Why You’re Experiencing Anxiety at Night and What You Can Do About It

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Anxiety at night can be a challenging experience that interferes with our ability to rest and recover. Many people struggle with anxious thoughts and feelings when it’s time to go to bed, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. While there are various techniques and strategies to manage night-time anxiety, addressing the root cause is crucial for long-term relief and healing.

A dysregulated nervous system can contribute to sleep anxiety and other symptoms, making it essential to prioritize the health of our nervous system. In this blog, we will explore some strategies for easing anxiety at night and supporting nervous system health for better sleep and overall well-being.

What is Nighttime Anxiety?

Nighttime anxiety refers to a condition where an individual experiences heightened anxiety symptoms specifically at night. It can range from mild to severe and interfere with sleep, causing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, making the day feel more stressful, and intensifying anxiety over time.

Nighttime anxiety affects a significant number of people, with studies reporting that approximately 24% to 36% of people with anxiety disorders experience sleep disturbances. Additionally, it is estimated that up to 40 million people in the United States suffer from chronic sleep disorders.

The impact of nighttime anxiety on overall health and quality of life cannot be overstated, with studies linking poor sleep quality to a variety of physical and mental health problems, including depression, heart disease, and obesity. It is therefore crucial to address nighttime anxiety and its underlying causes to improve overall health and well-being.

Symptoms of Anxiety at Night

Nighttime anxiety is characterized by feelings of anxiety that occur specifically at night, which can disrupt a person’s ability to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Research has shown that anxiety at night is common and can have a significant impact on a person’s overall health and wellbeing. In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers found that people with night-time anxiety had a higher risk of developing depression and other mental health problems. Another study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that people with anxiety at night had more disturbed sleep, including more awakenings and longer wake periods, than people without anxiety.

Symptoms of nighttime anxiety can include:

  • Racing thoughts or excessive worry
  • Rumination
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Increased heart rate or palpitations
  • Shortness of breath or feeling smothered
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or gastrointestinal issues
  • Feeling on edge or restless
  • Fatigue or exhaustion during the day
  • Teeth grinding or jaw clenching at night

Why Is My Anxiety Worse at Night?

Night-time anxiety is a debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. But what causes this phenomenon, and why does it seem to be more prevalent at night?

According to research, cortisol levels are highest in the morning and gradually decrease throughout the day, reaching their lowest point at night. However, in people with anxiety, the body’s natural “fight or flight” response can be more active at night. With cortisol levels remaining elevated at night, this leads to a hyper-aroused state and difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. 

As the body senses the time for rest and recovery approaching, anxious thoughts around the inability to fall or stay asleep can activate this nervous system response.

Psychologically, nighttime can be a time of reduced activity and external stimuli, providing more time for worries and negative thoughts to surface. Without the distractions of the day, such as work or social interactions, there is more space for the mind to ruminate and focus on potential stressors or concerns. Additionally, nighttime can be a time when worries about the future or regrets about the past can be more prevalent, as there are fewer immediate demands on our attention.

As time goes on and the body and mind anticipate difficulty falling asleep, nighttime anxiety gradually worsens, causing this vicious cycle to persist until the root cause of the anxiety has been addressed.

Who is Likely to Have Anxiety at Night?

Night-time anxiety can affect anyone, but certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing it. Age and gender can play a role, with women and older adults being more likely to experience anxiety at night. 

However, it’s important to note that anyone can experience nighttime anxiety, regardless of age or gender. It’s worth noting that adults aged 30 to 44 have the highest rate of anxiety disorders, with around 23% reporting an anxiety disorder within the past year.

The most significant risk factor for nighttime anxiety is a dysregulated nervous system. When the body’s stress response is out of balance, it can cause a range of symptoms, including anxiety, nocturnal panic attacks, and sleep disturbances, as well as numerous other physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.

