How To Sleep With Anxiety at Night? 5 Tips for Sleeping With Anxiety

Lauren-Ann

Medical reviewed by Lauren Ann Teeter, CNS, LCSW

Functional & Integrative Approach To Mental Health, Functional Nutrition, Functional & Integrative Medicine, Psychotherapy, Mental Health

Do you find yourself tossing and turning, wrestling with thoughts and struggling to sleep with anxiety? You’re not alone. Many grapple with the question of how to help calm anxiety at night, lying awake as ‘anxiety keeping me awake’ becomes more than just a fleeting thought. But what if you could transform those restless nights into peaceful slumber? 

This article is your guide on how to sleep with anxiety at night, offering 5 practices and 5 practical tips to help you find your slumber. Whether you’re too anxious to sleep or just trying to find out how to get a good night’s sleep with anxiety, we’ve got you covered with strategies that include more than just counting sheep. 

How to sleep when stressed and anxious?

How to deal with sleep anxiety? First, you have to understand it.

At night, our bodies are biologically wired to wind down, thanks to the natural process of circadian rhythm that regulates our sleep-wake cycle, influencing the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

However, anxiety disrupts this process, keeping the body in a state of hyperarousal. This state is linked to our primal fight, flight, or freeze response – a survival mechanism activated by stress and perceived threats.

Even when there’s no danger, an anxious mind can’t easily switch off this heightened state. Stress hormones like adrenaline flood the system, keeping the brain on high alert and making it challenging to fall asleep.

“I’m too anxious to sleep”: Why does this happen?

Why anxiety keeps you awake

When night falls and everything slows down, do you ever feel like your anxiety just won’t let you sleep? You’re not alone. It’s like the world goes quiet, but your mind doesn’t. You’re in bed, trying to drift off, and suddenly, you can’t sleep because of anxiety.

It’s a common dilemma – the stillness of the night somehow turns into a stage for anxiety to perform its worrying dance, making it feel impossible to find rest. So, why does anxiety ramp up just as you’re trying to get some rest?

  1. Lack of distractions

As the curtain falls on the day’s activities, our minds, no longer preoccupied, often drift towards unresolved worries. The buzz of work, social interactions, the clamor of daily life. 

This is the time when your brain processes the day’s events, and without the external stimuli to keep it occupied, it will make you feel like you can’t sleep because of anxiety.

  1. Medications and substances

Anxiety sometimes appears with the use of certain medications and substances. Medications like steroids, amphetamines, and even some antihistamines can exacerbate anxiety symptoms, especially if their dosage is increased or they’re newly introduced to your regimen. 

Substances like caffeine and nicotine are also notorious for triggering anxiety. Their stimulating effects can linger, especially if consumed later in the day, leading to heightened anxiety at night. Alcohol can also wreak havoc on our circadian rhythm, disrupting sleep (1).  

  1. Sleep deprivation

Sleep and mental well-being are deeply intertwined. 

Studies have consistently shown that inadequate sleep can lead to increased mental distress, including heightened anxiety (2). This connection is further evidenced by another study, which found that adults sleeping 6 hours or less per night were about 2.5 times more likely to experience frequent mental distress (3).

Nighttime anxiety creates a frustrating cycle—the more anxious you feel, the harder it is to sleep, and the lack of sleep, in turn, feeds into your anxiety. Poor sleep can also compromise the gut microbiome, resulting in a modification in the microbiota, further throwing off internal balance (4).

This cycle can be challenging to break, but understanding its roots is the first step in managing it.

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How to calm anxiety before bed? Relax your mind with five quick practices

Imagine this: the clock ticks towards your bedtime, and a sense of calm washes over you. Why? Because you’ve mastered the art of how to stop anxiety at night. But how do you achieve this? Let’s dive into five quick practices that can transform your pre-sleep routine into a dreamland gateway.

How To Sleep With Anxiety at Night 5 Tips for Sleeping With Anxiety 02

Meditation

Meditation, a revered mind-body practice, intertwines mental focus with physical relaxation, creating a harmonious balance ideal for easing into sleep. It’s a technique that quiets both the anxious thoughts and the physical symptoms of stress, fostering an overall sense of peace and readiness for sleep.

Meditation counters the body’s stress response—the rapid heart rate, tense muscles, and quickened breath—and activates a relaxation response. 

This calming effect slows breathing, reduces heart rate and blood pressure, and gently guides the brain into a sleep-conducive state (5).

A randomized clinical trial found that mindfulness meditation improved sleep quality in older adults more effectively than traditional sleep hygiene education. Participants experienced significant improvements in sleep quality, insomnia symptoms, depression, and fatigue (6).

