September 14, 2022

How To Calm Anxiety at Night

Young lady suffering from nightime anxiety

When you lie down at night, it should be the time when you shut your eyes and blissfully go to sleep. Unfortunately, our brains often have another idea. After a busy day, your brain finally has some time to process all those worries and anxious thoughts it didn’t get time to focus on during the day. One of the most common times to experience anxiety is at night. We’re going to talk about how to calm anxiety at night and why it can feel worse at night. 

Why Does My Anxiety Get Worse at Night?

If you’re thinking you’re the only one up in the middle of the night with your anxiety getting the better of you, it’s far from the case. 

Dr. Alexander Alvarado Psy.D., a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in New York, says, “anxiety tends to heighten in the evening for many reasons, but one is that, for many people, the nighttime is the first time all day where they allow their mind to wander. It is much easier to distract yourself during the day hours. Many people tend to process the day at night or think about tasks they have to do in the morning.” 

At night, there are fewer distractions, and it’s just you and your thoughts. As the world gets quieter, your thoughts can feel louder. The problem with nighttime anxiety is that it can create a cycle. Your thoughts keep you awake, and, in turn, sleep deprivation can make you more vulnerable to anxiety the next day. Then, that anxiety can bleed into the following night. 

Anxiety can feel very intense at night, so much so that you dread going to sleep and watch the clock tick through the night. A lack of sleep can also trigger excess worry. Researchers from UC Berkeley found that a lack of sleep, which is already a common symptom in anxiety disorders, may contribute to excess worry. What’s more, is that those who are anxious by nature are more likely to be vulnerable to the impact of sleep deprivation. 

Symptoms of anxiety can occur at any time of the day and can include: 

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep 
  • Restlessness or worry 
  • Nervousness
  • Racing thoughts 
  • Gastrointestinal problems 

6 Ways to Calm Anxiety at Night

There are several reasons why anxiety may worsen at night. Daily stressors, fewer distractions, and poor sleep habits can all contribute to anxiety at night. But by finding a way to ease your anxiety and improve your quality of sleep, you can figure out how to calm anxiety at night that works for you. 

  1. Create a Bedtime Routine

Dr. Alexander Alvarado says, “my top tip would be good sleep hygiene. Such as making sure you’re not in front of blue screens 2 hours before trying to sleep and waking up at a consistent time every day.” 

Sleep hygiene refers to a number of healthy habits and behaviors that help to set you up for a good night’s sleep. If you have solid sleep hygiene, it means that you have a daily routine and a bedroom environment that encourages good and consistent sleep. 

If you generally lack consistent sleep quantity or quality or suffer from daytime sleepiness, these point toward a lack of sleep hygiene. 

Several things can encourage good sleep hygiene, like: 

  • A fixed and consistent wake-up and bedtime
  • Quiet and dark sleep environment 
  • Avoid caffeine too late in the day 
  • Avoid daytime naps 
  • Keep your nighttime routine consistent 
  • Unplug from electronics at least 60 minutes before bed 
  • Dim the lights in the evening 
  • Get daylight exposure 
  • Don’t smoke 
  • Reduce alcohol consumption 
  1. Practice Mindfulness and Deep Breathing 

My other top tip would be to learn and practice mindfulness at night. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present and not on what might happen in your day tomorrow or what had happened earlier that day,” says Dr. Alexander Alvarado. 

Mindfulness and meditation for anxiety can help you to navigate how you feel and reduce stress. While you may not always be able to change the situation you are in, mindfulness helps you adjust your response in a positive way and focus on the present moment. Research shows that mindfulness helps to reduce anxiety and mood problems. 

  1. Exercise 

Exercise is a powerful tool for anxiety. Considering that about one in five Americans over 18 suffer from anxiety, there’s a high chance that either you or someone you know experiences anxiety.   

One study found that people with anxiety tend to move less and perform less intense physical activity. But exercise is great for preventing and treating anxiety as well as reducing stress. Taking part in exercise not only distracts you from your thoughts, but it can decrease muscle tension and release feel-good chemicals

  1. Write Down Your Worries Before Bed

Sleep is a crucial part of both your mental and physical health. Sometimes worries can keep you up at night as you start to go through your to-do list for the following morning. Try to jot down all your worries or tomorrow’s tasks in a journal before bed. Identify your concerns and worries, write them down, and start making a plan to reduce your concerns. 

  1. Don’t Stay in Bed Awake 

It’s tempting to stay in bed awake. But it’s a good idea to put a time limit on it. Waking up once or twice in the night isn’t out of the ordinary. However, if you’re awake for more than 20 minutes, try to get out of bed. If you can, get up and leave the bedroom and focus on doing something that you find relaxing, such as reading, meditation, or deep breathing. Avoid bright screens or high-intensity exercise, and go back to bed when you feel sleepy again. 

  1. Relax Before Bed 

Try to find a way to relax before bed and integrate this into your bedtime routine. Chronic stress and anxiety can majorly impact your sleep, so relaxing before bed can help set you up for a good night’s sleep. A warm bath or shower can help you de-stress and lower your body temperature, which can help you fall asleep faster. Other ways to relax before bed include: 

  • Meditation 
  • Read or listen to an audiobook 
  • Journal your thoughts 
  • Light stretching or yoga 
  • Listen to music  

Anxiety Flare-Ups at Night: When to Seek Help 

Worry or anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful situations. It’s normal to feel anxious about that big work presentation or a job interview you have coming up. But when anxiety is chronic and keeps you awake, it can really impact your quality of life. 

“I’d recommend that someone seek professional help for anxiety when they start to notice its impact on their daily functioning,” says Dr. Alexander Alvarado.

If you find that you or a loved one is struggling to enjoy life, maintain relationships, or function properly at work, they may need to speak with a mental health professional.  Learning to face stressful situations in a more positive way is a process that takes time. At the Thriving Center of Psychology, our team of compassionate therapists can help provide you with the tools to shift your mindset and manage anxiety.

Call our offices today or schedule an appointment. You can visit us in person or online. 

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