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How to Handle Nighttime Anxiety, Worrying at Night

Nighttime anxiety can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Somehow, anxiety can seem even louder during the night than it does during the day; perhaps because the world is quiet and you are trying to get some much-needed sleep. Nighttime worry is exhausting and can make you feel tired but wired the next day. It's natural to toss and turn, tangling with anxious thoughts and feelings, but doing so simply fuels them and makes them even more intrusive and obnoxious. Read on for a tip on how to handle nighttime anxiety and worrying at night. 

Handle Nighttime Anxiety Like a Fussy Baby

If you've ever been around a baby day and night, you likely know that both babies and adults desperately need sleep. When a baby wakes up in the night, the goal is to tend to him gently and swiftly, meeting his needs yet getting him to fall back asleep as quickly as possible. Nighttime is not playtime. This is true for babies and anxiety alike.

Once wide awake and stimulated, these two creatures (babies and anxiety) are needy. They want to engage. "Pay attention to me!" they scream in one way or another.

"Go back to sleep and leave me alone!" you likely implore.

The more you interact with the creature, the more fired up they become until its bye-bye bed and any chance of much-needed rest. 

Therefore, when anxiety tries to keep us up at night, the best thing to do is to respond to it quietly and minimally. Rather than growling at it to shut up, arguing with anxious thoughts, or fueling negative emotions by joining in by building upon the worries and frets, tend to your emotional and physical needs in the moment and put yourself into a state of relaxation (and, ideally, sleep). 

How to Tend to Yourself and Put Nighttime Anxiety to Rest

When your "baby" keeps you awake, do something gentle to self-soothe. Rather than interacting with and stimulating nighttime worries, try one or more of these approaches.

  • Massage tension away. Turn your attention away from racing thoughts and focus instead on your body. Scan head to toe and notice any knots of tension. Keeping your focus here rather than on worries and gently massage those knots to relax them.
  • Use progressive muscle relaxation. Often, anxiety makes us feel tense and sore everywhere. This is common at night when lying rigid in bed or tossing about in an attempt to get comfortable. We become so caught up in our thoughts that anxiety sneaks into our bodies unnoticed--until we feel stiff, sore, and achy. With purpose, turn your attention to your body, and conduct a body scan. Starting with your toes and slowly moving upward to your head, tense, hold, then relax each muscle group. Visualize the anxious energy leaving your body, draining through your mattress, and seeping into the floor.
  • Use mindfulness. When you catch yourself playing with the "baby" by buying into your thoughts, ruminating, or berating yourself, shift your body to find a (reasonably) comfortable position, and then shift your attention. Breathe slowly and deeply, focusing on the sound and feel of your breath. You can repeat a word or a phrase, something as simple as, "Breathing in, I am calm; breathing out, I am relaxed." Be mindful of your breathing in this way. You might also select a focus object, a point in the room or on the ceiling, or a small item you hold in your hand. Concentrate on its presence. When your anxious thoughts cry loudly, return your attention to your breath or focus object. 

Turning to mindfulness can help you relax and rest rather than engaging with anxiety, your fussy "baby." I also invite you to tune in to this video for another tip for dealing with nighttime anxiety and worrying at night. 

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2020, May 28). How to Handle Nighttime Anxiety, Worrying at Night, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2020/5/how-to-handle-nighttime-anxiety-worrying-at-night



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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