Sleep Anxiety Tips: How To Calm Anxiety At Night
*This article is for general information purposes only and is not intended as medical or other professional advice. Visit the links within the text for sources. Casper has not independently verified the sources. While some of us may toss and turn some nights, every night can be a restless night for others. If youve ever struggled with sleep anxiety, you know the feeling of anxiously watching the clock as you worry about not being able to fall asleep and waking up sleep-deprived the next day. There are many statistics that reveal Americans struggle to sleep on a regular basis. As it turns out, anxiety and sleep are connected in a number of ways. Fifty percent of those who are sleep-deprived say that their anxiety impacts their ability to sleep at night. Its important to understand how anxiety can affect your ability to get a good nights rest. This guide covers what sleep anxiety is, the effects of anxiety-induced sleep deprivation, and science-backed tips for decreasing anxious thoughts, as well as how to set yourself up for better sleep.
What Causes Anxiety Disorders
The exact cause of anxiety is unknown. In fact, researchers believe that there is not one single cause but rather an interplay of factors that include a persons genetics, family history, and exposure to negative life events. Some health problems and drugs can also contribute to symptoms of anxiety.
What Happens When Anxiety Interrupts Sleep
When anxiety causes inadequate sleep, it can go beyond the tiredness of a regular all-nighter. Poinsett says that anxiety can be a trigger for sleep deprivation, creating a vicious cycle that can further affect your sleep pattern.
While the impact of sleep anxiety is largely individual, some common effects of sleep anxiety include:
- Negatively impacts your mood
- Increases chance of depression
- Reduces cognitive reaction times
A small study even found that those who have insomnia are four times more likely to develop depression.
In addition to mental health issues, those with sleep disorders can be at risk for other health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
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Ways To Relieve Nighttime Anxiety
So, how do you actually relieve the anxiety at night? I have a handful of tips and pieces of advice here to help you get your sleep and relieve the anxiety at night, and encourage you to investigate for yourself what helps and what doesnt. Everyone has their own unique experience, so remain open to different practices and methods. Feel into your experience and investigate. Remember, if you are having trouble with any of these you can always work with a therapist online or in person to help you reduce night time anxiety.
Ive separated this list out into things you can do at night while youre experiencing anxiety, and overall changes you can make during your day that may help reduce anxiety once you get into bed.
Consider Getting Medical Help
If you have a sleep disorder that doesnât let up, such as insomnia or chronic nightmares, talk to a sleep specialist.
Insomnia can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or sleep medications. Chronic nightmares may require imagery rehearsal therapy that involves rewriting and rehearsing a new version of the nightmare during the day. It can also be treated with various prescription medications. You should also talk to your doctor if you think you have sleep apnea or another condition thatâs disrupting your sleep.
For Coulter, training for a marathon in 2008 provided a temporary break from the sleeplessness. She also gets some relief by taking a sleep medication, though she says it doesnât always work. She is now considering seeing a sleep specialist and in the meantime, has started running again. âRunning does help,â she says. âI think I shift my anxiety to doing a good run or doing well in a race.â
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Gain Control Over Anxiety With Psychotherapy
Almost all anxiety disorders improve through psychotherapy, either on its own or in combination with medication.
As part of therapy, youll work with a mental health professional to identify the specific thoughts and distortions that are causing you to feel anxious.
Youll also learn techniques for challenging these thoughts and improving the way you deal with anxiety.
Several different forms of psychotherapy are used to treat anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy.
Our guide to therapy for anxiety goes into more detail about how therapy can fit into an anxiety treatment plan.
Take Some Deep Breaths
When anxious, our breath becomes rapid and shallow. Deep belly breathing helps decrease anxiety by stimulating the bodys relaxation response, lowering our heart rate and blood pressure. Its a powerful technique that works because you cant breathe deeply and be anxious at the same time. There are many variations to try, including this simple exercise: Inhale deeply for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4. Repeat several times.
