younger my problem was more likely to be getting to sleep. Then I'd reach a point where I'd start to think 'I really must get to sleep' and we all know where that leads. Some people have problems with staying asleep. There can be any number of reasons for sleep problems but if worry is the main culprit what can be done?

You won't have to look far to find all sorts of sensible tips about getting a good sleep. So far as worry is concerned I can offer a couple of ideas. Exchanging one form of worry for another isn't going to help, so instead of worrying about not sleeping try focusing your attention on relaxing. If you know how to undertake relaxed breathing and imagery exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation, so much the better - use them.

Breaking into the no-sleep cycle is one I probably used the most. It may seem counter-intuitive to leave your warm bed behind but this can be very effective. Make yourself a warm drink (not a stimulant like coffee) and relax in a chair with low lighting. Don't switch on the television and definitely don't switch on your computer. Don't do anything and that includes reading, unless the book you have is spectacularly dull. After thirty minutes go back to bed.

A few more quick tips:

  • Keep the bedroom cool and well ventilated.

  • Alcohol can send you to sleep easily enough but you may find yourself awake a short time later.

  • If you're a clock-watcher, it may be worth moving it where you can't see it.

  • Don't go to bed on an empty stomach or a very full one.

  • Daytime naps shouldn't really be necessary if you're getting enough sleep at night. Try to cut them out or reduce the duration.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of