Anxiety is the body’s response to real or perceived stress. Unlike worry, however, which is typically centered on a specific issue, anxiety is more of a generalized feeling of dread about what may lie ahead.
Nighttime anxiety is no different than daytime anxiety, but it can seem worse at night because you manage to avoid it during the day when your mind is busy with other matters. It appears to surface at the end of the day when things quiet down and there are no more daytime distractions to deal with.
The typical scenario is that you feel tired and climb into bed hoping to get a good night’s sleep, only to have your mind start spinning out of control with illogical, racing, intrusive thoughts that refuse to allow your brain to relax.
Is it any wonder that one of the main symptoms of nighttime anxiety is difficulty falling or staying asleep?
Helpful techniques for keeping nighttime anxiety from disrupting your sleep.
Accept your anxiety.
Accepting your anxiety rather than trying to deny or suppress it can diffuse the power it has over you.
End your day with a brain dump.
Clear your mind before going to bed by doing a brain dump and writing out everything you are thinking and feeling. Studies have shown that doing this on a regular and consistent basis will help you fall asleep in half the time.
Maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.
Maintain a healthy circadian rhythm by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, exposing yourself to early morning light (preferably outdoors in the sun) to let your brain know that the day has begun, and dimming your lights and avoiding electronics for at least ninety minutes before bedtime to let it know that it’s time for sleep.
Establish a calming bedtime routine.
Establish a regular, calming bedtime routine that includes an evening wind-down period one to two hours before bedtime. Use this time to do something that relaxes you, such as read, listen to calming music, take a warm bath or shower, sip a cup of chamomile tea, and/or journal about things you are thankful for and that make you happy.
Prepare for the day ahead.
Organize your thoughts and eliminate stress by writing out a plan or to-do list for the next day
Try using a weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets use deep touch pressure stimulation that feels like being hugged to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. They are known to have a calming effect that can improve sleep and help your body and mind settle down.
Practice self-care during the day.
Prioritize self-care. Take breaks, exercise regularly, eat a well-balanced diet, stay hydrated, avoid caffeine, and look for things to be grateful for as you go about your day.
Use relaxation techniques.
Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and/or mindfulness exercises that ground you in the present moment.
Schedule a worry time.
Don’t wait until bedtime to try and manage your anxieties. Schedule a worry time during the day when you can sit down and purposefully address them. Think of it as a software update. If you don’t choose to face your concerns and get to the root of them during the day, your brain will bring them all up when you are trying to fall asleep.
Retrain your brain.
Research has shown that the brain is extremely malleable and can change, adapt, and grow new neural pathways. This is called neuroplasticity. You can’t force yourself to fall asleep, but with patience, commitment, and consistent practice, you can train your brain to break old associations and replace them with new ones.
If you haven’t been able to fall asleep for 15 minutes, get out of bed and do something non-stimulating such as read a boring book. Wait until you feel sleepy before you go back to bed, and if you still can’t fall asleep, try again. Otherwise, you will be training your brain to associate bed with wakefulness, stress, and anxiety, which will only make things worse.
Turn to God for help.
Pray and ask God to help you. Lean into His promises and use Scripture to counter the anxiety that is keeping you awake (see samples below).
A trained mental health professional can help you recognize and work through what’s at the root of your anxieties.
Sample scriptures to help calm nighttime anxiety.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?
So do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:25-34, NIV
In these verses, Jesus reminds us to focus on things of eternal value rather than worry about temporal things. Our heavenly Father already knows what we need and promises to provide for us. He exhorts us to stay focused on today and trust God to help us deal with whatever challenges lie ahead when the time comes. Being anxious cannot change or fix anything, and what we anticipate may not even happen.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7, NIV
This is a promise that if we bring our anxieties to Jesus and turn them over to Him, He will replace them with the peace of God that surpasses understanding no matter what our circumstances may be.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV
God promises to provide us with His grace and His strength to enable us to withstand whatever challenges we may face.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. – Philippians 4:8, NIV
Refusing to dwell on negativity and intentionally focusing on positive things instead will have a calming effect and cause our anxious thoughts to diminish.
If you feel you need more help than this article on nighttime anxiety was able to provide and would like to set up an appointment to meet with one of the faith-based counselors in our online directory, please give us a call. Your first appointment is risk-free.
References:Emma McAdam. “How To Deal With Anxiety At Night: 2 Essential Skills.” Therapy in a Nutshell. August 16, 2022. therapyinanutshell.com/how-to-deal-with-anxiety-at-night-2-essential-skills/.
Jay Summer and Abhinav Singh. “Anxiety at Night.” SleepFoundation.org. Updated November 10, 2023. sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/anxiety-at-night.
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