Why Anxiety is Worse at Night
Are you reading this in the middle of the night after being awakened by a pounding heart and sweat-soaked sheets? Do you have trouble falling asleep night after night because your mind starts racing in circles, worrying about things you can’t fix?
Many people complain that their anxiety gets worse at night, especially when they’re getting ready to sleep and trying to relax, and they are in good company. It is actually quite common to feel more anxious at night, and the highest frequency of panic attacks is between 1:30- 3:30 am. But why is this true?
When the sun goes down and darkness starts to set in, your body releases Melatonin to make you sleepy and help you fall asleep. But for some people, this system seems broken by feelings of anxiety. If you’ve been stressed all day, then your body has been in overdrive producing cortisol, the stress hormone. This hormone helps to regulate the sleep/wake cycle (as well as other functions) and so an overabundance of it will keep you awake at night.
Another reason anxiety might seem worse at night is that during the day, you are distracted from your worries by activity. You’re busy with your children, your significant other, your job/schoolwork, or even by the TV. When you get into bed though, all of this activity stops and your mind is finally given a chance to start examining everything that it didn’t have time to during your busy day. These racing thoughts may cause you to worry that you won’t be able to fall asleep, or they may in themselves increase your anxiety.
Another thing that may be contributing to night-time anxiety is fatigue. As the day wears on, you become more tired, and this fatigue will actually inhibit your ability to cope with stress and anxiety or to think positively.
And finally, it has been well documented that anxiety can be worsened by sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, this works against you in a never-ended cycle of anxiety disrupting your sleep causing sleep deprivation, then sleep deprivation causing increased anxiety, which leads to more sleep deprivation. It can be difficult to step out of this spiral!
How to Help your Nighttime Anxiety
There are many different things that you can do to help yourself. I suggest you try one or 2, then add more if you need them. And a great place to start is with #1 below…
1. Follow a night-time routine. As mentioned above, it is important that you improve your sleep to improve your anxiety. One of the easiest and most reliable ways to do this is to start a routine that you follow every evening. This should include going to bed at the same time every night following a relaxing activity of your choice. For more details on this, check out my blog on helpful sleeping tips here.
2. Try some stress-relieving activities to reduce your cortisol levels. This includes things such as regular exercise, taking a warm bath, reading, stretching, practicing some yoga, or journaling.
3. Have a pre-bedtime snack. Studies have shown that this can actually help you to sleep longer! Some foods that will help include dark cherries which will increase your melatonin, chamomile tea which has been shown to decrease anxiety, the magnesium in bananas or almonds will aid sleep, or Brazil nuts which are full of selenium which will improve your thyroid health and can help to improve your sleep.
4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Both will disturb your sleep patterns. Also, avoid marijuana. Marijuana has some mixed properties some of which might help you to sleep, but regular use can actually increase anxiety and even cause paranoia.
5. Put your phone away in the evening. The blue light that is emitted will signal your brain to wake up, sabotaging your attempt to get to sleep!
6. Try meditation or yoga to quiet your mind, or progressive relaxation can help release muscle tension which might be increasing your anxiety.
7. Try things that will soothe your senses such as listening to quiet music or by placing a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow for a soothing smell.
8. Lastly, try journaling before bed. It can help to release some of those worries that are on your mind. At the very least, keep a pen and paper at your bedside and if you are experiencing racing thoughts, you can dump all of these thoughts out of your head and onto the paper so that you no longer have to think about it and can sleep. Try it- it really does work!
If you try several of these suggestions and are still finding that your anxiety is keeping you up at night or otherwise interfering in your life, then please follow the link for more information on anxiety treatment. I’d love to hear from you!