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.
Causes Of Evening Anxiety
The potential causes of anxiety are numerous. Anxiety in college students may be fueled by holding onto negative emotions and difficult financial situations, while anxiety in parents may be caused by employment worries or family issues. For each individual, the circumstances that cause nighttime anxiety may be unique.
We do know of many potential causes of anxiety, and I will cover ways to relieve anxiety next. First, lets look at some of the common causes:
- Stress at work, school, or in family life
- Financial stress
- Use of stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and cocaine
- Overactive thyroid
- Mental health disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, phobic disorder, depression, or other mood disorder
For those that struggle with anxiety, there may not be anything youre doing wrong. Generalized anxiety is a recognized disorder, and it may be largely biological. However, there are certain habits and actions that can increase anxiety in the evening and diminish sleep quality. These include:
- Using screens
- Lack of consistent routine
- Poor eating habits
- Too much light
- Consuming stimulants in the afternoon or evening
You can start dealing with your evening anxiety by looking at your bedtime routine to see if there are things you can do to help yourself sleep better.
Anxiety At Bedtime Why It Makes Sense
Sleep is an extended separation from a parent. Even though you might only be down the hall, when your children close their eyes they will feel the distance. This can set the brain to unsafe. This is not a deficiency and its not a sign of breakage. Its instinctive.
We are wired to feel safest when we are in the presence of our important people. This is part of our human heritage. Long ago, at the beginning of humans, our ancestors slept in groups as a way to stay safe. Leaving a child alone at night would have made them vulnerable to the environment or predators.
Fast forward thousands of years, and we are still wired to equate closeness with safety. The more anxious children are, the more that closeness might need to be experienced as physical presence for them to feel safe. The amygdala will remind them of their vulnerability every time they close their eyes. What if something happens to your mum and/or dad while youre asleep?What if kidnappers break in?What if the house burns down and nobody notices until its too late because everyone is sleeping?
Anxiety at bedtime makes sense. Its a strong, healthy brain working exactly as it should to keep them safe, but a little too much when there is no need. The good news is that we can change that.
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Trick Your Brain Into Tiredness
Just as a baby tries to keep itself awake, try keeping your eyes open, and then letting them close, suggests Treacher.
First, let your eyes close just a little. Then, open your eyes fully. Then, close your eyes a quarter way. After this, open your eyes. Repeat, gradually increasing the amount you close your eyes, until your eyes close fully, before opening your eyes again. This way of behaving like a baby may fool your brain into tiredness.
Try A White Noise Machine To Help You Fall Asleep
A low level of constant noise can be useful for distracting your anxious mind, shifting the focus away from troubling thoughts to the constant noise produced from a white noise machine. A simple fan also does the trick as does a sleep app on your phone. Just make sure that the volume is quite low barely audible to keep sound in the background.
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How To Manage Anxiety At Bedtime
1. Shift the focus from the separation to their next connection with you.
Given that bedtime is a time of separation, tilt the focus to the next point of connection. Rather than focusing on the night, as in, Night my darling, have a good sleep, , shift their focus to when they will next see you. This can be done by finding rituals to tie bedtime to morning.
Invite them to choose a book at bedtime that you will read together in the morning.
Let them know that as they fall asleep, you will be writing down something they did today that you especially loved and that you will read this together in the morning.
Give them something of yours, and have them give something to you, then return them to each other in the morning. Smell is a really strong emotional trigger. If the smell is associated with safety, it will have an enormous capacity to trigger calm. Perhaps let them use your pillowcase for a while, or let them take your shirt to bed with them.
2. Rework the association bedtime is rest.
I know it feels scary for you in your own bed. I also know that you are completely safe there. I know that eventually you will be able to spend the whole night in your own bed, and that your room can feel cosy and safe and beautiful for you, but I know that isnt how it feels at the moment. Lets work towards that in little steps. Well do it together.
3. With you, then away, then back again.
4. And if bad dreams are causing trouble
Tips To Prevent Panic Attacks At Night
Experiencing a panic attack at night may make you worry about having another, causing a vicious circle, and leading to insomnia. There are a number of things you can do to try and avoid this becoming a frequent problem, and ensure that youre getting a good nights sleep:
Give yourself enough time to get the sleep you need
On average, adults need eight to nine hours sleep each night to feel rested and refreshed. Therefore, its important to make sure you go to bed at least eight hours before you need to get up so youre giving yourself enough time to have a good nights sleep. Going to bed too late and not leaving enough time for sleep may result in you constantly checking the clock and worrying that youre not going to feel rested the next day. These negative thought processes can fuel anxiety, and potentially spiral into a panic attack.
Prepare yourself for the following day
Many people struggle to get to sleep because they are anxious about the following day. You can try to reduce this anxiety by making sure that you have everything prepared. For example, you could have a to-do list, or even have your clothes laid out.
Establish a consistent sleep routine
Limit caffeine, sugar and alcohol before bed
Avoid electronic devices late at night
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Causes Of Anxiety Before Sleep
Everyone experiences anxiety differently. Those that have anxiety when falling asleep may have that problem for their own unique reason. Some of the causes include:
These are only an introduction to the different issues that may cause anxiety when falling asleep. There are a variety of other reasons why a person with anxiety may struggle to fall asleep including something as simple as what you ate or drank before going to bed.
