Nighttime anxiety is, as the name suggests, anxiety or even panic symptoms at night while someone is in bed or trying to sleep. It can be broad and varied, and can result from a wide range of illnesses, disorders, or even just bad habits. Here are some signs you may be experiencing nighttime anxiety and if so, what you can do about it.
Disclaimer: Although these tips may prove helpful and are referenced by the CDC in some cases, none of this should be used to diagnose yourself! Feel free to try these tips out but if you believe you may be experiencing a disorder or mental illness, please make an appointment with a medical professional.
Awake and Worried
Perhaps the most common manifestation of nighttime anxiety is simply lying awake at night, worrying about some stressful subject or another. The reason this is so common is because we are most alone with our thoughts while trying to go to sleep. If you tend to have difficult worry-thoughts in the shower, once you get out you can get right back to your day, but at night you’re at the mercy of your brain.
What you should do about this depends on the cause. If it’s just something difficult you’re experiencing and doesn’t appear to be a recurring illness or condition, there are plenty of tools at your disposal. One option is meditation, which I highly recommend. Meditation will not only calm you down, practicing it will teach you important thought and breathing techniques that can help you manage difficult situations throughout the day.
If you’re stressed about what you’ve got to get done the next day, there’s a helpful solution to that. First, get a sheet of paper (or type it, but the physical act of writing it can help you remember). Plan out everything you have to do, all of the stuff that’s worrying you and anything else that needs to get done. Pre-planning can alleviate the anxiety because it removes much of the unknown and helps put control back in your hands. Plus, by planning it the night before, you’re likely to see it work out much better because you’re going into it with a strong idea of exactly how it should go.
This one is all too common and is by no means limited to people with anxiety. This one can be due to mental causes, but is probably more likely due to physical habits. The best way to attack this is with improvements in sleep hygiene. Here are some things to consider:
-What’s your diet like? What are you eating before bed?
-Are you getting exercise?
-What electronics do you normally use before bed?
-How much caffeine or sugar do you drink during the day? Did you drink alcohol?
-Do you have a sleep routine, or do you often go to bed at different times?
-How comfortable are you when you’re in bed? Are you genuinely comfortable or did you get used to a certain level of discomfort?
-Medication side effects, such as restless leg syndrome or insomnia
If you’re still at a loss, or you’re not sure what to tackle first, try keeping a sleep diary. Jotting down short notes about your day leading up to sleep and how your sleep goes can point you in the direction of the primary source of your trouble.
Your Bedtime is Chaos (you have poor sleep hygiene)
Sleep hygiene is a series of behaviors that impact your sleep positively or negatively. Many of the negatives are listed above in the Restlessness category, but there are additional positives you can apply to make your sleep a little easier:
-Maintain a routine.
-Go to sleep early enough to allow a full 7 hours or more before waking.
-Don’t go to bed if you’re not feeling tired yet.
-If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get up for a bit. Maybe sit in a chair and read for a few minutes.
-Establish a bedtime routine that helps you wind down.
-Only use your bed for sleep and sex.
-Keep your bedroom cool, relaxing, and as quiet as you can.
-Limit exposure to bright light after sundown, especially before bed.
-Go screen-free at least 30 minutes before bed.
-Don’t eat a large meal too close to bedtime. If you get hungry, go for a light snack to tide you over, like crackers.
-Exercise regularly, or maintain a reasonably active lifestyle.
-Cut out caffeine prior to late afternoon. 2pm is usually a safe bet but it depends on your schedule.
-Avoid alcohol before bed.
-Keep your fluid intake low enough so you won’t have to interrupt bedtime to use the restroom.
Caused by an Existing Illness
The above tips should work for most people, but there can be other problems causing nighttime anxiety. These can consist of psychiatric problems like chronic anxiety or depression, PTSD and ADHD, as well as physical ailments like hyperthyroidism, cardiovascular issues, chronic pain, digestive/bowel issues, and so on. And to reiterate, if you suspect you might have an underlying condition, please do not self-diagnose, instead consult a health professional. While the above skills may not be enough if you have one of these ailments, they’ll likely still help. For instance, meditation will make it easier for you to recognize your thoughts and feelings for what they are instead of just taking them at face value. If you’re more mindful, you’ll be better at pinpointing what’s ailing you and describing it to your doctor.
Have you dealt with nighttime anxiety and found other tips to cope? Let us know in the comments!
Lockett, E., MS. (2018, December 20). How to Ease Anxiety at Night (1281916234 945616089 G. Whitworth R.N., Ed.). Retrieved March 26, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/anxiety-at-night#overview
Www.rtor.org, G. (2020, March 13). 7 simple ways to manage your night Time anxiety. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.rtor.org/2020/03/11/manage-your-nighttime-anxiety/
Healthy sleep habits. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2021, from http://sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits