Anxiety is a common feeling caused by challenges, worry or stress. Unfortunately, some people feel anxiety much more often, even when nothing is wrong. In response to a real or perceived “threat,” the body may generate an increased heart rate, sweating, feelings of worry or panic, rapid breathing and more.
Many people who experience anxiety—whether generally or because of an anxiety disorder—have discovered that their anxiety tends to be much more prominent at night when they should be relaxed and sleepy. If this has ever happened to you, you know how frustrating it can be.
Why is anxiety so prominent at night?
One of the major reasons anxiety seems to hit harder at night is because bedtime is when you start to slow down, take a break from the busyness of your day and reflect. When you aren’t tackling a long to-do list or aren’t occupied running errands, you have more time to think—and that means you have more time to worry. Intrusive thoughts have a greater opportunity to sit at the forefront of your mind when you’re preparing to go to sleep.
Additionally, when you’re lying awake in bed and all of your friends and family are sound asleep, you might feel isolated and trapped without a support system. During the day, you might not hesitate to talk out your worries with a friend or your partner, but at night, you’d need to wake them up to do so—and that thought itself could trigger anxiety for some!
It is quite common for stress to lead to insomnia. If something has been bothering you all day, it’s more likely to keep you up at night. Many people lay awake for hours, unable to fall asleep because their minds are racing with worries.
Even if you are able to fall asleep, though, your brain is still active, processing and storing the thoughts and memories from the day. Sometimes, these things can translate into dreams, giving you nightmares. You may even wake up from these nightmares with an anxiety or panic attack.
What’s even worse about all of this is that anxiety and insomnia can create a vicious cycle. Chronic insomnia may increase your risk for anxiety, which could further perpetuate insomnia.
5 tips to manage nighttime anxiety
How you work to manage your nighttime anxiety will ultimately depend on the type of anxiety you’re experiencing. Do you have occasional anxiety due to persistent stressors in your life? Or are your symptoms more in line with a diagnosable generalized anxiety or panic disorder?
For the former, stress relief tactics are the best way for you to manage anxiety at night. Take time to identify the things related to your anxiety, such as sources of worry or chronic stress, and minimize them as much as possible. If you’re doing all you can to mitigate the sources of your stress, you’ll want to take steps to help your body more effectively deal with the stress and anxiety. These may include things that will relax your mind and body, making you feel more tired and ready to sleep.
- Avoid caffeine before bed: Not only can stimulants like caffeine worsen your sleep, but they can also increase anxiety. It’s okay to have a cup of coffee in the morning, but avoid drinking caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m. to help you fall sleep easier.
- Exercise: Regular exercise is a fantastic way to reduce levels of stress hormones in your body, as well as help you sleep at night. Aim to move your body at least a few minutes each day, with a few longer workouts each week.
- Meditation: Meditation has been shown to improve sleep and reduce anxiety over time. Practicing daily meditation—even for as little as 10 minutes—before bed can help you clear your mind, relax your body and get ready for peaceful sleep.
- Diet: Your diet has a surprising amount of influence on your mental health, and eating a poor diet can contribute to your feelings of anxiety. Aim to eat healthy, balanced meals full of nutritious fruits and vegetables.
- Supplements: Taking an herbal supplement designed for sleep and/or anxiety relief may help you calm down before you go to bed, so you can drift off peacefully to sleep without the worrisome thoughts. Many anti-anxiety supplements are formulated with adaptogens, which help your body more effectively manage the stress that triggers anxiety.
If you’ve been diagnosed with or you believe you are experiencing symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder, you’ll want to make an appointment with your doctor or a psychiatrist. They can examine your symptoms, provide you a diagnosis and work with you to find solutions to help you manage your anxiety disorder. This may require anti-anxiety medication, as well as the natural methods listed above for extra assistance.
By implementing healthy, anxiety-combating lifestyle choices into your nighttime routine, and/or by working with a medical professional to attend therapy or find other solutions for an anxiety disorder, you should be able to fall asleep faster and more easily.