Effects and Symptoms of Nighttime Anxiousness
Anxiousness, when you are trying to get to sleep, causes both mental and physical struggles. See if these descriptions of the types of problems encountered by anxiety sufferers trying to get to sleep match up to your own experiences.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms when trying to sleep, you should take the steps outlined below to help you escape the torture of being too anxious to get a good night’s sleep.
What Are Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are sudden, unexpected episodes of intense anxiety, which can cause a variety of frightening symptoms. These include:
- Feeling out of control and disconnected from your surroundings
- Feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
- Chest pains and shortness of breath – a tightness of the chest and feeling as though its a struggle to breathe
- A racing or pounding heart
- Numbness and tingling, for example, tingling lips and numbness in your fingers and toes
- Fluctuating body temperature feeling very hot or very cold
These symptoms can be so severe they sometimes make first time sufferers believe theyre experiencing a heart attack or a nervous breakdown. Over time, panic attacks can become more frequent, and the fear of having a panic attack becomes embedded, resulting in a vicious circle.
Night time panic attacks, also known as nocturnal panic attacks or night terrors, happen while youre asleep and wake you up, often with the same symptoms as day time panic attacks. However, while these nocturnal attacks usually only last for a few minutes, it can take a long time for you to calm down enough to go back to sleep after having one. This, coupled with worrying about whether youre going to have another panic attack, may lead to insomnia.
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So What Can You Do To Calm Down So You Can Actually Sleep
Well, first off, theres no substitute for seeking help from a mental health professional.
An anxiety or trauma therapist, in particular, can help work with you to reduce your anxiety and panic symptoms.
According to Hahn, there are specific treatments, like EMDR or sensorimotor psychotherapy, which can be helpful in resetting your nervous system and settling your overactive amygdala thats causing your anxiety disorder.
How To Sleep When You’re Stressed And Anxious
Most of us have been there before.
A stressful day at work, an argument with a partner, or an event during the day can leave your head spinning. Learning how to sleep when stressed and anxious is important for a variety of reasons.
It doesnt take long before sleep quality drops and you start to develop a sleep problem. This stops you from getting a good night’s rest because youre too stressed to sleep.
With anxiety driving your mind into overdrive, it can be hard to stop ruminating and relax at the end of the day. Your mind loops around the same track, keeps going over the same conversation, or worries the same unanswerable questions. Often, sleep becomes unattainable.
So what comes first, lack of sleep or anxiety?
Its not so clear cut, one might bring about the other.
Lets break down both to gain some more insight into how these two issues are related.
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What Causes Anxiety Attacks At Night
Nighttime anxiety or panic attacks, like their day time cohorts, result from the ‘fight or flight’ instinct being triggered by a perceived aggressor. In this case, the aggressor is likely to be mental angst resulting from pent-up worries.
In the business of daily life, these anxieties recede into the background, but then rear their monstrous heads at night when all distractions disappear. In the stillness of the night, there is no running away and anxieties can build, sometimes resulting in an anxiety attack.
We also know that the brain does not fully switch off when we are asleep. How often does an event that occurred during the day lead to an odd dream during the night? Our brain naturally tries to process and sort out the day’s events and if these have been stressful then our dreams may well provoke anxiety too.
If you think that you are not going to be able to fall asleep, then it is quite likely that you will have a battle on your hands. Try to follow some good sleep tips to switch off and give your brain a rest.
Fears Related To Sleep Apnea
Still others are fretful about sleep because they have health conditions. People who have sleep apnea for example, sometimes fear that theyâll stop breathing in their sleep.
Harris says that fear is rare, but may occur when someone first learns that he or she has sleep apnea and is waiting for a CPAP device to treat the condition.
âOnce the apnea is under control, people sleep better knowing theyâre not waking up multiple times a night,â Harris says.
So what can you do to eliminate the fear of sleep? Hereâs what experts suggest:
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Understanding Anxiety And Insomnia
Whats behind the more stress, less sleep connection? If youre frequently triggering your stress response, your body never gets back to its baseline, says Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M.
Stress and sleepless nights are closely linked, Buenaver says. If youre in pain, tend to worry, or are coping with a difficult situation in your life, you may have more stress hormones than usual circulating in your body. A poor nights sleep adds even more. And those hormones may never be fully broken down. Its like running an engine in fifth gear all the time.
What To Do When You Cant Sleep: 9 Tips
Prioritizing a good nights sleep isnt just important for your general health, it can also help with feelings of anxiety, as your body is less likely to feel overwhelmed or on edge when youve slept well.
However, falling asleep can be difficult, so its important to build a strategy for a better nights sleep. Below are some tips to try in order to improve your chances of falling asleep naturally.
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Establish A Bedtime Routine
Establishing a bedtime routine lets you focus on taking proactive steps for yourself instead of ruminating in your anxiety. Your bedtime routine may include activities such as taking a shower, brushing your teeth, changing into pajamas, reading from an inspirational book, prayer, or listening to music.
Your bedtime routine should be established to help set you up for better rest. Dont include any activities that may be too overstimulating, such as scrolling through social media or watching TV.
Instead, make your routine calming and quiet, leading up to you falling asleep. This will signal to your brain that it is time to rest and will allow you to go to sleep without an upset and anxious mind.