So, how to help anxiety at night with meditation?

  • Setting the stage: Create a calming environment—dim the lights, ensure a comfortable room temperature, and find a quiet spot. Sit upright or lie down in a relaxed posture.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing: With one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, breathe in deeply through your nose, ensuring your diaphragm, not your chest, does the work. Exhale slowly and repeat. This type of breathing supports vagal tone stimulation, helping to put a break on the stress response. 
  • Mindfulness: Clear your mind and focus solely on your breathing. If intrusive thoughts emerge, acknowledge them without judgment and gently return your focus to your breathing.
  • Accessibility: Explore various meditation techniques through classes, books, or digital platforms. Many meditation apps offer guided sessions tailored to sleep, with audio tracks designed to be used in the comfort of your bedroom.

Journaling

Journaling can be an effective and simple tool for easing into a state of calm before you hit the pillow. Writing is a way to unload your thoughts and worries onto paper, creating mental space for relaxation.

Find a quiet and cozy place, keep your journaling concise—about 5 to 10 minutes should do, and write honestly about your feelings and experiences. This is your private space, free from judgment.

Some tips on how to stop anxiety at night with journaling:

  1. Vent your day’s worries: Start by writing down any frustrations, worries, or anger you’ve encountered during the day. Writing down your worries can provide a sense of release and closure, making it easier to leave them behind as you prepare for bed.
  2. Keep a gratitude journal: On the flip side, focus on the positives. Reflect on what brought you joy or what you’re thankful for. This practice not only puts you in a positive frame of mind but has also been linked to improved sleep quality (7).
  3. Craft a to-do list: If your mind races with thoughts of tomorrow’s tasks, a to-do list can be your ally. A study focusing on the effects of bedtime writing found that spending five minutes jotting down a detailed to-do list before bed can significantly speed up the time it takes to fall asleep (8).

Remember: consistency is key. Try incorporating journaling into your nightly routine, so it becomes a natural part of your wind-down process.

Deep breathing exercises

If you find yourself tangled in the sheets of anxiety, consider this: the rhythm of your breath can be a lullaby for your nervous system. 

Diaphragmatic breathing, often referred to as belly breathing, is a deep breathing technique that can reduce stress, lower heart rate, and stabilize blood pressure. It’s about tapping into the power of your diaphragm—a key player in the breathing process (9).

How to stop anxiety at night with deep breathing:

  1. Find a comfortable position: Lie down and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
  2. Focus on belly breaths: Inhale through your nose, feeling your belly rise against your hand. Keep the other hand on your chest as still as possible.
  3. Exhale with control: Tighten your stomach muscles and exhale through pursed lips. The key is to keep your chest still.
  4. Repeat: Start with a few minutes and gradually increase the duration.

Progressive muscle relaxation

It’s hard to feel anxious when your muscles are relaxed. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is an exercise that involves tensing and then releasing each muscle group in your body. This practice has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety and prepare the body for sleep (10).

How to help anxiety at night with Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR):

  1. Prepare your space: Find a quiet, comfortable place to lie down. This could be your bed or a soft rug. Make sure you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Start from the bottom: Begin with your toes. Tense them for 5-10 seconds, then release for 10-20 seconds, focusing on the feeling of relaxation.
  3. Work your way up: Move to your lower legs, hips, stomach, chest, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and face. Follow the same pattern – tense, hold, and release.
  4. Focus on the release: The key is in the release phase. As you let go of the tension in each muscle group, imagine your anxiety melting away, like ice under the warm sun.
  5. Breathe: Incorporate deep, slow breaths as you go through each muscle group. Breathe in as you tense, and exhale as you release.
  6. Repeat as needed: Go through all the muscle groups once, then see how you feel. If you still feel tense, don’t hesitate to repeat the cycle.

Pre-sleep drinks

Among the most effective and natural remedies for anxiety at night, there are two specific drinks known for their calming properties: tart cherry juice and chamomile tea.

Tart cherry juice has gained attention for its potential to improve sleep, primarily due to its high melatonin content (11, 12).  Melatonin is the hormone responsible for regulating our sleep-wake cycle.

Enjoy a glass of tart cherry juice about an hour before bedtime to allow your body to process the liquid and prevent nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Pair it with your evening routine, perhaps while reading a book or taking a bath, to create a relaxing nightly ritual.

Besides tart cherry juice, chamomile tea has long been cherished for its sedative effects.

Studies have shown that chamomile can produce calming effects on the brain and lower stress-induced hormone levels, enhancing its reputation as a natural stress reliever and sleep promoter (13). 

