Night time. The end of a long day. You’re looking forward to a much-needed time of rest and retreat from the cares of the day.
But the cares of the day won’t leave you alone. You take hours to fall asleep, or you wake up after one or two hours of sleep with your mind saying, “What if …?”
Anxiety at night almost always feels worse than any anxiety you have in the daytime. Why is that and what can you do? Why can’t you turn off your mind, sleep, and deal with the things that make you anxious when you awaken?
There are several possible reasons.
Causes of Anxiety at Night
Anxiety at night, when you’re lying in bed in a dark room, soon becomes inescapable and overwhelming. Everyone else is asleep. You feel alone. There’s nothing to take your mind off your anxieties. Whatever problems strike multiply and feed on themselves and keep you awake. Here’s why.
- A vicious cycle. Once you’ve been kept awake or have been awakened after a couple of hours of sleep, the lack of sleep makes the next day worse. Anxiety increases due to your lack of sleep. You come home that night, try to sleep, but the increased anxiety keeps you awake. The next day is worse. You can see the cycle here that perpetuates itself.
- Lack of distractions. During the day, you have things going on around you that provide some distraction from thinking about your anxieties. Other people talk to you, you focus on work or housework, or homework, or even play. You see and hear things that capture your attention. But at night you’re more isolated. Everyone else is asleep, it’s dark, not much sound. Anxiety at night strikes again.
- After work stress. Following a long day at work, either at home or at the office, you find yourself feeling stressed again due to your busy-ness. Many people lead hectic lives away from work. Taking the kids to ball practice, or play practice, or any of a hundred or more things you and your family get involved in. So, you add stress on top of stress, increasing the potential of anxiety at night.
- Physical problems grow at night. If you have any physical problems, you know your symptoms get worse at night. That nagging pain in your arm suddenly grows into a throbbing nightmare. You begin wondering if it’s a sign of something more serious, your mind takes off, and before long you have yourself thinking about an Emergency Room visit in the wee hours of the night. Another score for anxiety at night.
- Emotional responses increase at night. If you have already been diagnosed with an anxiety condition, it’s more likely to hit you at night. When anxiety attacks and panic attacks strike at night, your response to them will likely be more intense. Anxiety at night multiplies your response.
- Associating your bed with anxiety and stress rather than sleep. After you have experienced one or more of the reasons above for anxiety at night, you can begin thinking of your bed as a place to feel anxious rather than as a place to rest and recover from the day. This is a common occurrence for those who feel anxiety at night.
What Can You Do?
Fortunately, there are things you can do to either get rid of your anxiety at night or at least get it under control enough to get a night’s sleep.
- Don’t stay in bed. Whether you can’t get to sleep or wake up after a couple of hours, don’t lay in bed trying to go back to sleep for more than 15 minutes. If you do, you’re more likely to make the association of being in bed with being awake and anxious. Instead, get up and go to another room or sit in a chair.
- Distraction is good. Just like in the day time, distracting yourself from your anxiety at night is a good way to lessen it. Read a book, get a drink, watch things go by outside, eat a light snack, or whatever works for you. You can engage in a form of meditation and relaxation by simply noticing and describing in your mind the things you see around you.
- Learn to relax. When anxiety at night awakens you, put into practice a relaxation exercise that works for you. There are many to choose from. Read about and practice at least two of these and use them when you can’t sleep.
- Don’t be a clock watcher. Resist the temptation to look at the clock over and over. All this does is reinforce that the night is passing and you’re not sleeping. It increases your feeling of anxiety.
- Find a schedule and stick to it. Experiment with various times to go to sleep and to wake up. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it. This will help you find your natural sleep cycle.
- Set a boring routine. Do the same things at the same time every night to get ready for bed. This will set the stage for you to be more calm as bed time approaches.
- Get some exercise. Exercise has been shown to be a very good antidote for anxiety. If you can be physically active just before or during the time you feel anxious, your anxiety level will decrease. Being active can help you feel more relaxed all the time.
You’re in very good company if you experience anxiety at night. Fifty to seventy percent of people with anxiety and panic disorders report having anxiety at night also. Research has shown seven out of ten adults in the U.S. report feeling anxious daily and having trouble sleeping. Seventy-five percent of them say their inability to sleep has made their anxiety worse.
But even if you were the only one with this problem, the ways to handle this anxiety listed above can help you sleep better and have less anxiety overall.
Why Anxiety Wakes You Up at Night, and How to Reclaim Your Rest. http://lifehacker.com/why-anxiety-wakes-you-up-at-night-and-how-to-reclaim-y-1665854013
25 Tips for Getting A Good Night's Sleep with Anxiety. http://www.healthcentral.com/anxiety/c/1443/161842/tips-good-night-sleep-anxiety/
Stress and Anxiety Interfere With Sleep. https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/stress-and-anxiety-interfere
30 Sleep Tips For People With Anxiety. Retrieved from http://www.refinery29.com/anxiety-help-falling-asleep-at-night