Tips for Nighttime Anxiety
by Cathleen Henning, About.com
Suggestions from people who know how you feel
Anxiety at night may be frustrating, frightening and disruptive. If you continually lose sleep over time, you may find your anxiety worsening along with your quality of life during the day.
What causes anxiety and panic attacks during the night? The causes can be the same as your daytime anxiety and panic, and so should be discussed with your treatment provider. If you're having trouble sleeping, it's important to get help as soon as possible, before it begins to affect the rest of your life.
What should you do if you're having trouble sleeping as a result of anxiety or panic? Talk to your doctor, psychiatrist, therapist or other treatment provider. It's important to rule out physical causes first. Be sure to discuss all symptoms with your treatment provider. You may want to keep a journal of your sleep habits: when you go to sleep and wake up each day; how long it takes to get to sleep and what keeps you from getting to sleep; and what happens if you wake during the night.
Sleep disorders can co-occur with anxiety disorders, so don't try to treat yourself without talking to a professional. You'll want to discuss all treatment options and how self-help can fit into your regimen.
Because the question of what to do about anxiety at night comes up so often on our community forum, our community members have come together with some excellent self-help suggestions for getting to sleep as well as coping with panic in the night. These suggestions are a great starting point for finding out what can work for you.
- "When I feel an attack coming on, I take a small amount of Xanax; drink a lot of water; take a shower; and either get in bed and go to sleep or turn the TV on LOW and watch something funny or cute on TV. NO NEWS CHANNELS!! It also helps me to look into a mirror and talk, telling myself, 'OK! This is silly. You are FINE! You are NOT having a heart attack or dying. You will NOT let this symptom bring on all the others.' Sometimes I even make faces at myself: stick out my tongue!"
- "I get online to someone in my support group. If no one is online I find a dumb program on TV; to me, being able to laugh at a movie is a good distraction. Plus, my cats help as they want to play at that time."
- "Somehow being alone makes me more frightened and more prone to panicking. If you have a significant other, I would recommend having them around when you're falling asleep, as support."
- "What do i usually do? I PRAY!!! I'm a Catholic. I light the candle and pray the rosary until the panic subsides. It does."
- "I try to not be afraid of my symptoms, to tell myself that they aren't anything to worry about. I also try to talk to someone; talking helps me to realize that my symptoms aren't as scary as they seem."
- "The mind can only think one thought at a time, so maybe try reading inspirational stuff and concentrate while you are doing it. Writing about it in a journal helps me to get the crazies out of my head and down on paper. Prayers also help. Sometimes I will keep repeating the Lord's prayer over and over and over till I fall back asleep. Making this a daily habit has helped me get to a point where now I can sleep at night most of the time."
- "I imagine a great place I know and who I'd like to meet there. This could be real or imagined but it gives a good positive start to sleep processes - just don't think about sleep; think about the place, the smell, colours, etc., and your chat with the person you meet. Also I lay off ALL coffee, tea, etc., but drink warm milk. I know it sounds funny, but nice sheets and a good bed make sleep more enjoyable."
- "The trick is to relax through it the next time it happens, instead of fighting it. I read somewhere that fighting anxiety or negative thoughts is like being in quicksand. The more you struggle, the deeper you sink into it. At night, try taking deep breaths if you start feeling anxious. My therapist told me to practice muscle relaxation exercises several times a day, even for a couple of minutes each time, as well as to slow down my breathing, and he said that after a while it would become a habit."
- "Hot soup and headphones. The hot soup will make your digestive track work and that makes you tired because it uses up energy, and the headphones are great because you can pick songs up and down the dial until you feel comfortable enough to go to sleep. By that time, you can barely turn off the radio because you're so sleepy and then you just fade because you're finally relaxed."
- "Take a warm bath before bed and keep trying your breathing techniques. Sometimes I get up, read a nice book, watch a little TV, even pace the floor. Don't eat anything within 3 hours of going to bed. Cut out all caffeine, refined sugars, and bleached flour. Exercise helps. Make your sleeping quarters quiet, cool and as relaxing as you can. Try and cut your stress down during the day (I know it's hard!) Best of all, give yourself at least 30 minutes of clearing your head, before you try and sleep."
- "I think the key is to focus on a particular thing to think about until you go to sleep. Try a soft music CD. Also try something like picturing the living room in your house, and then piece by piece, picture the room with the furniture moved to a different wall. Another good 'mind game' is to picture a blank map of the United States and start out West and fill in the states. If you still are not asleep, try to name the capitals of each state."
- "What I do is run a three speed fan on low all night to drown out the sounds of the night. The fan is close to my bed and not blowing on me. I've been doing this for years after trying other gimmicks and this has worked the best."