Those with anxiety will be well aware of the way the condition can cause thoughts to spiral and consume. Moving at a dizzying pace, these anxious thoughts can lead to physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations and nausea. It’s no wonder then, that when anxiety strikes at night, sleeping can feel impossible.
Night-time anxiety can be triggered by the thought of a busy day tomorrow, a conversation that happened earlier in the day or even the fear of not getting enough sleep (for people with insomnia, feeling anxious about sleep itself is common).
Sleeping generally requires a calm mind and a tired body. With anxiety, adrenaline pumps around the system waking both body and mind. You may find yourself fidgeting in bed, tossing and turning while your mind races.
If this scenario sounds similar, please know that you’re not alone. In the depth of night, it can feel like you’re totally isolated, but many people struggle with this and there are ways to cope.
If you haven’t spoken to your doctor about your anxiety already, this should be your first port of call. They will be able to guide you and offer different treatment options. Speaking to a professional can help you cope better with anxiety in general and may well lessen your night time anxiety.
Below we’ve put together a few self-help steps to try when anxiety is keeping you up at night.
Do some deep breathing / meditation / self-hypnosis
When we’re feeling stressed, we take shallow breaths and this can cause physical symptoms of anxiety like dizziness and chest pain. Try deepening your breath and focus on breathing from your belly.
Breathing out for slightly longer than you breathe in helps you to physically calm down and often this can calm your thoughts too. Meditation and self-hypnosis can also help here, anything that encourages you to be mindful and relaxed.
Try progressive muscle relaxation
This is a popular technique to encourage relaxation and can be particularly helpful if you’re feeling agitated. Focus on one muscle group at a time, from head to toe, tensing your muscles before letting them relax. This combined with some deep breathing should help you to feel calmer.
If this doesn’t work…
Get out of bed
Lying in bed, wide-awake and worrying night after night will eventually cause you to link the two in your mind. You’ll associate your bed with worrying and being awake. To break this association, get out of bed when you’re struggling to drop off and go into another room.
Keep the lighting low and avoid looking at screens. As tempting as it may be to catch up with your social media feeds, devices like your phone and laptop emit blue light which will keep you awake.
Write it out
Instead of scrolling on your phone, try getting a pen and some paper to write about how you’re feeling and what you’re worried about.
Often writing about a problem helps you figure out what action you can take, or (if there is no action you can take) it can help you let the thought go.
Write whatever comes to your mind and keep going until you feel it’s out of your head and see if you feel ready to try going back to sleep.
Reading is a tried and tested way to help you feel ready for sleep. Get comfortable on the sofa and read some fiction. Avoid anything related to work as this may get your mind whirring and that’s not what you want for a peaceful night’s sleep. Fictional stories provide gentle escapism without stimulating the mind too much.
When you feel sleepy again, get back into bed and…
Listen to a podcast / relaxing music
If you struggle to get to sleep in silence, try listening to a podcast or some relaxing music. We love Calm’s sleep stories. Having a soothing voice in your ear telling a story can help you shut out your internal chatter and drop off to sleep.
How hypnotherapy can help
Hypnotherapy is a tool to help change habits and unhelpful ways of thinking. It involves a hypnotherapist putting you into a state of hypnosis (very deep relaxation). In this state, your subconscious is more open to suggestion and your hypnotherapist can use techniques to help change thought patterns (for example that night time is an anxious time).
Many people find hypnotherapy helpful for both anxiety and insomnia. Your hypnotherapist may also teach you self-hypnosis which you can use outside of sessions when you’re struggling to sleep.