Understanding Sleep Anxiety and Its Relationship with a Dysregulated Nervous System

Sleep anxiety refers to the fear or stress experienced while trying to fall or stay asleep. It is often linked to mental health issues like anxiety and can worsen the physical symptoms because of both conditions.

The nervous system plays a crucial role in regulating sleep, as it controls the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. A dysregulated nervous system can disrupt this cycle, leading to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and ultimately affecting the quality of sleep.

One of the key players in the nervous system’s regulation of sleep is the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is responsible for making us feel sleepy and helping us stay asleep throughout the night.

However, melatonin production is heavily influenced by the nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, can interfere with melatonin production, making it more difficult to fall asleep. Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response, can enhance melatonin production, promoting better sleep quality and helping sleep disorder.

Furthermore, chronic unresolved stress, which can dysregulate the nervous system, can lead to increased levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone that we mentioned earlier. Elevated cortisol levels can interfere with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Chronic stress and a dysregulated nervous system can also lead to increased muscle tension, making it more difficult for tense muscles to relax and fall asleep.

Therefore, the health of the nervous system is imperative for a good night’s sleep.

How Can You Get Better Quality Rest When Feeling Anxious?

Getting better quality rest when feeling anxious can be challenging, but some strategies may help. Here are a few suggestions:

Take care of the root cause:

The root cause of feeling chronic anxiety is a dysregulated nervous system and taking time to heal your nervous system can be a natural remedy for it. This can be done with nervous system regulation, which we’ll share more about below.

Establish a relaxing bedtime routine:

Create a calming routine before bedtime to help you wind down and prepare for sleep. This may include taking a warm bath, listening to soft music, or practicing relaxation techniques.

Research-backed essential oils like lavender have been shown to promote sleep, so creating or purchasing a simple lavender mist to spray on your pillows for bedtime can help relax the mind and body to prepare for sleep.

Avoid screens before bedtime:

The blue light emitted by electronic devices can disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle and make it harder to fall asleep. Try your best to avoid screens and artificial light for at least an hour before bedtime.

Create a comfortable sleep environment:

Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Use comfortable bedding and invest in a good-quality mattress. 

Practice good sleep hygiene:

Stick to a regular sleep schedule and avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime. Limit daytime naps if possible.

It’s important to remember that developing a calming routine before bedtime is crucial for getting better quality rest when feeling anxious. Establishing healthy sleep habits and a consistent routine can signal to your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep, which can help reduce feelings of anxiety.

How to Ease Anxiety at Night and Find Long-Term Relief

To ease anxiety at night and find long-term relief, it is important to focus on healing the nervous system. A dysregulated nervous system can cause chronic anxiety and other symptoms, making it difficult to relax and fall asleep at night.

The process of healing the nervous system to address anxiety involves identifying and resolving the underlying causes of nervous system dysregulation. This can include addressing chronic stress, trauma, or other factors that may contribute to an overactive stress response. By addressing these underlying factors, it is possible to restore balance to the nervous system and reduce symptoms of anxiety.

One approach to healing the nervous system is through our affordable, world-class program offered here at Heal Your Nervous System called The Nervous System Solution. The Nervous System Solution is a comprehensive program that is designed to help individuals identify and resolve the underlying causes of their anxiety by providing tools and resources to support nervous system regulation and healing.

 The program includes personalized assessments and a range of other interventions that can help individuals restore balance to their nervous system, reducing physical, emotional, and mental symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system, including nighttime anxiety. 

By working with our qualified professionals, individuals can receive personalized guidance and support as they navigate the process of nervous system healing and work toward long-term relief from anxiety.

Conclusion

In conclusion, nighttime anxiety can have a significant impact on one’s sleep quality and overall well-being. Addressing the root cause of anxiety through healing the nervous system and implementing calming bedtime routines can lead to better sleep and a healthier life.

For more information and support on healing your nervous system and improving your sleep, consider subscribing to the waitlist of The Nervous System Solution. Start your journey towards better sleep and overall health today!

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.