Whether you have an anxiety disorder or not, it’s not unusual to feel anxious at night. This happens because the quietness before bedtime allows the brain to wander off and become preoccupied. Fortunately, there are remedies to calm your anxiety at night including developing and implementing a sleep hygiene routine, engaging in relaxation practices, and other lifestyle habits that can ease your mind and body to sleep.
Can’t Sleep Because of Anxiety? These 15 Tips Can Help
Nighttime anxiety can feel worse than daytime anxiety often because there are fewer distractions and it’s easier to notice signs of stress and worry-producing thoughts. In turn, this can make it harder to unwind and fall asleep which will ultimately affect sleep quality. By the same token being sleep deprived can cause you to dread going to bed thus triggering more anxiety. Unfortunately, this vicious cycle can leave you depleted on a daily basis and over time turn into something more serious like insomnia, anxiety, another mental health disorder, or a chronic medical condition.1,2
If you can’t sleep because of your anxiety at night, you’re not alone as this is fairly common. But recognizing the symptoms may help you determine how severe your nighttime anxiety is and how to overcome it moving forward. Nighttime anxiety symptoms are almost the same as typical anxiety symptoms, except they tend to feel more intense and occur at night. Although everyone experiences anxiety differently, there are some symptoms that most people with anxiety endure when trying to fall asleep.1,2
Common nighttime symptoms of anxiety include:3
- Restlessness- tossing and turning in bed
- Ruminating or intrusive racing thoughts at night with an inability to control them
- Feeling antsy, on edge or wound up
- Fears of worse-case scenarios
- Muscle tension
- Heart palpitations
- Sweating or chills
- Panic attacks
If you can’t sleep because stress and anxiety are keeping you awake at night, there are many things you can do to calm your mind and help you sleep better. Anxiety and poor sleep are interconnected, thus targeting anxiety symptoms, and making sleep and mental health lifestyle changes are fundamental for coping with nighttime anxiety and achieving healthy sleep patterns.
Here are 15 tips for how to calm anxiety at night:
1. Prioritize Sleep
If you are battling anxiety at night, take a closer look at your lifestyle and bedtime patterns to identify areas that may need improvement. Then, make a conscientious effort to prioritize sleep and develop a plan that should start with proper sleep hygiene habits along with the recommended tips below. Although sleeping with anxiety takes time to correct, with patience and determination, you can learn how to fall asleep when you’re anxious and beat nighttime distress.
2. Set a Regular Sleep-Wake Schedule
An important aspect of good sleep hygiene is having a regular sleep-wake schedule to maintain your body’s internal clock for quality sleep. It’s generally recommended to get out of bed around the same time every day, even on weekends and regardless of how well you slept. Then go to sleep when you usually feel tired to avoid lying awake in bed. If this is enough sleep, you’ll naturally wake up without an alarm. But if you need an alarm, then choose an earlier bedtime.
If you are trying to reset your sleep schedule, some experts recommend that you stay awake longer to ensure a sounder slumber. Nevertheless, once you have this routine down pat, you’ll notice feeling more rested and energized when you wake up.1,4
3. Create a Comfortable Sleeping Environment
Making your sleep area or bedroom comfortable and cozy can be conducive to quality of sleep which in turn can also calm your anxiety at night. Thus, it is important to sleep in an area that’s adequately comfortable, distraction-free, and dark.1,4
- Invest in comfortable bedding like pillows, sheets, comforters, or a weighted blanket (which can help with anxiety as well).
- Check the room temperature and make it cool (not cold).
- Eliminate or reduce distracting noise- try using earplugs, white noise, a fan, or even listening to chill music.
- Dim the lights prior to bedtime but turn them off before going to sleep.
- Consider using an eye mask, blackout curtains, and window shades to make the room darker.
4. Use Your Bed Only for Sleep
Doing work or other waking activities in bed can cause you to become more mentally alert and less likely to fall asleep. As such, reserve your bed just for sleep and sex so you can train your body to associate the bed with such purposes. If sleeping with anxiety has been an ongoing problem, sticking to this habit will make a huge difference. You’ll notice that once you crawl between the sheets, you’ll start to doze off which will make it less likely for the anxiety to creep in.1,4
5. Develop a Pre-Sleep Ritual
If you can’t fall asleep because of nighttime anxiety, developing a pre-sleep routine to unwind your mind and body before bed can be fundamental for a good night’s sleep. This can include the basics like brushing your teeth, putting your pajamas on, drinking warm milk, reading, or listening to relaxing music. Doing this every night around the same time can train your brain to link these behaviors to sleep, thus making an easier transition from daytime to bedtime.4
6. Keep a Sleep Log
A sleep log can be a useful tool to track sleep quality and uncover factors that are increasing your anxiety and disturbing your slumber. You can do this manually in a notebook or digitally in an app or smart device. Include the time you went to sleep and woke up, if you took any medication, and the stressors you had that day. This can shed light on your bedtime patterns, and other habits that result in poor sleep. Keeping up with this log for at least two weeks to a month can offer a clearer picture of specific areas needing attention so you can achieve better and restful sleep.4
7. Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing exercises or breathwork can prepare you for a good night’s sleep. This self-soothing method can be done anywhere at any time for instant stress relief and counteracting racing thoughts. However, making breath work part of your daily routine can have an even greater impact on your overall health, anxiety, and quality of sleep over time.1,4,5,6,7
8. Do Yoga
Yoga is an ancient practice aimed at unifying the body, mind, and soul, by integrating controlled breathing, mindfulness, and physical postures. Yoga improves mental health, releases muscle tension, slows down your breathing and heart rate, and lowers your blood pressure and cortisol levels, thus producing an overall feeling of calmness. So, whether you do gentle stretches before bed or incorporate it into your daytime routine, yoga for anxiety can ease your symptoms day or night.5,8,9
9. Try Meditation
Meditation is a well-studied self-nurturing practice that’s linked to overall wellness and reduced stress and anxiety. Meditation engages the mind and body to induce a calm mental state by encouraging in-the-moment awareness, controlled breathing, and the slowing down of intrusive thoughts. Practicing meditation for anxiety can help calm anxiety before sleep and relax you when you’re feeling stressed out.1,5,8,9
10. Use Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercises
Progressive muscle relaxation is another calming technique shown to reduce stress and tension in the mind and body. This self-soothing method entails a conscious effort to alternately tense and release certain muscles (from head to toe) to trigger your body’s own relaxation response. You can activate your body’s natural relaxation response and bring your body and mind back into balance.1,4,5 As such, progressive muscle relaxation can be used to relieve your symptoms of anxiety and to unwind at night before going to bed. 1,8
Keep a notebook or journal on your nightstand and write down anything that’s worrying you or that might keep you awake, even your to-do list. When you are done, close it, let go and tell yourself “That’s where my worries will stay for now”. Journaling can help you purge anxious thoughts and ease you into falling asleep.
