If you suffer from anxiety or you tend to feel worried and stressed a lot, you might notice that these feelings get worse when you’re going to bed.
Nighttime — specifically as you’re getting ready for bed — is a very common time for people to experience anxiety or feel their symptoms worsening. It’s a cruel irony that at the time you’re just beginning to relax from a tough day and get some much-needed sleep, your mind and body start plotting against you to keep you up all night with anxious thoughts and heart palpitations. But why exactly does this happen?
If you’re looking for more information on why your anxiety is keeping you up at night, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ll be covering the basics on why exactly anxiety is worse at night and what you can do about it.
The signs and symptoms of anxiety
If you don’t know a lot about anxiety or you’re not sure whether you have it, it can be useful to know more about the signs and symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety is a totally normal feeling that pretty much all of us experience at some point or another throughout light — especially if we’re feeling worried, nervous or scared about something big coming up. This could be anything from a job interview or a presentation you have to do at work, or perhaps a big social event like a party, or even having a difficult conversation with a loved one.
Typical symptoms of anxiety include feeling restless, agitated or nervous — you might notice that you can’t sit still, focus on anything or relax properly. You could have trouble concentrating on work or struggle to think about anything else other than the anxious thoughts racing through their mind. This is often accompanied by an underlying sense of dread or panic — a nagging fear that something bad is going to happen.
As well as these emotional symptoms, there are a number of physiological symptoms too. These include an increased heart rate (your heartbeat might feel really loud or fast), sweating, shaking, and hyperventilation.
Why do people experience increased anxiety at night?
Night time is generally considered to be a time of rest and relaxation — our bodies and minds starting to switch off as we wind down from the day in preparation for some much-needed sleep. So why does anxiety get worse at bedtime?
Well, this is thought to be down to a few reasons.
The main one is literally because we face fewer distractions that we do in the day. During daytime hours, we have to deal with work, colleagues, potentially a commute, friends, kids if you have them, and other daily tasks. That’s right — all those work tasks, jobs around the house and social obligations that we all complain about are actually keeping our anxiety at bay.
But at night, it’s just us and our thoughts. As a result, there is nothing to distract you from your anxiety — there’s just a big old empty space in your brain waiting to be taken up by negative thought spirals, intrusive thoughts and feelings of being overwhelmed, all whirling around. These thoughts and feelings can get worse and worse, especially when you add to the mix a sense of panic because you know you need to go to sleep because you have work the next morning and you need to be able to function for that important meeting. What fun.
Then you’ve got the physiological effects of anxiety — like increased heart rate and shortness of breath, for example. These also prevent you from falling asleep, keeping the body awake even when you’re completely exhausted. When you suffer from anxiety, your adrenaline levels can shoot up, which means that your body constantly thinks it’s in danger and needs to do something (yes, it’s that classic ‘fight or flight’ response coming back to bite us in the bum). So it’s no wonder really that you can’t get to sleep, even if you want to.
What can you do to help with nighttime anxiety?
The good news is, there are things you can do to help with anxiety at night. Of course, some of these will work for you and some won’t — it’s about trying out different solutions and finding what fits you.
For a start, introducing an unintrusive distraction into your bedtime routine is a good way to occupy your mind when you’re trying to get to sleep. This could be listening to a soothing podcast, quiet radio or re-runs of your favorite television show (of course, nothing too exciting — leave the true crime documentaries for earlier on in the day). This gives you something to focus on without keeping you awake — and keeping those intrusive thoughts at bay.
There are also lots of playlists on Spotify specifically designed to aid sleep — try out some of the gentle rain noise playlists or ocean sounds (there’s nothing quite like the waves slowly lapping against a distant shore to relax you before bed).
And apps like Headspace are great for teaching mindfulness, a technique recognised by doctors as beneficial to easing anxiety and aiding sleep. Get the paid version of the app, and you’ve got access to an entire library of sleep-inducing goodies, from ASMR and short stories, to meditations to prepare the mind and body for sleep, to soundscapes for sleep.
A soothing night time tea with herbal sleep aids such as chamomile or valerian are also good for reducing nighttime anxiety and helping you to nod off naturally. You may want to try CBD oil as an anti-anxiety treatment too.
Finally, try reducing your screen-time and social media activity in the evening. Try to put your phone down an hour before bed, get away from screens and scrolling, and you’d be surprised how it can help you deal with nighttime anxiety.
If your night time anxiety is preventing you from leading a normal life — for example, if you have difficulty concentrating at work, skip college or work, or struggle to leave the house at all — then it’s time to get some additional help.
Speak to your doctor — they may suggest some form of therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), guided self-help, or maybe anti-anxiety medication to help you manage your anxiety. Just remember that there is help out there, and you deserve a good night’s sleep.