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Getting A Peaceful Nights Sleep
We all feel anxious at one time or another in our lives. Two thirds of Americans report having issues with anxiety and stress causing them to lose sleep. Anxiety disorders are associated with reduced sleep quality in a chicken and egg scenario where each tends to make the other worse. Knowing how to stop the vicious cycle is important so you can get on with enjoying your life.
But what is anxiety? Essentially, it is the bodys natural response to stress. You may feel fearful or apprehensive about making a decision or about the curve balls life might throw your way. You may feel unable to cope and that anxiety has started to interfere with your daily routine or affect your relationships with friends and family. If you are finding yourself agreeing to a lot of these, then speak with your doctor about your concerns.
Anxiety manifests itself differently for each person, but common symptoms include an increased heart rate and trouble sleeping. Having a dry mouth is also a physical symptom of anxiety and can further disrupt your sleep.
When To See A Doctor
Constant anxiety that makes it difficult to sleep at night can affect your daily quality of life. Your work or school performance may worsen, and you may find it hard to complete your normal daily tasks.
If anxiety and lack of sleep are affecting your life in this way, its important to reach out to a doctor or mental health specialist for help.
For some people, nighttime anxiety can lead to insomnia. Insomnia is defined as persistent trouble falling or staying asleep. Chronic insomnia can have negative health effects, including an increased risk of:
- health conditions, such as high blood pressure and a weakened immune system
- mental health conditions, such as depression
Whether your doctor makes a diagnosis of anxiety, insomnia, or both, reaching out is the first step in the treatment process.
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Take Practical Steps To Improve Your Sleep
Simple changes to your habits can make dealing with nighttime anxiety and falling asleep much easier. Try the following steps to relax, unwind and improve your sleep:
Drink a cup of sleep-friendly tea. If you find it difficult to fall asleep, drinking a cup of caffeine-free tea may help.
Prepare for the next day early. Its easy to worry about what youll do after you wake up. To reduce uncertainty, try writing down your priorities for the next day, setting your alarm clock and taking other steps to establish the next day before you sleep.
Maintain a consistent sleep routine. Simple things such as setting a regular bedtime and waking up at the time each morning may help you to reduce nighttime anxiety and fall asleep easier.
Switch sleeping positions. Currently, theres no research on how sleeping positions affect anxiety. However, you may find that a certain position offers better comfort and allows you to fall asleep easier than others.
Reason #: Poor Sleep Cycle
According to Lawson, insomnia and anxiety share a strong relationship, meaning sleep problems or insomnia can cause anxiety and vice versa.
If youve always been anxious or struggled to fall asleep, you may have developed a pattern of poor or interrupted sleep. This makes your body most susceptible to stress and insomnia. Types of Anxiety Disorders
Research also shows that sleep disorders occur in almost all psychiatric and anxiety disorders. Some of these include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder: Worry over everyday events, making it difficult to relax.
- Social anxiety disorder: The anticipation of social situations can often prevent sleep at night.
- Compulsive-obsessive disorder: Research suggests that intrusive thoughts and fears can keep people up when theyre trying to fall asleep.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder: The constant re-experiencing of traumatic events can induce nightmares and rob people of sleep.
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Anxiety At Night & Sleep Difficulty: A Frustrating Cycle
If the above scenario has ever happened to you, youre not alone. I used to fall asleep super easily, but in 2020 the combination of excessive stress and a medication that I started is wreaking total havoc with my sleep.
These days, I experience this struggle almost every night, much to my despair. My husband and our oldest son have also struggled with sleep for most of their lives, and it has been a very long road of trying to improve it.
Anxiety at night & insomnia can look different for different people, but often it involves some of these things:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Night waking and having difficulty falling back asleep
- Feeling less than fully rested in the morning
- Physical symptoms like dry mouth, heart palpitations,
- Psychological symptoms like a sense of stress/anxiety or intrusively worrisome thoughts
The super frustrating part is that anxiety at night makes it tough to sleep, and a lack of sleep often makes you anxious. Your difficulty sleeping may have different root causes, but eventually anxiety is most often all tangled up in it.