Steep chamomile tea for about 5 minutes in hot water. You can enjoy it as is or add a touch of honey for sweetness. Make chamomile tea a part of your nightly routine, sipping it as you unwind and prepare for sleep. Better yet, add a slice of orange for a healthy boost of vitamin C to support adrenal health. The adrenal glands are part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, an intricate regulatory system in the body that becomes overactive due to stress and impaired sleep (14).

To ensure a peaceful night’s sleep free from anxiety, consider these five practices: Engage in meditation to align your mind and body, journal to sort out your thoughts and relieve stress, practice deep breathing exercises for relaxation, use Progressive Muscle Relaxation to ease anxiety, and enjoy pre-sleep drinks like tart cherry juice or chamomile tea for their natural sleep-promoting properties. 

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5 proven tips for sleeping with anxiety

When anxiety creeps in and turns your bed into a place of worry instead of rest, it can feel tough to find peace. But don’t worry. There are simple and effective ways to beat this. If you’re wondering how to sleep better with anxiety, it’s all about creating the right atmosphere and habits. So, let’s dive into these 5 easy tips and see how to get a good night’s sleep with anxiety.

Tips o Sleep With Anxiety at Night

Limiting screen time

Our electronic devices—smartphones, tablets, computers—are not just windows to the world; they’re also sources of blue light, which can trick our brains into a state of wakefulness. 

This blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that cues our bodies when it’s time for sleep. Studies reveal that more than half of  Americans use a device before bed, potentially derailing their sleep cycle (15).

Reducing screen time, particularly in the evening, is a step towards honoring our natural sleep rhythms. The blue light emitted from screens can heighten anxiety by keeping our minds in a state of alertness, exacerbating sleep issues.

How to sleep better with anxiety by limiting screen time:

  1. Establish a screen curfew: Aim to turn off all electronic devices at least one hour before your planned bedtime. This practice allows your brain to unwind and prepare for sleep.
  2. Engage in calming activities: Replace screen time with activities that soothe the mind. This could be reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing gentle yoga. These activities not only relax the body but also signal the brain that it’s time to slow down.
  3. Dim the lights: If you must use a device at night, reduce the brightness or use a red-light filter. Many devices now come with settings that automatically adjust screen brightness based on the time of day.
  4. Create a tech-free zone: Consider making your bedroom a sanctuary free from the lure of screens. This can help your mind associate the space with relaxation and sleep, not stimulation and wakefulness.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Adjusting your dietary habits, especially concerning caffeine and alcohol, is a foundational method of how to fall asleep fast with anxiety.

Caffeine is a well-known stimulant present in coffee, tea, and many soft drinks. It affects the central nervous system and can delay the onset of sleep, reduce total sleep time, and alter sleep patterns.

A study showed that caffeine intake, particularly in the late afternoon or evening, can worsen insomnia symptoms (16). Another study found that caffeine consumption, even 6 hours before bedtime, can disrupt sleep significantly (17).

While alcohol can initially act as a sedative, promoting quicker sleep onset, it negatively impacts sleep quality as the night progresses. 

Studies have shown that alcohol can reduce deep sleep and REM sleep, leading to them being less restorative. This disruption can be particularly detrimental for individuals struggling with anxiety, as poor sleep can exacerbate feelings of anxiety (18).

How to fall asleep fast with anxiety by limiting caffeine and alcohol:

  • Avoid before bedtime: Cut off caffeine at least 6-8 hours before bed, and avoid alcoholic drinks for at least 3-4 hours before bedtime.
  • Alternative beverages: Explore caffeine-free herbal teas or warm milk as evening beverage options. These can provide a soothing effect and become a comforting part of your bedtime routine.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water throughout the day, but not too close to bedtime, can help offset any dehydration effects from caffeine and alcohol.
  • Mindful consumption: Be aware of hidden sources of caffeine, such as certain medications or chocolate, and limit these as well in the hours leading up to sleep.

Build your sleep environment

Understanding the elements of an ideal sleep environment and learning how to implement them can transform your nights from restless to restorative. The three elements—light, temperature, and noise—play a crucial role in crafting a sleep-priority environment.

First, light

Light exposure, particularly the blue light from screens, inhibits melatonin production, disrupting your sleep-wake cycles. Darkness, on the other hand, boosts melatonin, aiding in sleep onset.

Light and darkness are vital in regulating your body’s circadian rhythm. Exposure to light at night can confuse these natural cues, leading to sleep difficulties. Yet, morning or daytime natural light is imperative for regulating sleep cycles. 

