Nighttime Stress, Why do you Feel so Anxious at Night?

When you're feeling emotionally overwrought, the night can seem exceptionally dark. In this article, we find out why. Furthermore, what you can do to ease and improve your nighttime routine.
Nighttime Stress, Why do you Feel so Anxious at Night?
Raquel Aldana

Written and verified by the psychologist Raquel Aldana.

Last update: 14 December, 2021

If you’re going through a stage of emotional unrest, you might find yourself fearing the nighttime. You know you really need to rest, but you also know you’ll never manage the eight hours you need. At other times, you might get enough sleep, but it isn’t the restorative kind. This simply adds to your emotional upset during the day.

Sometimes, at night, in the midst of your emotional upset, anguish, and hopelessness also appear. This causes your nocturnal emotional metabolism to be altered. Therefore, along with your other problems, you also experience fatigue.

There are certain times of the day when you’re at your most vulnerable. Undoubtedly, nighttime is one of the most common. There are various reasons for this. Let’s find out what they are and also take a look at how they might affect your health.

Woman awake at night in bed

Why does nighttime stress occur?

The truth is that the night has a series of distinctive characteristics that can promote different psychological states depending on the predisposition of a person. On the one hand, the decrease in external stimuli at all sensory and social levels can lead you to focus on various bodily sensations. That’s the reason why you interpret pain, muscle tension, tachycardia, and your thoughts in a more dysfunctional way at night.

For example, due to the lack of external stimulation, people with tinnitus  or ringing in the ears experience these symptoms more in the silence of the night. To alleviate this, it’s usually recommended that the person listens to relaxing music at a low volume. This decreases the intensity and discomfort of the tinnitus and helps them to fall asleep.

There’s also the way nighttime stress tends to be interpreted. Since the night is the socially and biologically reserved space for rest, when you can’t sleep, you tend to feel extremely uncomfortable.

Furthermore, the silence of the night and the lack of activity can mean you overthink your worries and concerns. It’s also a time when even if you think of a solution you can’t put it into action. Consequently, you’re left feeling both agitated and uncertain.

Indeed, turning things over and over in your head leads you into a never-ending spiral of suffering. In fact, you end up overanalyzing and imagining scenarios that have little to do with reality.

Disrupted sleep as a cause and consequence of anxiety

Many times your sleep is constantly interrupted by waves of discomfort, anxiety or frequent awakenings. This trend is extremely damaging. In fact, John Hopkins University in Baltimore (USA) conducted a study that claimed the interruption of sleep is extremely dangerous for our mood since it alters the phases of sleep.

Slow brain waves have been shown to decrease when there’s sleep disruption. This has been associated in scientific literature with mood disorders.

For adequate mental and physical recharging to take place, your regulation system has to complete a series of sleep cycles. To achieve this, it goes through both REM and Non-REM phases on several occasions. When these are altered, it puts your mind in a kind of loop. You don’t sleep well because you feel bad and you feel emotionally drained because you don’t sleep well.

What’s behind nighttime stress?

Usually, when we analyze why a person experiences nighttime stress, we discover that they’re emotionally stressed and not managing it well. Their dreams can also be enlightening. That’s because dreams are mental elaborations that are generated with the aim of digesting or recycling what the psyche has experienced during the day.

Sometimes dreams are clothed in memories, events or fears. Nevertheless, what’s clear is that they’re the attempt of your mind to reposition while you sleep what you haven’t consciously organized during the day.

If what you have to filter, digest or elaborate has a great emotional charge, your nocturnal mental task will be much heavier and hard to undertake. Therefore, your rest will be altered. This means you might fall asleep later or wake up earlier, your sleep might be constantly interrupted, and you might experience nightmares, night terrors, or repeated dreams.

This has a devastating effect on your psychological state. In fact, it complicates your management of daily challenges and increases your nightly fears. This fear induces the appearance of thoughts from which you build catastrophic realities full of negative mental and physical sensations.

You should bear in mind that you may need to request psychological help from a mental health professional to help you develop and manage what you’re experiencing.

Man with anxiety at night

Keys to reducing nighttime stress and regaining a good sleep routine

To break this loop, you need to reconcile with the night and your sleeping patterns. This is a process that requires you to evaluate what factors are affecting you. You should also remember:

  • Dismissing your worries and resolving what you can during the day is crucial to speed up your emotional digestion at night and ward off nighttime stress.
  • Regulate the hours you dedicate to physical activity. In fact, both too much and too little activity can affect your sleep.
  • Move periods of physical activity away from bedtime so you don’t have to deal with physiological overexcitation. Likewise, you must bear in mind that the use of technological devices at night interferes with your sleep.
  • Maintain adequate temperature, hygiene and ventilation in your rest area, which should only be used for sleeping.
  • Identify which stimuli alter you the most and try to reduce their effect.
  • Maintain regular meal and rest hours.
  • Perform compensatory activities that allow you to reduce the physiological activation of emotion. For example, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, or mindfulness.
  • Finally and most importantly, keep in mind that sleep will come and that there are many tools you can acquire to regulate it. Based on this, it’s about exploring what can be improved and what you need.

Sleep and rest are mechanisms in the body that allow you to regulate your physical and mental systems. In effect, it’s a reboot that helps get everything working again. For this reason, any daytime emotional content that you don’t pay attention to can reappear in the form of nighttime torment.

Finally, don’t forget that taking problems to bed can have devastating effects. Therefore, it’s essential that you always give yourself the option of psychologically managing what you need.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Finan, P. H., Quartana, P. J., & Smith, M. T. (2015). The Effects of Sleep Continuity Disruption on Positive Mood and Sleep Architecture in Healthy Adults. Sleep38(11), 1735–1742.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.