If you find yourself waking up with anxiety in the middle of the night it may be caused by several things, including how much stress you are under during the day or poor sleep habits.
Sometimes when we wake during the night with anxiety, the worry about being able to get back to sleep can cause more anxiety itself, and make it even more difficult to get a good nights rest.
It is also possible to have a panic attack in your sleep. These are known as nocturnal panic attacks, and they present in the same way that a panic attack during the day would. The symptoms are the same, the only difference being that you actually have the panic attack in your sleep and it is what wakes you in the middle of the night. Fortunately, anxiety at any time of the day or night can be treated so in this post we will go through some different treatment options which will hopefully reduce or eliminate you from waking up with anxiety.
Causes Of Anxiety At Night
Now let’s run through some of the potential causes of you waking up with anxiety at night. It may be one of these that is giving you increased anxiety, or it may be several of them.
Stress is a major factor which can lead to anxiety at night. Often, we are thinking about the stress from the day when we are trying to get to sleep. This will increase anxiety levels and make it more likely that we will wake up during the night with anxiety. If you have a lot of stress to deal with, you may find that the sympathetic nervous system will kick in during the night sometime. This prepares the body for a fight or flight response, and it is this system which activates during a panic attack. Once activated, it has a high chance of waking you up at night. When the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and calms you back down again, it can still be difficult to get back to sleep as your body has experienced a kind of adrenalin rush (not a good one) and you are highly alert and awake.
Drinking alcohol can definitely lead to sleep interruptions or waking up with anxiety at night. Studies have shown that a small amount of alcohol has little to no effects on sleep. Drinking alcohol in larger amounts however, has shown a definite impact on sleep, especially after the first few hours where the alcohol can have a hypnotic like effect.
Using your phone at night can lead to an interrupted sleep. This also includes using your phone when you wake during the night and can’t get back to sleep. The lights from your phone will trigger your brain to switch itself back on, therefore making it even more difficult to fall back to sleep. Resist the temptation to scroll through the days news or social media before bed, as the combination of the lights from the phone and the content of what you are reading may have an impact on your ability to both get to sleep and stay asleep.
Treatment For Anxiety At Night
CBT. Studies have shown that those who were able to use CBT effectively found that both sleep quality improved, and the time it took to fall asleep improved. Not only this, but CBT is an excellent and proven way of treating anxiety and depression. It helps to change the way you think about certain events, making them far less anxiety triggering and giving you a much more helpful way of processing these thoughts and feelings. My preferred resource for learning about CBT and how to implement it into your mental health strategy is a product called Destroy Depression. You can learn more about it by clicking the link below.
Medication. There are numerous medications your doctor may prescribe you to help you with sleep and stop you from waking up during the night with anxiety. Just because you have these drugs, does not mean you should neglect other strategies. Use them in combination with the other treatment options listed here so eventually you won’t need to rely on the drugs to help you get to sleep.
I was on a combination of Seroquel and Valium to help me get to sleep and keep me asleep. I no longer need either drug as I found that a combination of CBT and ACT, as well as being able to lower my general anxiety means that I can get to sleep and stay asleep almost every night without issues. I was able to lower my general anxiety by using a product called Panic Away, which you can learn more about through the link below. It basically teaches you a very fast method of dealing with panic attacks, but it also means you reduce your general anxiety levels as well. This has done wonders for my sleep to the point where I no longer needed any medication at all.
Psychotherapy is another good option. It is also known as talk therapy. Being able to talk to a medical professional about everything that is bothering you and leading to your increased anxiety and stress that wakes you at night can be very beneficial. Often, your doctor will turn to CBT to help you, as it has been proven to be very effective, as mentioned above. Another talk based therapy that doesn’t get as much attention as CBT is ACT, or acceptance commitment therapy. I have personally used ACT and CBT together to get great results for my mental health and for my sleep. ACT teaches you to accept things that you cannot control, such as events that have already happened or just accepting stress and letting it pass through without having a significant impact on you.
Sleep hygiene is also important to ensure you get to sleep and stay asleep at night. They always say to be consistent and go to bed and wake up at the same time each morning. The problem that I found with this is that I was often not tired enough to sleep when I went to bed, so I would lay there thinking and overthinking and causing my anxiety to spike. That would then make it even harder to get to sleep, and then on top of that I would be worrying if I would get to sleep, which just worsened things even more. A doctor once said to me that to create that ideal sleep habit, start by focusing on what time I get up of the morning and not worry about what time I go to sleep. By doing this, it means I am going to have a smaller amount of sleep in the first day or two, but then I will be tired from getting up early. This means that I will want to go to sleep early and be ready to fall asleep pretty quickly.
Exercising during the day can also lead to improved sleep and less instances of waking up at night. Even with just a moderate amount of exercise during the day it will make falling asleep easier, and your sleep will be of a higher quality.
Mindful meditation is also a good practice to assist with sleep. You can do this often throughout the day, or you can spend 15-30 minutes doing it to help relax you before you go to sleep each night. There are many guided meditation videos on YouTube, where you can lay back and close your eyes and follow along to the instructions. Just do a search for guided meditation or mindful meditation and find one that suits you. There are many to choose from. I have used mindful meditation successfully while I am laying in bed before falling asleep. I have high anxiety levels in general, and this really helps to relax me and slow everything down so that I am in a better state to be able to fall asleep.
Keep a journal beside your bed. When you wake at night with anxiety and can’t get back to sleep, use your journal to write down all of your thoughts. Nobody else needs to read it and it doesn’t need to make sense. It acts as a way to kind of transfer all of your racing thoughts from your brain onto paper. The added benefit of doing this is that it may become boring after you have written numerous pages of notes, and that boredom means that your mind has slowed down a bit and sleep may now come easier to you.
Don’t get up and start performing tasks and activities as you will be telling your brain that it is time to switch on and go about your day (at night). You want to be calming your brain and putting it in a position where it allows you to fall asleep. So getting up and checking your phone is something you shouldn’t do, as mentioned previously. You also should not be stimulating your brain by watching TV or videos online. You want to choose activities that are relaxing and that don’t stimulate your brain to wake up even further.
If you find yourself regularly waking up at night with anxiety then you should go and speak to your doctor about it. They will be able to offer you additional solutions, or reinforce the solutions that have been offered throughout this post. They may also be able to prescribe you with medication to help you fall asleep and help you to stay asleep. Remember, the medication does not mean you should ignore all of the other things you can do to help yourself. Use the medication as one of several tools to help improve your sleep.
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