It appears that #FOMO has a new application. 

For those of us struggling to get enough sleep each night, much of the problem stems from not being able to shut our anxious brains off. From fretting about work commitments, relationships and all the minute aspects of our busy lives, it's increasingly difficult to fully unwind. 

That's bad enough, but it turns out they're not the only things we're worrying about. Oh no, according to experts, it's worrying about getting to sleep that's stopping us getting to sleep. 

Worrying about getting to sleep is often what stops us drifting off

Speaking to Well and Good, Dr Janet Kennedy, PhD, a sleep psychologist in New York City, calls this nightly battle of expectation, pressure and eventual disappointment in how we sleep to "performance anxiety", something that many people may experience but have yet to fully realise in their routine. 

"The more we focus on trying to sleep and trying to sleep right, the more elusive sleep can become," says Dr Kennedy. "We can control some aspects of sleep—like our lifestyle, health, schedule, and activities—but the falling asleep [itself] is outside of our control."

She also suggests that data-tracking apps can worsen the problem, as they can spur on a competitive approach to racking up hours of sleep, prodding our perfectionist tendencies into panic, which - naturally - means even less sleep. 

This taps into a broader culture of sleep pressure, where "winding down" - the act of limiting phone use, relaxing with a book or even meditating, to name a few activities - has become essential in our hectic schedules but is rarely prioritised.

The pressure to keep busy and working during our days often leaves us unable to switch off

As more of us fall victim to burnout due to the pressure to always be working and achieving something - the topic of a recent viral essay - focus on getting enough sleep falls away, either due to necessity or as a perceived badge of honour. 

Chris Winter, MD, a sleep specialist in Virginia, puts this succinctly when he says "Sleep problems often work best in a climate of fear. You think, ‘I’m scared of what will happen if I don’t fall asleep right now,’ and then you can’t fall asleep," says Dr Winter.

Sleep problems are steadily on the rise, if current data is to be believed. As many as 16 million UK adults are suffering from regular sleepless nights, with a third (31%) reporting that they have insomnia, and Ireland is the second-most sleep-deprived country after the UK, according to a 2017 survey by Aviva.

If you're looking for solutions, one answer is deceptively simple. The advice offered by the experts interviewed is to better monitor your own sleep patterns and what your body needs. Dr Winter advises that the seven-eight hour sleep requirement is based off of averages, but that a person's real sleep requirement could be anywhere between six and nine hours. You might also be someone who operates on smaller chunks of sleep spaced throughout the day, what's called the biphasic method - "bi" meaning "two", so sleeping in two phases. 

"The best way to [find out how much sleep you need] is to get up at the same time each day (including weekends) and stay up at night until you are very sleepy," Dr Winter says. "Over time, the body will settle into a rhythm and it will let you know you when you should go to sleep. You’ll notice that you get sleepy and wake up at roughly the same time every day."

Winding down by limiting phone use or reading will help you overcome sleep FOMO

After this, your focus should be on minimising stress, especially around bedtime. This is where winding down comes in: cut back on caffeine, practice sleep hygiene and any number of sleep aids including listening to podcasts or brewing a cup of chamomile tea.

And if you can't sleep? Don't panic. "Control is not, ‘I have to sleep or bad things are going to happen.’ But rather, ‘I’m going to set myself up to sleep right. If I can’t, that’s fine. I’ll just let myself relax and sit here until the sleep comes,'" says Dr Winter.