Sleeping with even minimal light can lead to fragmented sleep and eye strain. It’s also linked to weight gain and throwing off internal balance in the body (19).

Second, temperature

A cooler bedroom, around 65°F (18.3°C), aligns with your body’s natural temperature drop at night, facilitating sleep (20).

Warmer temperatures can disrupt sleep stages, leading to lighter sleep and wakefulness. Cooler temperatures, on the other hand, enhance deep sleep and overall sleep quality (21). Research suggests that cooler temperatures support improved sleep as they help modulate circadian rhythm (22). 

Last, noise

Environmental noises can alter sleep stages, leading to more light sleep and less deep and REM sleep. They can also trigger stress responses, affecting heart rate and blood pressure (23).

Even noises that don’t wake you can affect your sleep architecture, leading to day-after symptoms like sleepiness and irritability. Long-term exposure to noise during sleep is associated with several health risks.

How to get a good night’s sleep with anxiety by transforming your bedroom:

  • Pitch black room: Use blackout curtains to block external light and minimize the use of electronic devices before bed. Consider low-power, warm-colored bedside lamps for pre-sleep activities.
  • Cool temperature: Adjust your thermostat to the recommended range. A warm bath or shower before bed can help lower your body temperature afterward and support the modulation of circadian rhythm (24).
  • Soundproof bedroom: Use soft surfaces, soundproof windows, and turn off alerts on electronic devices to avoid interruptions. Use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. White noise machines can also be beneficial in masking disruptive sounds.

Regular exercise

Exercise isn’t just about physical health; it’s a powerful tool for mental well-being and can significantly improve sleep quality.

Regular physical activity has been shown to improve sleep patterns, particularly in individuals with insomnia. Engaging in physical activity can increase the time spent in deep sleep, the most restorative sleep phase, leading to more restful nights (25).

Another study demonstrated that maintaining regular exercise during high-stress periods, such as academic exams, can buffer the negative impacts of stress on sleep quality and emotional well-being (26).

Then the question arises: when should you exercise for optimal sleep?

While opinions vary, it’s generally advised to avoid vigorous exercise right before bedtime.

Intense physical activities can increase body temperature and release adrenaline, potentially making it harder to wind down. It’s recommended to complete high-intensity workouts at least three hours before bedtime to allow the body to return to its restful state.

However, one study found that late-evening exercise did not necessarily disrupt sleep. In fact, participants reported quality sleep even when exercising late. Although, this might vary from person to person (27).

How to fall asleep with anxiety through regular exercise:

  1. Schedule your workouts: Set specific times for exercise. Consistency is key, so try to stick to these times as closely as possible.
  2. Choose enjoyable activities: Exercise shouldn’t be a chore. Find activities you enjoy, be it brisk walking, swimming, cycling, or dancing. Enjoyment increases the likelihood of sticking to your routine.
  3. Mind the intensity: Balance is crucial. Mix more vigorous activities with gentle ones like walking or yoga, especially as the day winds down.
  4. Listen to your body: Pay attention to how different types of exercise and timings affect your sleep and anxiety levels. Personalize your exercise routine based on what feels best for you.
  5. Stay patient and positive: Changes in sleep patterns may take time. Stay patient and keep a positive outlook, as these lifestyle changes gradually contribute to your overall well-being.

Get out of bed if you can’t sleep

When anxiety disrupts sleep, get out of your bed. Understanding why stepping out of bed can be a pivotal move in this scenario and it is important for your rest.

Spending prolonged periods of time in bed awake strengthens the mental link between your bed and wakefulness. Leaving the bed when unable to sleep disrupts this association, teaching your brain that the bed is reserved for sleep only.

Tips for getting out of bed when you can’t sleep:

  1. Follow the 20-minute rule: If you are awake for more than 20 minutes, gently rise from bed. This timeframe helps you avoid the frustration that can come from tossing and turning.
  2. Choose calming activities: This could be reading a book, doing some light stretching, or listening to soft music.
  3. Return to bed when sleepy: Once you feel drowsy, go back to bed. This might take some time, so be patient with yourself. The goal is to lie down only when sleep feels imminent.

Repeat as necessary: If sleeplessness persists, don’t hesitate to repeat the process. It might seem challenging at first, but with time, your body and mind will learn to associate your bed with sleepiness and rest.

To manage anxiety and improve sleep, consider these five key strategies. Firstly, reduce screen time before bed. Secondly, limit caffeine and alcohol intake in the evening. Thirdly, create a conducive sleep environment by controlling light, temperature, and noise in your bedroom. Fourthly, regular exercise, especially earlier in the day. Finally, if you can’t sleep due to anxiety, try leaving the bed and engaging in calming activities until you feel sleepy again.

