Why Does Anxiety Disrupt Our Sleep Before a Big Event?

The situation may be all too familiar: you have an important event coming up, or worse, happening the very next day. It’s a job interview, a big test, the playoffs for the sport you play,  a move to a new apartment, the start of a significant school year. No matter what it is, you can’t seem to sleep, like, at all. Your body is waking you up throughout the night, or it might not let you go to sleep at all, and you’re just lying there, trying to keep your eyes closed in your dark room despite being fully conscious.

One of the most commonly known symptoms of anxiety is trouble sleeping. Disruptive sleeping, insomnia, and napping during the day have all been associated with anxiety and other mood disorders, but regardless of the level of anxiety one may have, it seems like nearly everyone can recount a time that they had a major transition or change approaching and getting little to no sleep the night before.

Changes in our lives and routine, even if they seem small, can throw our body off and both confuse and stress it. In general, people prefer the things they’re familiar with, and even if something new and exciting is coming up, like a flight for a vacation, the body isn’t used to this event that’s happening, even if it’s something it’s experienced before. Even if it’s a positive event, those with anxiety may also find themselves thinking of worst case scenarios or negative events that can either ruin or cancel the event before it even begins. For example, if  you have a flight coming up to a vacation that you’ve been planning forever, your brain may start worrying about missing the plane, or getting stuck in traffic. It may think of a scenario where you bought a ticket for the wrong flight, or make you worry that you’ll get into a big fight with one of the people you’re vacationing with.

There are plenty of ways to combat general trouble sleeping, but when it comes to one-off events like these, some experts say to just embrace it. It’s difficult to force sleep, and being exhausted the next day is never a fun feeling, but it’s also not the end of the world. If you know you have a big event the next day too, try to practice habits to help you sleep throughout the day. Don’t drink caffeine after noon, and do your best to avoid screens close to sleeping. If you find yourself unable to go to sleep at all at night, try moving to a different part of your home that’s dark and cool and sit there for a bit as well.

Can you remember a time where you had trouble sleeping before a big event? What was the event? What have you tried to get better sleep? Does your anxiety affect your sleep?

Moderator ★

Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: https://sova.pitt.edu/i-need-help-now We look forward to talking to you!

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