Sleep is a time for rest and relaxation. For some people, however, it’s also a time for anxiety.
Many people have trouble sleeping alone. They may find themselves suddenly alone, after going through a breakup or the grief of losing a loved one. Or, it could be a more long-term problem. They may have a fear of bad dreams or of something bad happening to them while they sleep.
If any of this sounds familiar, you don’t have to miss out on sleep anymore. In this article we’ll help you explore the reasons behind your troubles sleeping alone, and provide actionable steps you can take to sleep better by yourself.
People have trouble sleeping alone for a variety of reasons.
For some, it’s a safety issue. You may not feel safe being alone at night in your home. Thanks to horror movies and crime TV, you may have an outsized fear that you’ll be the victim of a crime while you sleep. For some people, that fear may be justified. If, for example, you don’t live in a very safe neighborhood, sleeping alone at night would reasonably put you on edge.
If you live with any kind of anxiety or panic disorder, you may be more fearful of being alone, especially at night. Some people even have a fear of sleep itself, known as somniphobia.
For many people, sleeping alone simply becomes an issue when it’s not what they’re used to. You may be going through a breakup, and sleeping alone at night reminds you of the person you used to sleep with. This can bring up uneasy feelings of sadness that make it difficult to fall asleep.
If you recently lost your partner or spouse, sleeping alone can be tough. Grief itself is accompanied by many sleep problems, and it’s felt acutely by those who shared their bed with their loved one. Cuddling and physical touch releases oxytocin, a happy hormone that many find comforting. When that person is no longer there, you’re dealing with a painful mix of sad emotions without the oxytocin to help you get through it.
Even people who are still in relationships can have trouble sleeping if they’re away from their partner for a few nights. They’re so used to sleeping with someone, that their brain has almost come to associate being with someone as part of the requirement for restful sleep.
Whatever your reason for having trouble sleeping alone, you don’t always have to feel this way. Try the following tips to become more comfortable sleeping alone.
If you’re grieving or living with a potential phobia or anxiety disorder, talk therapy is one of the best ways to learn how to cope and get yourself feeling better—both when you need to sleep and all through the day. If you’ve had difficulty falling asleep alone for a sustained amount of time, consider seeking out a therapist. This person can help you put together a plan to become more comfortable sleeping alone, based on the particular issue you’re having.
For many people, such as those with phobia or grief, treating the underlying issue typically leads to better sleep as a happy side effect. Cognitive behavioral therapy is particularly effective for treating insomnia and anxiety disorders.
You may not have a person to cuddle up to, but a furry friend can be just as nice. Chances are your pet (especially if they’re a dog) will be more than happy to oblige all your cuddling needs. Sleeping with your pet can reduce your stress, increase your sense of security, and strengthen the emotional bond you have with Fifi or Fido.
Plus, pets tend to run warmer than us, so they can save you the cost of getting an electric blanket during those cold nights!
Limit the amount of scary or stimulating content you consume, whether it’s Netflix, television, or books. True crime and fictional shows with lots of violence can amp up your anxiety and make the most fearless of us have trouble sleeping at night.
Also pay attention to when you watch TV. Even if you’re watching something happy, it’s best to turn off the electronics at night at least 1 hour before bed. Our tech devices emit strong blue light that tricks our brains into thinking it’s daytime, keeping us up and awake even if we’re not feeling anxious.
If your difficulty sleeping alone stems from a fear of safety, work on making your home feel more secure. You can invest in home security systems, cameras, and smart locks to give yourself a better sense of security at night.
Also create a ritual that establishes a sense of safety at night. You might check your doors, call or text a friend, and remind yourself that everything is secure before getting into bed.
Relaxation techniques can be beneficial for all sleepers, but particularly those who experience anxiety around sleeping alone. When bedtime arrives, practice deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. Experiment with aromatherapy or listen to soothing music.
If you find your thoughts racing at night, start a journal. You can jot down your worries in there, releasing them from your mind so your brain can go to sleep worry-free.
Meditation and visualization can be powerfully transformative. When you get into bed, focus on positive thoughts that make you feel calm, happy, and secure. Think of your loved ones and special memories you share together. Go through your day in your head and reflect on all you have to be grateful for. Envision a place where you feel comfortable alone, such as when you are exercising or laying by the beach, listening to the waves.
For help getting started with meditation, check out these meditation apps you can download for your smartphone.
You can also repeat positive affirmations. Frame your affirmations around being alone, such as “I feel safe when I sleep in my own bed” or “Being at home alone makes me feel relaxed and calm.” If you chose to follow tip #2 and sleep with your pet, consider saying these happy thoughts aloud to them. They’ll feel more real to you and your pet will be happy to listen.
Finally, create a bedtime routine that makes you look forward to bed. Save some favorite activities for bedtime, such as reading a novel, listening to a podcast, or coloring. Get yourself in the mood for bed with a luxurious, calming bath or lighting candles.
Give your bedroom a makeover. You might decorate with a new paint color, artwork, or anything else that makes you feel happy, calm, and safe. As for the bed itself, feel free to indulge in some plush bedding that you can’t wait to get into at night.