How to Ease Nighttime Worries

Nighttime anxiety

Fast Facts

30% of Adults experience anxiety disorders at some point in their lives

Nocturnal Panic Attacks can cause sudden waking with intense fear and a racing heartbeat

Regular Exercise can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and improve sleep quality

Experiencing anxiety at night can be distressing. Symptoms such as nocturnal panic attacks or a racing heartbeat can disrupt your sleep and make it challenging to fall back asleep. This is because anxiety and sleep are closely linked; anxiety can worsen sleep disorders like insomnia, and difficulty sleeping can exacerbate anxiety. However, steps like getting up to relax until you feel sleepy again or exercising earlier in the day may help improve your overall health and sleep quality.

Causes of Anxiety at Night

Stressful life events and general anxiety can make your mind more active at night, triggering a heightened mental and emotional state called hyperarousal. This can disrupt your fight-or-flight response, which is how your body automatically reacts to stress. Normally, your brain releases more noradrenaline (also known as norepinephrine) in the morning, a hormone involved in the fight-or-flight response and in keeping you awake.

Beyond a disrupted fight-or-flight response, other causes of nighttime anxiety include:

  • Daytime Stress: Stress during the day is linked to disrupted sleep at night, particularly for those whose sleep is vulnerable to stress.
  • Mental Health Disorders: Conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can provoke or worsen sleep difficulties.
  • Sleep Deprivation: Lack of sleep can cause an unusual increase in noradrenaline levels, leading to sudden nighttime anxiety and difficulty falling back asleep.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety symptoms can vary by disorder, but generally include:

  • Difficulty concentrating or controlling feelings of worry
  • Easy fatigue
  • Feelings of doom
  • Irrational worries
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Sleep problems
  • Tense muscles
  • Trembling or shaking

Nocturnal panic attacks, which can jolt you awake, may also occur. Typical signs of a panic attack include:

  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Dizziness or feeling faint
  • Elevated or racing heartbeat
  • Feelings of fear and loss of control
  • Nausea or abdominal pain
  • Numb or tingling sensations
  • Racing, unwanted worries (intrusive thoughts)
  • Shortness of breath, chest pain, or difficulty breathing
  • Sweating

Side Effects

Since anxiety and sleep are closely related, a potentially vicious cycle can emerge. Waking up with stress and anxiety makes it harder to fall back asleep, causing even more anxiety. This can disrupt your rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, which is essential for processing emotions and adapting to stressful events. Without adequate REM sleep, you may spend less time recovering from emotional events.

How to Avoid Anxiety at Night

Reducing anxiety can improve your sleep. Several strategies can help manage anxiety and stress:

  • Anxiety Redirection: Engage in community activities like volunteering or helping a neighbor to take your mind off stress and anxiety.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can reduce anxiety symptoms and improve sleep quality.
  • Meditation: Practices such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help you relax.
  • Professional Assistance: Consult a psychiatrist or therapist if you suspect you have an anxiety or stress disorder. They can offer treatments like medication and therapy.
  • Relaxing Activities: Establish a bedtime routine with activities such as listening to music, reading, journaling, or taking a bath.
  • Task Management: Write down your daily tasks and break down stressful ones into smaller, manageable steps. Prioritize your time effectively.

How to Calm Anxiety at Night

If you wake up with anxiety, try these techniques to reset and fall back asleep:

  • Change Your Environment: Make your sleeping area comfortable, cool, dark, and quiet with supportive pillows and mattresses.
  • Avoid Clock-Watching: Checking the time can increase anxiety about not sleeping, exacerbating the cycle of anxiety and sleeplessness.
  • Screen-Free Bed: Avoid checking your phone, watching TV, or using your laptop in bed.
  • Get Up and Relax: If you can’t fall back asleep after 15 minutes, go to another room and do something relaxing like reading or breathing exercises. Then, try going back to bed.
  • Reduce Lighting: Dim yellow, orange, or red lights if you can’t keep your room dark, as these colors are less likely to disrupt sleep.
  • Write About Future Tasks: Writing down upcoming tasks can help clear your mind. One study found that people who wrote to-do lists fell asleep faster than those who wrote about completed tasks.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If anxiety and sleep loss persist, it’s important to seek help. Anxiety disorders are common, affecting about 30% of adults at some point. A healthcare provider can diagnose and treat anxiety and sleep disorders, providing ways to manage your condition through therapy or medication

Incorporating these strategies can help manage nighttime anxiety and improve sleep quality, contributing to better overall health and well-being

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