Nighttime Anxiety

Nighttime Anxiety

Anxiety has a way of creeping up on us; among its various manifestations, nighttime anxiety, which tends to peak amidst the quiet of the night, can be particularly debilitating. This includes racing thoughts, fears, and the feelings of restlessness that often accompany the quiet of night. This post aims to provide a look at this issue and suggest evidence-based interventions to help you work with your thoughts and get the sleep you need.

When daytime’s activities wane, the lack of distractions can allow fears and worries to take center stage, becoming louder and more pervasive. This is a time when many of us will overthink situations, worry excessively, review the same events or issues repeatedly, replay embarrassing memories, and have thoughts of what could have been and what the future looks like. And there goes the ability to achieve or maintain quality sleep. 

Alongside this, fears can intensify under the cover of darkness. For some, nighttime can induce feelings of vulnerability or loneliness, amplifying fears and creating a feedback loop that escalates anxiety. This cyclical pattern can prove challenging to break, often feeding into sleep disturbances and resulting in chronic fatigue. 

If you are someone who experiences this kind of anxiety fairly regularly, I would be willing to bet you know exactly how exhausting and frustrating this can feel. Our bodies, specifically the nervous system, respond to these thoughts and worries in the form of not allowing us to fully relax or calm down. 

Thankfully there are ways to deal with our thoughts and fears. Let’s start with strategies you can implement to deal with overthinking (rumination), worrying, and racing thoughts. 

Tackling Racing Thoughts and Worries

Mindfulness and Breath Work

Mindfulness practice, rooted in ancient Buddhist traditions, has now become a popular and effective technique for reducing anxiety. It involves focusing your attention on the present moment without judgment. Incorporating mindfulness practices into your bedtime routine can be very helpful. 

  • Meditation: You could use a basic meditation technique, such as focusing on your breath. As thoughts come, acknowledge them without judgment and gently guide your focus back to your breath. A comforting phrase you can use is: “I am inhaling calm, I am exhaling worry.”
  • Body scan: This involves mentally scanning your body from head to toe, acknowledging any sensations without judgment. This practice can help to ground you in the present and draw your attention away from racing thoughts. As you scan, remind yourself, “My attention is on my body, not on my worries.”
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This involves tensing and releasing different groups of muscles. You can do this on your own by starting at your feet and working up to your eyebrows and facial muscles. 

Do an online search for each of these techniques if you would like more guidance or if you want to listen to guided audio.

The 16 second box breathing exercise is a simple breathing exercise that REALLY helps. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale SLOWLY through your mouth for a count of 4 and hold for a count 4. Repeat this for a couple of minutes and you will notice a difference. Make sure to breathe from your abdomen, as shallow breathing can cause dizziness and hyperventilation, which is what we do not want.


Expressive writing or journaling your thoughts and worries has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality. Consider the following approach:

  • Worry time: Establish a designated ‘worry time,’ where you jot down and address all your concerns and fears. This practice helps compartmentalize your worries, preventing them from intruding on your sleep. A self-affirming phrase to use here could be: “I have acknowledged my worries, now I release them.”
  • Gratitude Journal: Besides writing down your worries, also write about things for which you are grateful. This shift in focus can help to alleviate anxiety by reinforcing positive emotions. As you write, remind yourself, “Despite my worries, I have many things to be grateful for.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT involves techniques to help identify and challenge unhelpful thought patterns that contribute to anxiety, replacing them with more balanced and positive thinking. You could use the methods below as well as find personalized guidance with a therapist. Do this before you get ready for bed.

  • Cognitive restructuring: This technique involves identifying negative thought patterns, challenging them, and replacing them with more rational, positive thoughts. A helpful phrase might be: “I recognize my negative thoughts, and I choose to replace them with positive ones.”
  • Problem-solving: If your anxiety is rooted in specific issues or problems, brainstorm possible solutions or action plans. This proactive approach can help to reduce feelings of helplessness and worry. Remind yourself, “I am capable and can find solutions to my problems.”

Set Boundaries with Yourself

It’s important to set boundaries with yourself before you even get into your bed. This takes time and practice, but be intentional and realistic. What I mean by this is intentionally setting the tone of your thoughts with the idea of only focusing on events and situations that went well for you during the day or engaging in a mindfulness exercise to relax rather than letting your mind go wild. 

Soothing Fears and Feelings of Fear at Night

Bedroom Environment: 

Create an environment that exudes safety and comfort. This might include using a nightlight, diffusing calming scents, or cocooning in a comforting blanket. Repeating a phrase like “I am safe and secure in my space” can also enhance feelings of safety.

Relaxation Techniques

Employ practices like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery to diminish fear and induce calm. As you practice, remind yourself: “I am calm, I am relaxed, I am at ease.”

Graded Exposure

Confront your fear incrementally, in manageable steps. Begin with less intimidating elements and gradually increase the difficulty, thereby reducing fear over time. An empowering phrase here can be: “Every small step I take is a victory over my fear.” An example of this might be gradually turning off lights you might otherwise leave on due to fears.

Asking for Help

If you find that nighttime anxiety is causing significant distress or negatively impacting your sleep, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. Help is available, and reaching out can be the first step toward overcoming these nighttime struggles.


In Conclusion

Remember this: nighttime anxiety, as challenging as it may be, is very workable. With understanding, self-compassion, and the right strategies, you can convert your nights from a time of anxiety into a space of rest and rejuvenation.


If you would like to talk more about this topic or make an appointment, please reach out!