The Conventional Approach Falls Short With Insomnia & Anxiety At Night
As a layperson with a passion for health, one of my biggest frustrations with the conventional philosophy in Western medicine is their unwillingness to look at the big picture. In general most health & wellness complaints are treated as single, isolated problems.
This leads our healthcare to be both reactive and surface level .
Im really thankful that I decided to start digging in and asking questions over a decade ago, which continues to this day.
In my experience, most conventional doctors offer just two options for a patient with anxiety at night and sleep trouble:
- 1) Do nothing, or tell you to try relaxing
- 2) Pharmaceutical medications
In reality, there are SO many other options to try.
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Everyday Anxiety Vs Gad
An individual experiencing everyday anxiety will spend time worrying about a specific event, assignment, or task. Theyll also have trouble sleeping or concentrating during stressful times, and theyll experience physical aches and pains from specific situations.
An individual with GAD will experience ongoing general worry about vague, often imagined threats that interfere with daily life. Theyll also experience frequent trouble sleeping or concentrating and experience physical aches and pains for more than six months without a specific cause.
Anxiety At Night: Causes And Treatment Options
Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Its an experience just about everyone has had after switching off the lights and tucking into bed, our mind races through one worry after another, making it nearly impossible to relax and drift off to sleep.
When anxiety occurs at night, it can be a serious annoyance that takes its toll on your ability to sleep, as well as your ability to focus the next day.
A range of factors can cause or contribute to nighttime anxiety, from worries about your health, life or the coming day to things like your daytime caffeine consumption.
Just like other types of anxiety, nighttime anxiety is treatable with the right combination of good habits, therapy and, if required, anti-anxiety medication.
Below, weve explained why anxiety often occurs at night, as well as the specific symptoms you may experience if youre prone to nighttime anxiety.
Weve also shared practical, science-based treatments that you can use to take control of your thoughts and prevent night anxiety from interfering with your sleep and quality of life.
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Symptoms Of And Myths About Anxiety
Many people conflate stress and anxiety, but theyre different. Websters defines anxiety as being uneasy, apprehensive or worried about what may happen, whereas stress is mental or emotional tension or strain characterized by feelings of anxiety, fear, etc. Stress can also be defined as not having the resources to complete a task, while anxiety is usually tied to a perceived threat, real or imagined. Stress may be alleviated by accomplishing the task, but anxiety sticks around, producing a host of physical and psychological symptoms.
Prepare For The Following Day The Night Before
There can be too much chaos in the mornings. A lot of our stress can be coming from every direction. Planning your day the night before can ease your mind before bed. Thinking about all the tasks you need to do the night before can seriously bring on the Sunday scares but any day of the week. Take 10-15 minutes out of your evening before your nighttime routine begins to organize and plan for tomorrow. Knowing exactly what youre going to be doing when you wake-ups the following morning can relieve some major anxieties you might have.
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How To Cope With A Panic Attack At Night
Waking up and discovering youre having a panic attack can be an overwhelming and scary experience, and the fact that youre probably still groggy and trying to come round from sleep, can make you feel out of control and cause you to panic even more.
If youre having a nocturnal panic attack, try the following:
Dont fight it
If you wake up and youre having a panic attack, its important not to fight it, as this could make things worse. Accept the panic attack for what it is and let the feelings wash over you. Remember, it is only temporary, and it will fade eventually. You just need to let it happen.
Try and relax
Try to get your body back into a relaxed state. Inhale deeply and exhale slowly to regulate your breathing. Relax your muscles, and try to focus your mind on positive thoughts and images.
Get up and do something
Go back to bed when youre ready
Only go back to bed when youre beginning to feel tired again and ready for sleep. When youre in bed, keep yourself calm by breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth, to the extent that your whole abdomen, not just your chest, is rising and falling.