It’s common for anxiety to get worse at night: your phone stops chiming quite so often, the world outside your home quiets down, the lights go out…and your heart rate goes up.
Nobody knows for sure why anxiety symptoms often increase at night, but there are some commonly-held theories, and it’s certainly nothing unusual. For some people, it manifests as an increase in obsessive or negative thoughts, while others feel a more direct effect on their nervous systems or even suffer from nocturnal panic attacks.
Whether you have an anxiety disorder or you’re just going through a short-term increase in evening anxiety, the lack of sleep can make your days much harder. It’s worth seeking advice, diagnosis, or treatment from an expert to help you reclaim your nights and improve your days.
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5 reasons you might see an increase in your anxiety at night
- Fewer distractions. It’s a simple answer, but in some cases, it’s also the right one. Most of us live busy lives during the day, but all that noise dies down as the sun sets — leaving a lot of room for anxious thoughts to crowd in.
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep. Sleep disorders and anxiety are common bedfellows, feeding off each other to send people into a vicious cycle of not sleeping, worrying about not sleeping, and then being unable to sleep from worry.
- Too many stimulants before bed — here’s looking at you, post-dinner cappuccino — can interrupt your sleep habits, increase your heart rate, and cause your mind to race.
- Certain medical conditions, such as menopause, can make nighttime anxiety more likely. You might also be more likely to notice and fixate on bodily aches and pains while lying in bed, which can cause health anxiety.
- Worry about the near future. It’s not just the Sunday Scaries that can keep us up; anxiety about the day to come can attack any day of the week.
Ways you can reduce your anxiety after hours
If you’re experiencing more anxiety at night than during the day, you might be frustrated that you can’t get help from a therapist or medical provider (or even a friend). It can be isolating, going through these things while the rest of your community slumbers peacefully.
But there are some tools and techniques you can use on your own to soothe your anxiety and fall asleep more easily. Here are a few self-treatment options you might try:
- Better sleep hygiene. You’ve probably heard this one before, but it always bears repeating: the blue light on your phone and laptop screens can mess up your sleep, so try to put the devices down an hour before bedtime. Other ways to improve your sleep hygiene include installing dark curtains to block out streetlights, diffusing a calming scent like lavender in your bedroom, and making sure the temperature in the room isn’t too warm.
- Meditation and breathing exercises. Not only can breathing exercises calm your nervous system in the moment, but getting into a routine of meditating before bed can have cumulative positive effects over time.
- Journaling or writing a to-do list. This is especially helpful for those of us who stay up late worrying about tomorrow. Getting all those worries or thoughts about what we need to do down on paper can help our minds release their grip on them.
- Listen to a podcast or audiobook to help you fall asleep. This can replace some of the distractions you might usually lean on during the day, and most listening apps have a sleep timer to automatically pause the recording after a certain amount of time.
- Create a bedtime routine. This might combine some of the elements above, such as lavender oil or meditation, but what’s most important is that it’s consistent, so that it becomes a cue for your body that it’s time to sleep. A warm bath, soft pajamas, a cup of decaf tea, and calming music are all great options too.
And there’s another tool available to you if you’re still feeling trapped in the dark with your negative thoughts: Youper’s therapy chat is available 24/7, so you can get the support you need at all hours of the day, even if that means texting in the depths of night. You don’t have to suffer alone.
If your anxiety is worse at night, you’re not the only one — many people find their symptoms increase as the day winds down. You can get the support you need, even outside normal office hours, with Youper’s round-the-clock therapy chat.