Why Does My Anxiety Get Worse At Night?
Anxiety disorders affect millions of Americans every year. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 40 million adults suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.
The symptoms of anxiety include feelings of fear or worry, restlessness, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and sleep problems. These symptoms can cause significant distress and interfere with daily life.
Anxiety disorders are often associated with stress, but they also develop over time or can be a character trait such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
Contrary to popular belief; anxiety is actually a good thing for the body. Without it, we would never have survived past the days when we lived in caves and had to worry about being attacked by wild animals and rival groups.
When your body senses an external danger, it goes into survival mode which causes your mind to be distracted and focused on surviving any imminent ‘dangers.’
Whilst we are way past our days living in a cave, the modern world has caused us to become more stressed and anxious than ever before.
And for many people, after a long day, they find that their anxiety levels have turned up to eleven and they are not sure why.
Why Does Anxiety Kick In At Night?
People can experience stress for many different reasons and this can occur at different times of the day for different people.
However, some people only encounter anxiety at certain times of the day; in the case of our discussion today we explore why you might only feel anxiety at night.
There’s no one defining reason why nighttime anxiety rears its ugly head during the night, and it could be due to one cause or several reasons that all go hand-in-hand.
However, here are a few reasons why you might be experiencing high levels of anxiety during the night.
Are you exposing yourself to lots of high-adrenaline activities that are potentially making your stress levels increase?
This could be the reason why you are unable to settle down, as you have lots of thoughts flying through your head which can lead to increased levels of anxiety.
We’ve entered a place in our history where we are trying to do more than we can sustain, causing us to overwork ourselves which can lead to burnout.
Stress often leads to us making some not-so-healthy dietary decisions. Whether that’s because stress either causes you to eat more, consume less, or take in the wrong things all affect levels of nighttime anxiety.
For example, having too much caffeine has been shown to affect our ability to get to sleep, as well as stay asleep during the night.
However, many people rely on caffeine to make it through the day because they are already lacking in good quality sleep brought on by stress and anxiety.
This causes you to need to drink more caffeine which will continue to affect sleep. So you can probably see the vicious cycle that is playing out here.
We can also create anxiety in our bodies when we continue to eat foods that are not ‘healthy’ or good for us nutritionally.
We perceive ourselves as failures because we strayed from our diets, making us feel anxious that our health is spiraling out of control, whether that’s actually the case or not.
Along with caffeine, others may resort to using substances to help alleviate their nighttime anxiety, which may end up doing more harm than good.
Common drugs to mask anxiety conditions are usually alcohol and tobacco, which can exacerbate symptoms when the drug wears off.
Ongoing Stressful Events
Stressful life events, traumas, or emotional shocks can all bring the onset of nighttime anxiety.
They can include life situations like a divorce, loss of a loved one, relationship problems, change in living arrangements, and abuse from others.
Stressors that linger in your mind that don’t get resolved can lead to an increased heart rate and heart palpitations.
Worrying about paying the mortgage, or how you are going to afford Christmas this year can all affect the body’s ability to relax.
How To Stop Getting Anxious At Night
Whilst the best treatment option is to tackle the reason why you get nighttime anxiety, such as seeking a mental health professional; there are a few ways to help control the symptoms when you experience an episode.
Avoid Caffeine After Midday
Caffeine has a half-life of around 6-8 hours, meaning that 200 mg of caffeine that is ingested at 2 PM can mean we still have 100 mg of caffeine in our body at 10 PM, making it harder to relax in the evening.
Stick to only drinking caffeine in the morning and having decaf after midday, to help drop caffeine levels in the body.
Write Out Your Thoughts
If you’re stuck in your head and have stressful thoughts floating around, a good way to mitigate this is to complete a mind dump and get your thoughts out of your head onto paper or a document.
Either after you finish work, or before bed, set a timer for five minutes and write down everything that you need to complete or that you are stressing about.
Just getting it written down will help release some of the tension you have built up.
There are many strategies to help calm the mind, such as yoga, meditation, an Epsom salt bath before bed, or listening to relaxing music, which all help you to sleep at night.
On the flip side of this is disengaging in activities that can cause anxiety.
Avoiding your phone or laptop will not only mean you avoid blue light, which has been shown to decrease serotonin levels in the body – a key component of helping the body to relax; you avoid negative news articles, online arguments, and triggering social media posts that can raise anxiety levels.
People with anxiety are not uncommon, but if left untreated, it can become debilitating. The most important thing is to learn what triggers your anxiety, so you can identify the root causes and treat them accordingly.
Author: Michelle Landeros, LMFT
Michelle Landeros is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT). She is passionate about helping individuals, couples and families thrive.
Last updated: September 24, 2023