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Anxiety keeping me awake: When to get professional help?

Recognizing when it’s time to reach out for professional help is not just a step towards better sleep but also a stride towards overall well-being. Here are some signs to look out for:

  1. Persistent worry or fear: If thoughts about the future keep you tossing and turning, unable to find rest, it might be more than just a bad night.
  2. Physical symptoms: Anxiety doesn’t just live in the mind. It manifests in the body through restless nights, muscle tension, headaches, or even gastrointestinal distress.
  3. Sleep disruption: Chronic insomnia, frequent nightmares, or flashbacks of traumatic events are indicators that anxiety is disrupting your health.

Types of professionals to consult

Not sure who to seek help from? These are some professionals who can help you sleep better:

  • Psychiatrists: Medical doctors specializing in mental health can diagnose and treat anxiety disorders with a combination of therapy and medication.
  • Primary care practitioner: Letting your doctor know that you are having trouble sleeping can help in determining the next steps.
  • Psychologists and therapists: Provide various forms of psychotherapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been proven effective for anxiety and related sleep disorders.
  • Sleep specialists: Focus on diagnosing and treating sleep disorders that may be intertwined with anxiety.

Potential treatments

After discussing with a professional, they may suggest potential treatments like:

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy challenges and transforms anxious thoughts, often incorporating techniques like relaxation, stress management, and addressing negative beliefs about sleep (28).
  2. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): This therapy is known for its effectiveness in treating anxiety related to various forms of trauma by helping to “reset” the nervous system (29).

Lifestyle adjustments and sleep hygiene: Professionals may also recommend changes in daily routines, dietary habits, and bedtime rituals to foster a more conducive sleep environment. For instance, addressing the gut microbiome as well as levels of inflammation and oxidative stress may support improved sleep (30).

What to do if you can’t sleep because of stress?

When stress keeps you awake, try the ’20-minute rule’: if you’re not asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something boring but soothing, like reading or knitting (avoid screens, they’re like caffeine for your eyes). Make your bedroom a stress-free sanctuary—no work emails or doom scrolling. Remember, worrying about not sleeping is like a rocking chair—it gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.

What is the “File it” mind exercise?

The “File it” exercise is like a mental filing cabinet. Picture a table with folders of all your buzzing thoughts—each worry gets its own folder. Systematically, acknowledge each thought (“Ah, tomorrow’s meeting”), then mentally file it away. It’s not about trashing these thoughts but postponing them for later. It’s like telling your brain, “Thanks for the input, but let’s deal with this tomorrow.”

Why is anxiety the worst at night?

During the day, your mind is like a busy cafe—full of noise and distractions. Come night, it’s more like an echo chamber where worries and anxieties get amplified. The lack of distractions means your brain can fixate on every ‘what if’ scenario.

How many hours of sleep do I need to reduce anxiety?

While there’s no magic number, aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep is like hitting the sweet spot for most adults. Think of it as recharging your brain’s batteries—too little, and you’re running on empty, making anxiety a bigger monster. It’s not just about quantity, though. Quality matters, too. Aim for restful, uninterrupted sleep to keep anxiety on the down-low.

Is it OK to rest but not sleep?

Absolutely, resting is like putting your brain on airplane mode. It’s not the full reboot that sleep offers, but it’s a great way to conserve energy. Lying quietly, deep breathing, or meditating can reduce stress and give your body a break. Just don’t substitute rest for actual sleep—your brain needs its beauty sleep, too! 

What is the glymphatic system?

The glymphatic system is when your brain actually detoxifies and restores during sleep. It is significant for modulating brain health and function as it promotes the elimination of waste from the central nervous system (31).

Summary

Learning how to sleep with anxiety involves a blend of mindful practices and lifestyle adjustments. Techniques like meditation, journaling, and deep breathing exercises can significantly help anxiety at night, easing the mind into a state of relaxation. 

For those who find anxiety keeping them awake, creating a soothing sleep environment, limiting screen time, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol are essential. Regular exercise and the strategy of getting out of bed when too anxious to sleep also contribute to improving sleep quality. 

Understanding how to get a good night’s sleep with anxiety isn’t just about one solution; it’s about combining these practices into your nightly routine for long-term relief and restful nights.

How Do You Feel About This Article?

Lauren-Ann

Medical reviewed by Lauren Ann Teeter, CNS, LCSW

Functional & Integrative Approach To Mental Health, Functional Nutrition, Functional & Integrative Medicine, Psychotherapy, Mental Health

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