How to Calm Anxiety at Night: 7 Tips to Get to Sleep

By

Katie

Published on

December 6, 2023

Updated on

December 6, 2023

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ari Magill

Anxiety

How to Calm Anxiety at Night: 7 Tips to Get to Sleep

Anxiety is a normal and common response to a perceived threat. Anxiety at night can be especially pervasive. If you are someone who experience’s nighttime anxiety that impacts your ability to sleep, there are ways to manage this to help you find relief!

In this article, we will discuss nighttime anxiety and its impacts on overall health, the vicious cycle that is created when anxiety causes sleep issues and vice versa, and seven tips to manage anxiety at night in order to get a good night’s sleep.

At re-origin, we help people who suffer from nighttime anxiety find relief by using science-backed neuroplasticity and brain retraining. By re-wiring the stress response, reframing the way you think about nighttime anxiety, and practicing various techniques to promote improved sleep, you can rid yourself of nighttime anxiety! If you are interested in learning more, try our 30-day free trial (no credit card required).

What causes anxiety at night?

A wide variety of factors can contribute to a person’s level of anxiety, sleep disturbances being one of the most prominent. Similarly, anxiety can also contribute to sleep problems.

There are many factors that contribute to nighttime anxiety, including, but not limited to:

  • Life stressors such as work, relationships, grief, and illness
  • Traumatic experiences in childhood or adulthood
  • Genetics
  • Various medical conditions
  • Medication side effects

Symptoms of nighttime anxiety

Common symptoms of nighttime anxiety disorder include, but are not limited to:

  • Rumination or excessive anxious thoughts
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Inability to relax your body
  • Restlessness or nervousness
  • Elevated heart rate or rapid breathing
  • Stomach discomfort or nausea
  • A sense of impending danger or doom

Why is anxiety worse at night?

Often, anxiety symptoms are much worse at night when the distractions of the day have floated away. You may find yourself lying in bed with nothing to think about besides the stress you are experiencing in your life. This stress can be exacerbated by the use of screens too close to bedtime, caffeine late in the day, exercise in the evening, or blood sugar spikes due to eating a heavy meal prior to sleep.

The Sleep Anxiety Loop

This heightened state of alertness prior to bed is one of the key contributors to chronic insomnia, and developing distress around falling asleep creates something called “The Sleep Anxiety Loop.” Difficulty sleeping due to any outside factors listed above can create a negative association with sleep in general.

This negative association then impacts overall mood in the evening, creates anticipatory anxiety or fear, and perpetuates the frustration you may experience when you have difficulty falling asleep. This frustration or fear promotes the release of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, which then makes you feel even more alert and aware of the fact that you are still awake. Thus the loop continues, meaning that anxiety is not only a byproduct of sleep disturbances but also a contributing factor.

Impact of Sleep Anxiety

Outside of creating a negative feedback loop, the impacts of sleep anxiety and being sleep deprived on mental and physical health include, but are not limited to:

  • Increased instances of anxiety, panic attacks, and irritability
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Increased blood pressure and risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of diabetes and obesity
  • Increased risk of stroke

How to Manage Anxiety at Night

While there are various techniques to manage anxiety at night, the seven listed below are the most effective for members of re-origin.

1. Practice Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity, also known as brain retraining, is the practice of breaking old, unhelpful neural pathways and building new ones that support your mental and physical health. Research has proven that the brain is extremely malleable, and you can break old and build new associations with intention, practice, and time!

With that being said, retraining your brain can help break the sleep anxiety cycle. One way to practice this is in moments when you are fighting to fall asleep, choose a new mindset: Allow yourself to think of this time awake as a positive thing. Give yourself permission to stay up all night, and trust that you will be okay the next day.

Maybe even get out of bed and perform a calming activity like folding laundry, reading a book, or gentle yoga. This will help break the cycle of frustration you have built with sleep and bring a feeling of acceptance and ease. Over time, this new cycle will become your default, and you will soon have created a positive feedback loop around sleep.

Once you do this, going to bed at night will no longer bring anticipatory anxiety but a sense of calm. If you are interested in learning more about how self-directed neuroplasticity can change your relationship with sleep, re-origin can help.

2. Eat a Bedtime Snack

Instead of eating a large meal at suppertime, aim to eat dinner a bit earlier in the evening, decrease your normal intake, and add a light snack before bed. This will keep your blood sugar steady throughout the night and help you avoid spikes that will wake you up in the middle of the night or keep you from falling asleep.

3. Limit Screen Time Before Bed

Bright light before bed throws off the body’s internal clock by impacting our circadian rhythm. Not only that but social media has been proven to impact anxiety levels, so it can be helpful to limit the consumption of that as well.

Aim to spend the majority of your evening around as little light as possible- minimize screen time and turn off overhead lights. Use lamps with shades that produce more of a “sunset” type of light.

4. Focus on Your Breathing

Slowing down your breathing pattern turns on your parasympathetic nervous system, or “Rest and Digest.” This part of your nervous system signals to your brain that you are safe and can relax where you are. Aim to inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of six. While doing so, shift your focus from your worries to your breath by repeating, “I am breathing in” on your inhales and, “I am breathing out” on your exhales.

5. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a deep relaxation technique that has been proven to reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and improve sleep. This practice involves tensing and relaxing individual muscle groups throughout your body. Not only does this release feel-good hormones into the bloodstream, but it can promote the relaxation of muscles you didn’t even realize were tense. Try practicing this when you get in bed at night. Couple it with a breathing technique for maximum results.

6. Work with a Therapist

Working with a mental health professional can help you develop further coping mechanisms around not only sleep disorders but anxiety disorders as well. This may include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), practicing meditation, or developing good sleep hygiene with a bedtime routine. This may include journaling or writing a to-do list, taking a warm bath, breathing exercises to help you calm down, and turning on a white noise machine before getting into bed.

7. Avoid Exercise Before Bed

Exercise commonly increases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. While these hormones are beneficial in some moments, they can increase arousal and awareness. Doing this before bed can be detrimental in moving toward the parasympathetic nervous system and turning on “rest and digest.” By avoiding exercise prior to bed, you are allowing your body to more easily get into a relaxed state. Aim to exercise in the morning or early or late afternoon if possible.

If you are struggling with racing thoughts, lack of sleep, or poor sleep quality at night, please know that you are not alone. Nearly 35% of adults get less than the recommended amount of sleep per night, but there is hope! You can improve your overall well-being by changing your relationship with sleep and creating new sleep habits. And at re-origin, we can help you do just that. If you are interested in learning more about how self-directed neuroplasticity can change your relationship with sleep, try our free demo today—no credit card required.

References:

  1. Summer, J., & Summer, J. (2023). Anxiety at Night. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/anxiety-at-night
  2. Professional, C. C. M. (n.d.). Sleep Anxiety. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21543-sleep-anxiety
  3. Suni, E., & Suni, E. (2023). Anxiety and Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/anxiety-and-sleep
  4. What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency? | NHLBI, NIH. (2022, March 24). NHLBI, NIH. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation#:~:text=Sleep%20deficiency%20is%20linked%20to,adults%2C%20teens%2C%20and%20children.
  5. Harvard Health. (2020, July 7). Blue light has a dark side. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
  6. Toussaint, L., Nguyen, Q. V., Roettger, C., Dixon, K., Offenbächer, M., Kohls, N., Hirsch, J. K., & Sirois, F. M. (2021). Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Deep Breathing, and Guided Imagery in Promoting Psychological and Physiological States of Relaxation. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2021, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/5924040
  7. CDC Newsroom. (2016, January 1). CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html

By

Katie