- Waking up with anxiety can make your morning a lot harder — and waking up at night to battle anxious thoughts is no walk in the park, either. But why does it happen in the first place?
- Common life changes and circumstances can affect your sleep quality and cause morning anxiety. These include Moving, physical health problems, breakups, divorce, financial stress, childrearing, substance use, and more.
- Though waking up with anxiety in the morning or at night is normal, it’s not necessarily healthy. Overtime, you may start to develop insomnia, or an anxiety disorder.
- Helpful ways to combat waking up with anxiety include engaging in daily exercise, limiting violent or disturbing media content before bed, minimizing screen time, and more.
- Lastly, talk to a therapist about your anxiety symptoms if your current coping skills aren’t preventing you from waking up with anxiety.
Sometimes a bad day starts with waking up on the wrong side of the bed, and there’s an easy-to-spot reason for why you’re feeling off. But on other days, particularly if it becomes a pattern, waking up with anxiety is confusing, especially if it’s in the middle of the night.
So what’s going on when you wake up feeling anxious?
Why Do I Wake Up with Anxiety in the Middle of the Night?
Lots of factors are at play when we talk about the term “anxiety”. When we become anxious, our body increases its cortisol levels as a primal response to stress. Cortisol helps regulate our stress response, blood pressure, and our sleep-wake cycle, which can affect our ability to sleep through the night.
There are also common situations or concerns that can cause someone to wake up with anxiety. These can include:
- Changes in employment, such as getting fired or starting a new job
- Emotional or physical abuse
- Separation from a partner, temporarily or permanently (breakup/divorce)
- The death of a loved one (grief)
- Financial hardship
- Family problems
- Medical problems
- Physical conditions like sleep apnea
- Mental health conditions and disorders that are untreated or undiagnosed
- Substance use, particularly psychedelics, stimulants, and alcohol
- Caffeine intoxication
There isn’t a specific anxiety disorder that causes someone to wake up with anxiety, but all sorts of unresolved issues may be at work, and could be gnawing at you.
Is it Normal to Wake Up with Anxiety Every Morning? And What Does It Feel Like?
It is normal, but it isn’t always helpful or healthy. A little bit of anxiety can be helpful to start the day off — keeping you focused and on-track. On the other hand, prolonged anxiety can cause bodily damage and make the symptoms of other mental health conditions worse.
Waking up with anxiety, whether it’s in the morning or middle of the night, may look and feel like:
- Shortness of breath
- Racing heart beat
- Hyperarousal, also known as an adrenaline rush
- Lack of appetite
- Muscle aches or pains
It’s also worth noting that if you’re waking up with anxiety consistently (whether it’s at night or in the morning), you may start to develop insomnia and become sleep-deprived. This can often worsen your mood and make it harder for you to cope with life stressors and other issues.
What Are 6 Coping Skills for Waking up with Anxiety?
Many of the best ways to prevent yourself from waking up with anxiety is to take extra care of yourself before your head hits the pillow in the evening. This means what you do, eat, and drink during the day will all affect your ability to sleep through the night, and avoid waking up with anxiety.
Start small. Begin by:
- Spending at least 30 minutes a day engaging in physical activity. This might be as simple as enjoying a brisk walk, taking your dog out for a stroll, practicing yoga, or hitting the gym.
- Incorporating healthy fats and omegas into your diet. Salmon, trout, whitefish, tuna, eggs, and dark chocolate are all popular sources of healthy fats. And if you’re vegetarian or vegan, give chickpeas or soy products a try.
- Giving tried-and-true relaxation techniques a shot, whether it’s with a therapist or through an app. Vipassana meditation and controlled breathing are clinically proven to help reduce anxiety and lower those pesky cortisol levels.
- Abstaining from coffee, alcohol, and substance use at least 3 hours before your bedtime.
- Limiting consumption of violent tv shows and true crime binging at night. Even though these shows are often morbidly gratifying, they can linger in your thoughts as you’re trying to sleep. This doesn’t mean cutting them out completely, but absorbing shocking or disturbing content shortly before trying to get your body to calm down enough to sleep may not be helpful.
- Decluttering and organizing your personal spaces. Having a disorganized bedroom, or other rooms in your house can be distracting. Getting them tidied up before you go to sleep can help you eliminate the nagging feeling to get up and start cleaning.
- Minimizing screen time with electronic devices can be also helpful in terms of slowing down the body and getting ready for sleep cycle. Electronic devices often stimulate the brain, preventing us from getting adequate sleep.
One of the things to remember as you implement these tips is that personal growth is often uncomfortable and difficult. If you take too large of a leap forward, you may feel overwhelmed and become discouraged before you make any progress.
Try beginning with small steps, small, achievable and attainable goals. For example, if you are a night owl, but you wish to change your sleep/wake cycle to improve your mood during the day, try starting with adding a decompression time before bed.
Dim the lights, trying a new breathing technique to slow down the mind and body, and go to sleep 20-30 minutes earlier. Don’t create a difficult or unattainable goal for yourself, which may cause more anxiety or frustration when falling off a healthy or new habit for self-improvement.
Define the emotions you want to replace your anxiety with. Then, identify possible sources of happiness, health, and relaxation.
How to Stop Waking Up with Anxiety
A therapist or psychiatric provider’s help is perhaps the most powerful tool to use to reduce your symptoms, apart from your willingness to address the problem.
If an anxiety disorder isn’t the reason why you’re waking up with anxiety, there are still other conditions and concerns that might be contributing — by partnering with a professional, you can spare yourself the unnecessary guesswork. You may learn things you were not aware of previously, and have access to the information and resources to help you succeed.
Reaching out to a counselor doesn’t mean you can’t do it alone: It helps you to ensure you have all the tools and resources you need to stop waking up with anxiety.