Table of Content
Easing the Effects of Nighttime Anxiety
by Dylan Hao |
It’s quiet and cozy in the house. You’re snuggled up under the covers and ready for a few hours of restful slumber.
But your eyes are wide open, and your thoughts won’t turn off.
Yup, there it is again. That nighttime anxiety.
If this sounds like you, you are not alone. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people have been suffering from the effects of nighttime anxiety.
The good news is that you don’t have to deal with this issue long-term.
Reading this will equip you to reduce your anxiety and set yourself up for peaceful slumber. We’ll also help ease the next-day effects of those sleepless nights in the meantime.
What Causes Nighttime Anxiety?
When you experience anxiety, your triggers and symptoms are as individual as you are, but some common factors tie your middle-of-the-night worries to millions of others’.
Studies show that most nighttime sleep struggles are related to:
- Nocturnal panic attacks
- Sleep deprivation
- A physical issue
The problem, of course, is that it can be hard to pinpoint the exact cause when many of these sleep issues have similar symptoms.
To get healthy sleep, do you need to seek medical advice from a healthcare physician, change your nighttime routine, or do something else?
Here, we’ll break down each potential cause, what it means, and how you can determine your next steps.
When researchers study anxiety, it’s frequently caused by high stress.
How exactly does stress cause nighttime anxiety and insomnia?
Stress can increase the body’s hormones, like cortisol. At certain stages in the sleep cycle, it’s easier to wake up from external triggers. But cortisol induces a state of arousal without needing an outside trigger.
So, if you find yourself falling asleep, waking up, dozing, and waking up again, you might have a hormonal issue caused by too much stress.
Nocturnal Panic Attacks
Less frequent, but still common, are nocturnal panic attacks. These are usually seen in people with panic disorders. However, about one in five patients with a sleep panic disorder don’t have any panic-related symptoms.
Nocturnal panic occurs when you wake up without an external trigger and in an acute state of panic. You didn’t have a nightmare or hear a noise that startled you. You simply woke up for seemingly no reason and were instantly on high alert.
This sleep disorder has similar symptoms as sleep apnea and sleep terrors. The most accurate way to differentiate between these disorders is to use an EEG sleep study screening that measures your brain waves. Nocturnal panic attacks usually occur in late stage 2 or early stage 3 of sleep.
You’re waking up throughout the night — or not sleeping at all. It’s a good reason to be sleep deprived, right?
Yes, but sleep deprivation could be why you’re sleep deprived. Hang on, we’ll explain.
If you’ve been napping lately or indulging in pre-bedtime habits that interfere with your sleep quality (like phone scrolling), it can lead to sleep deprivation. You’re not getting enough restful sleep.
Those bad habits result in consequences that take over, leading to chronic insomnia. You now want to sleep instead of watching TV all night, and you can’t.
You’re so sleep-deprived that you’re too tired to sleep. And the nighttime anxiety attacks start kicking in.
Although less likely, there are quite a few serious physical health conditions that affect your body in ways that could be causing your nighttime anxiety. Ignoring them could be dangerous.
Anxiety is a side effect of cardiovascular disease. We know that high levels of anxiety can spike your blood pressure, raise your heart rate, and induce a heart attack in people with other risks. If you’ve been under a lot of stress, consider talking to your medical doctor for a cardiovascular workup.
Hyperthyroidism is another mental health-hitting condition. Your thyroid regulates your hormones. If your thyroid is overactive, as it is in this condition, it can affect your mood and cause you to be more stressed and anxious than you normally would be.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a serious sleep-related breathing disorder in which you stop and start breathing unconsciously. If your nighttime anxiety is from OSA, you should seek treatment options from a sleep specialist.
Calm Your Anxious Thoughts Before Bed
There’s a theory of sleep science that what you think about before bed follows you into your sleep. Your emotions and ruminations could play a role in your nighttime anxiety.
Why not try some of these relaxation techniques to see if they help calm your mind before you head off to the Land of Nod?
The first thing to do is create a peaceful environment where you feel safe and tranquil.
Play some soothing instrumental music or stream nature sounds while you spend a few minutes drinking chamomile tea, journaling, and releasing your stress.
Start the journal by writing down everything that’s bothering you, then lead into all the things you have that you’re grateful for.
Now that you’re thinking about your blessings as a way to calm anxiety, curl in your comfy bed and play a sleep app, like Calm, Abide, or Headspace. These apps help you practice deep breathing, which calms your nervous system and lowers your adrenaline.
These small adjustments in your bedtime routine give your mind the chance to be “heard” as you write down those problems and promise yourself you’ll deal with them after you get a good night’s sleep.
Then as you focus on good things, your brain is distracted by the sounds around you and is less likely to hone in on your anxious thoughts.
