Your question: Why am I anxious at night?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this blog I would like to explain to you why some people feel anxiety when it gets dark, explaining the psychological meaning of fear and worry that appears specifically at night periods and suggesting strategies that can help you to diminish this unpleasant night feeling.

Generally people associate the night with a period of rest. It is that time of day when after the usual fatigue of daily life, whether academic, work or interpersonal, people can relax with an activity of their choice and then go to sleep.

However, for many people, nighttime is a time of intense anxiety and fear that feels overwhelming and uncontrollable. People who suffer from night anxiety may feel that they are “calm” during the day, but at night they feel overwhelmed with unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms that they cannot find a source for.

Night anxiety is common and has several causes. In general, it is related to the fact that when it gets dark, people have fewer distractions, so that those worries that during the day had been avoided by being busy with work or other activities, at night appear in an invasive and overwhelming way.

What is the origin of your night anxiety?

Night anxiety has different causes, as each person experiences anxiety differently:

Sleep problems

It has been shown(1) that sleep disturbances (particularly insomnia) are prevalent in people with anxiety problems. Insomnia, night terrors and nightmares are associated with the night period, so when it gets dark, you may experience anxiety at the thought that you are likely to spend another sleepless night or have nightmares that will wake you with a start.

Fear of the dark

Many adults are embarrassed to admit that they are afraid of the dark because they associate it with childhood and immaturity, yet it is more common than it seems. A survey (2) conducted by an electrical company showed that almost 50% of adults surveyed were afraid of the dark to a lesser or greater extent. People with fear of the dark may exhibit symptoms similar to panic attacks, such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, trembling or shaking, as well as an intense urge to escape.

Anxious thoughts

At night you are more likely to have overwhelming and anxious thoughts than during the day (3). This happens because at night you have less stimuli to capture your attention compared to the daytime, therefore, just before bedtime you may ruminate stressful thoughts over and over again, causing your nighttime anxiety.

These thoughts can range from the everyday stresses of work, school and family, to more particular fears, such as the fear of a tragic event happening during the night, either to you or to a loved one.

How can you stop being anxious at night?

There are strategies you can implement to reduce the feeling of nighttime anxiety, however, if it is persistent, and in particular if it impairs your sleep cycle, you need to seek professional help.

Decrease caffeine

When you drink coffee or caffeinated beverages all the time, you tend to be hyperstimulated. This chemical stimulates the brain and keeps it in a constant state of wakefulness waiting for a jolt, so reducing the levels you consume on a daily basis will help.


Physical activity is beneficial for the body and mind as it allows for greater control over the body and the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that generate psychological well-being in people. Doing physical activity before going to sleep can help you both to reduce the symptoms of nighttime anxiety and to fall asleep more easily. Light stretching exercises are ideal to do at night.

Relaxation and breathing

Jacobson’s relaxation technique (6) may be useful for you, as it focuses on decreasing the unpleasant sensations associated with anxiety and panic attacks. This technique is done lying down, in a quiet environment with your eyes closed. It consists in focusing your attention on a part of your body, making slow movements, tensing and releasing the tension. For example in your feet, you make slow circular movements, tense them and then release the tension. 

Then you do the same with your legs, and so on until you reach your head. It will take as long as you feel necessary, but it lasts approximately 5 to 10 minutes. It is a slow but effective exercise, that with time you will learn to control it perfectly and you will notice an improvement in the control of your nocturnal anxiety.

In my experience…

Feeling anxiety at night is quite common, and therefore, you must learn to normalize and accept your experience with anxiety before changing it. It is necessary to understand that no one is to blame for feeling anxiety, but they do have the responsibility to identify the source of their problems and seek a solution to reduce their symptoms. This is done slowly, each person has a specific pace to address their problems.

Remember that you have the ability to improve your psychological state, even if during moments of anxiety or depression you feel hopeless. You can always make small changes that will pay off in the long run. The fact that you are contacting me to seek professional attention in psychological counseling is already a step, and I recognize and applaud you for that. You are already doing something and wanting to change always leads you in the right direction.

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