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What to do when you feel anxious at night

We’ve all been there. Even on a day when nothing particularly worrisome has happened, our minds go into overdrive when our heads hit the pillow and keep us from falling asleep. Or, we wake up in the night and can’t fall back to sleep because our thoughts start racing. What‘s going on?

“if you’re suffering from anxiety at night, then you likely have generalized anxiety,” says Tashinea Bernadin, M.D., a Piedmont family practice physician. In other words, there’s nothing special about nighttime anxiety, at least in terms of cause. You probably feel anxious for the same reasons you do during the day. At night, though, it’s more noticeable. You have nothing else competing with your attention. This gives all of the worries you didn’t have time for during the day a chance to come to the forefront.

What causes nighttime anxiety?

“Causes of night anxiety are typically the same as causes of general anxiety,” says Dr. Bernadin. “Sleep deprivation is one, along with any major life stressors—work, deaths in the family, moving, divorce.” And of course, when you worry about not sleeping, that can keep you awake!

The worst thing you can do when feeling anxious at night is to let your mind get away from you. “Mindfulness techniques can help with anxiety,” says Dr. Bernadin. “which basically means being present in the moment … not thinking about things that need to be done, but reflecting on the softness of your pillow, or your breath.”

Breathing exercises are a great way to bring on that state of mindfulness and put a stop to nighttime anxiety. Instead of allowing your anxious thoughts to take over, you can concentrate on slowing your breathing, inhaling deeply through your nose and letting it out slowly through your mouth. When your breathing slows down, that sends a signal your brain and your body that it’s time to go to sleep.

What else can calm an anxious mind?

For some people, getting the troublesome thoughts out of their heads and onto paper is helpful. Keep a notebook or pad of paper next to your bed where you can write down what’s bothering you.

While it’s a bad idea to be looking at your smartphone just before bed, listening to it can help you sleep: use an app to listen to a relaxing sleep story, white noise or even a podcast—there are some that are designed to lull you to dreamland.

And, of course, there’s always soothing, relaxing music. The right songs can calm your autonomic nervous system, which leads to slower breathing and a reduced heart rate, both of which will help you sleep.

If these tips don’t help you, or if you find yourself unable to fall asleep/stay asleep night after night, it’s time to consult a doctor. You should also seek medical attention, says Dr. Bernadin, if you experience palpitations or have the sensation of impending doom.

To make an appointment with a Piedmont physician, save time: book online.





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