Read more: 7 Things To Add To Your Bedtime Checklist
Get More Restful Sleep
Maybe you don’t have the ideal tranquil environment to sleep in yet, but could it be that your pre-bedtime routine is causing your poor sleep?
If you’re saying, “What routine?” that could be the answer.
The 24-Hour Circadian Rhythm Cycle
Establishing a routine for sleep habits is important for your body to recognize when it’s time to wind down and get ready for restful sleep. This natural process is called your circadian rhythm, and it’s easily disrupted.
Your body uses the circadian rhythm to know when to release sleep hormones like melatonin. You might have heard this called your biological clock, which refers to nature’s timing.
It’s a real yet complex part of how your body adjusts to physical, mental, and behavioral patterns through a 24-hour cycle, such as knowing when it’s time to sleep and when to wake.
Factors That Affect Your Rhythmic Cycle
Time isn’t the only factor that tells your body when to sleep. Changes in daylight can make you feel more alert or tired. (Hello, Daylight Savings Time!)
There are ways you can trick your body into getting sleepy or waking up.
If you’re having trouble falling and staying asleep, you might be accidentally using “wake up” factors in your bedtime routine, like:
- Being around bright lights before bed, such as those in your kitchen or overhead lights in your room
- Using screens with blue lights in them at least 90 minutes before bed
- Eating within three hours before bed, which activates your digestive system and can keep you from getting restful sleep
- Drinking caffeine or alcohol later in the day
Each of these behaviors acts as a stimulant on your body in some form or another. To ensure you’re not accidentally triggering your type of anxiety, try to avoid them as early in the evening as possible.
Making lifestyle changes, like decreasing your overall caffeine and alcohol intake, should help. If you’re addicted to stimulants, such as smoking or using tobacco or drugs, stopping those habits will go a long way toward improving your sleep and general health.
Anxiety stems from those stressful situations you’re either ignoring or trying to get under control. Reducing stress through setting boundaries and eliminating toxic relationships might give you the peace you need to sleep like a baby.
This isn’t easily done by yourself, though.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) through a mental health professional can give you the tools to ease anxiety and learn how to handle stressful situations. Many insurance plans, including Medicaid, cover therapy sessions.
Get Help for Your Related Dental and Medical Conditions
What about those times when a medical or dental condition is a result of nighttime anxiety, rather than just a cause?
Stiff neck from tossing and turning?
The solution could be as simple as finding the right mattress and pillow for your body. Pillows and mattresses are often designed specifically for back, stomach, and side sleepers. You might have the wrong design.
Are you noticing your teeth are a little extra sensitive, or you’re waking up with a headache and neck and shoulder pain?
You could be grinding your teeth; a condition called bruxism.
Bruxers often grind because of anxiety, but the grinding worsens stress. It’s a vicious cycle that can only be fixed by getting rid of the cause of your anxiety.
You can reduce the grinding damage and get better rest with a night guard.
When you’re not grinding and clenching in your sleep, it makes it easier for you to stay asleep. The night guard also reduces the damage to your enamel, jaw, neck, and other muscles.
If you’re grinding your teeth, consider getting a custom-fit night guard from us at JS Dental Lab. You can skip the dentist's office expense and still receive a high-quality oral appliance designed for you.
How to Handle the After Effects of Restless Sleep and Anxiety
While going through each of these solutions and seeing which ones work, you’ll need a way to handle the effects of insomnia.
You might not realize how dangerous a few hours of missed sleep is, much less days in a row. Trying to go about your life after a sleep-deprived night is like completing those tasks while drunk.
You’ll be tempted to opt for the easy ways of staying awake, like sugary caffeinated drinks, smoking, or unhealthy junk foods. These put you in a vicious cycle of highs and crashes that make you want to nap, messing up your circadian rhythm.
Natural Ways to Wake Your Brain and Body Up
You do have choices, though.
Try these natural methods of increasing alertness the next time you’re feeling groggy:
- Healthy foods, such as nuts, fruits, and veggies (the more you eat these, the less sleepy you’ll feel overall)
- Healthy energy drinks with vitamins and minerals, as well as natural caffeine sources
- Exercising for short bursts when you feel sleepy
- Getting fresh air
- Taking B12 sublingual vitamins
These natural remedies will wake you up for at least your next task, just as an unhealthy alternative would. But you won’t feel that hard crash when the sugar wears off, you won’t feel as anxious and jittery, and you might sleep better, too.
Nighttime anxiety and lack of sleep aren’t things anyone wants to live with, but it can feel like you’re stuck with those sleepless hours in bed. Your health problem could be something fixable, though.
This article has some of the most common causes of nighttime tossing and turning, from reducing stress to getting your medical or dental issues checked out.
Maybe your next good night’s sleep is as simple as a night guard from JS Dental Lab. Our Hybrid Hard/Soft night guard might be exactly what you need!