There is plenty of evidence indicating that regular physical activity is good for your overall physical and psychological health. But exercise can also improve symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea and boost the amount of time in the deep and restorative stages of sleep. Moreover, any form of aerobic activity during the day can calm pre-bedtime anxiety by reducing the production of stress hormones which enables you to fall asleep faster and more soundly.4,8,10,11,12
To reap even more benefits from exercise try doing it outdoors and, in the morning, to receive natural daylight which helps to set your sleep-wake cycle. Making exercise part of your daily routine even at a moderate intensity, can promote quality sleep and diminish symptoms of anxiety. However, avoid rigorous physical activity within two hours of bedtime because its stimulating effect can make it harder to fall asleep.4,8,10,11,12
13. Focus on Healthy Eating
Having overall healthy eating patterns are not only good for your health but can make a huge impact on your quality of sleep. Eating a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats can help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer.13 However, there are things you should avoid, especially close to bedtime, like caffeine, nicotine, sugary and starchy foods, and heavy meals. Consuming these have a stimulating effect that can increase anxiety, delay sleep, and affect the quality of your slumber. Alcohol should be avoided, too, and while it may relax you at first, the effects wear off within a few hours, and then you’re left awake and restless.1,4,13
Instead, try sleep-inducing snacks that can prevent you from tossing and turning once in bed. Some examples include low-fat cottage cheese, peanut butter on whole wheat crackers, an apple with mozzarella, and string cheese. In moderation, these healthy snacks can enable you to sleep better at night.4,13
14. Manage Your Stress
Stress is unavoidable, but continuous and unmanaged stress can worsen your anxiety and affect your sleep. Aside from incorporating the suggestions above, try to have a healthy lifestyle, including connecting with friends and family, self-care, engaging in fun and meaningful activities, and exposure to a few minutes of sunlight. Proper stress management and healthy life habits can bring you balance, which in turn will decrease your anxiety and enhance your sleep by default.
15. Avoid Stressful Activities Before Bedtime
If you want to wind down before heading to bed, avoiding anxiety triggers and stressful or overstimulating activities is key. This can enable you to decrease distressing thoughts, so you are calm before going to bed. As such, consider not watching the news, doing work, or being on social media in the evening. This can help to ease your transition from daytime to sleep time.1,4
Here are some stressful activities to avoid before bedtime:
Using Electronic Devices Before Bed
Unwind your mind by avoiding use of any digital devices at least 2-3 hours prior to bedtime. This is because electronic screens emit a blue light that delays the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, thus delaying your ability to fall asleep.1,4,14,15
Having Your Smartphone and Electronic Devices Close By
Charge your smartphone and other electronic devices in a place that’s not easily accessible. This simple action can help you to avoid any distractions at night, such as reaching for your device and engaging in nocturnal social media activity.1,4
Forcing Yourself to Sleep
If you’ve been lying awake for a while or suddenly awaken, forcing yourself back to sleep will make you more preoccupied and prevent sleep. Instead, get out of bed and go to another room, drink some water, have a light snack, or do something calming. The point is not to obsess over not being able to fall asleep and make it easier to doze off once you return to bed.4
Napping During the Day
Even though napping can help to catch up on lost sleep, if you’re struggling with nighttime anxiety and having issues falling asleep or staying asleep, doing so during the day will make sleep more difficult. Should you take a nap, try to do it in the early afternoon and for 15-20 minutes because longer or late-day naps will likely sabotage your sleep quality.4
When to Seek Professional Help
Consider seeking anxiety treatment when your nighttime anxiety is turning into a chronic sleep disturbance, or your anxiety is so excessive that it’s affecting your well-being and impacting your overall functioning. This is particularly the case when you have exhausted a variety of self-help strategies and haven’t noticed any improvement.
Individual therapy can help by addressing underlying issues causing your anxiety and disrupting your sleep. Start by discussing your concerns with your doctor who can rule out any medical conditions underlying your sleep issues and refer you to a mental health expert for further evaluation. You can also use a buyer’s guide for online therapy services to find a therapist that’s best suited for your needs and experienced with treating anxiety or sleep disorders.
Feeling anxious every now and then is normal. However, if you notice that your anxiety worsens at night, it may be time to make some lifestyle changes. Developing a healthy sleep hygiene routine, enhancing your sleep environment, and learning how to manage your stress are some of the ways to ease your anxiety and improve your quality of sleep.
However, if after trying the recommended tips your nighttime anxiety doesn’t improve, seeking professional guidance can be key in helping you to manage your symptoms and put an end to your sleepless nights.