The 7 Worst Things To Do At Night If You Have Anxiety
Having trouble falling asleep is a problem that plagues too many of us. And if you suffer with anxiety — or think you might — nighttime can be tricky, because you can start to worry about getting enough sleep before you even get into bed. “Some of my patients complain that their mind races at night — especially when their anxiety is worse — which prevents them from falling asleep,” Jennifer Caudle, DO, Family Physician and Associate Professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Bustle. “Others wake up prematurely or have interrupted sleep when anxiety worsens.” And with our plugged in 24/7 lifestyle, where we seem to live surrounded by phones, laptops, and tablets, you really have to make a conscious effort to give yourself the best chance at a good night sleep.
And if anxiety is part of the problem, it's important to remember how anxiety works. "Anxiety, in general, is the reaction to situations perceived as dangerous or stressful," Shoshana Ungerleider, an Internal Medicine Physician based in California, tells Bustle. "Some anxiety is a normal response and can actually be beneficial. However, an anxiety disorder is a condition typically characterized by excessive fear (i.e. emotional response to perceived or real threat) and/or anxiety (i.e. worrying about a future threat) that can have negative behavioral and emotional consequences that negatively affects someone’s daily life."
So if that sounds like you, you need to make sure to take care of yourself, especially in the evenings. Here are the things you want to avoid at night if you have anxiety.
1. Social Media
OK, first of all, if you get anxious at night and worry about falling asleep, you should give yourself the best shot possible. “A dark and clutter-free environment promotes ‘clean sleep’,” Julia Walsh, a certified sleep consultant, tells Bustle. “Keep screens (TV, phones, tablets, etc.) elsewhere.” So late-night Instagram scrolling in bed is a strong no. It's probably the most obvious thing you can do to help yourself have a good night's sleep but, also, it can be one of the most difficult.
If you find it too difficult to avoid a late-night scroll, try setting an alarm and putting your phone and laptop in another room for a while before bedtime. Sometimes, removing the temptations all together in the best way forward — especially if you tend to mindlessly reach for your phone without even realizing.
2. Focus On The Negative
I can get panicky at night, thinking about everything I need to do or mulling over something that went wrong that day — but that just makes things worse. "Focusing on what is good in your life as opposed to what is going wrong with your life not only calms you down ... but also helps you reflect on your day," NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW previously said to Bustle. Even write it in a list if it helps.
3. Something Totally Different
If you get anxious at night or have trouble sleeping, a routine is key. "To fall asleep l it's important to first have a wind-down routine that you follow at the same time each night," Jamie Logie, a health and wellness coach, tells Bustle. "This lets your body know that sleep is coming and it makes it easier to fall asleep."
If you suddenly try to break that routine, you might make things way worse for yourself. A sleep routine will look different for everyone. For some, it might focus on skincare — for others, it might be more about reading or stretching. Don't be afraid to explore and find a routine that works for you.
4. Panic That You're Not Sleeping
This is the worst. If you're anything like me, if you find that you can't fall asleep then you can spend hours laying there just thinking about how much sleep you're not getting and how awake you are. It can be hard to avoid, but try if you can — it's essentially just torturing yourself for no reason and can send your anxiety through the roof. "You're better off getting up and reading or listening to soft music to help distract your brain and hopefully start the wind-down process again," Logie previously said to Bustle. Don't just lay there counting down the minutes, try to distract yourself so you don't focus on the panic.
5. Overeating Or Undereating
If your feeling anxious, disordered eating can be a destructive attempt at coping. "Overeating and undereating are both signs of trying to relieve anxiety," Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Elise Franklin tells Bustle. If you're someone who tends toward disordered eating or using food as a comfort, it's important to be aware that this might be an issue. When in doubt, speaking to a professional can help you unpack your coping mechanisms.
6. Excessive Socializing
If you're already anxious — especially socially anxious — socializing can mess with your sleep schedule. "For those who suffer from social anxiety, being around a large group ... will [leave you feeling] drained, sometimes both physically and mentally before, during, or after," Aimee Noel, LCSW, clinical director at Sober College, tells Bustle. "Those without social anxiety could feel energized interacting with a lot of people. If your tiredness correlates with these events, it may be a sign of anxiety."
Late-night socializing can zap you completely and, if you get home and start to worry about something you said, it can mean a really long night. If you feel like seeing friends or going to parties in the evening makes you too exhausted or even more anxious, try to embrace the art of saying "no". Sometimes, it's worth putting yourself first.
7. Watching TV
Whenever I have the place to myself, I watch Law & Order: SVU for hours and then cannot sleep at all because everyone is a murderer. But it's true in the more general sense; if you get anxious and worked up, don't exacerbate that with your TV or book choice. "Tell yourself a gentle story — could be a favorite childhood book or movie — and use the same one night after night," Catherine Darley, ND, of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, Inc., previously said to Bustle. "This is helpful for those people who have an active mind and their thoughts interfere with sleep." Sorry, Stabler and Benson, you'll have to wait until morning. Because starting your day with a little murder is definitely a better option.
If you get anxious, nighttime and pre-sleep can feel like a difficult part of your day. But just take care of yourself and give yourself the best shot at a good night's sleep. It might mean controlling your screens, limiting your socializing, getting a bedtime routine — or all three. And if it doesn't go exactly to plan, that's OK too — try not to focus on the struggle. The more you let go, the easier it will be to drift off.
This post was originally published on November 17, 2017. It was updated on June 5, 2019.