Your question: Why am I anxious when I wake up?

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 wake up feeling anxious, either in the middle of the night or at dawn, exploring the origin of anxiety in general and its relationship with the sleep cycle. Finally, some strategies to cope with this unpleasant experience will be proposed.

Anxiety, like any other emotion, can appear at the most inopportune moments. Although it is necessary because anxiety indicates to people the presence of a threat or a problem in their lives that they must face, its symptoms are unpleasant. Morning anxiety, or wake-up anxiety, is a state of momentary panic that occurs when a person wakes up with a start, either in the early morning or at dawn.

This type of anxiety impairs the quality of sleep, because even though the person has fulfilled the necessary hours of sleep, the anxious and frightened awakening makes you feel anxious and exhausted for the rest of the day. The causes of morning anxiety are both biological and emotional, and must be identified before strategies can be devised to reduce and avoid it.

What is the origin of your morning anxiety?

Waking up with anxiety in the morning is quite common. The body and mind act generating in the person annoying symptoms such as tachycardia and sweating, as well as fear and intense worry that seems to have no origin. There are several factors that may be causing you morning anxiety, among these:


Caffeine is addictive because it is a central nervous system stimulant. If you associate caffeine consumption with waking up, whether it is coffee, energy drinks or soda, your brain will wake up startled, sometimes before your wake-up time, because of the desire to get the caffeine in your system (1)


Cortisol, often called the “stress hormone,” is highest during the first hour after waking up in people experiencing stress. This causes you to wake up startled at dawn even if there is no apparent cause for you to panic upon awakening (2).

Bad sleep habits

The sleep cycle is essential to be fulfilled in order to feel stable in your day to day life. If you have poor or irregular sleep habits, such as falling asleep and waking up at random times, you are likely to feel anxious when you wake up, as your brain is not adequately rested and therefore sends warning signals to your body.

Daily stress

Many people believe that when they sleep they “disconnect” from the world. This is false, in fact, most brain activity occurs when people are sleeping. It is possible that your morning anxiety occurs if you have experienced daily stress, whether it is work-related, financial or relationship-related, because even during sleep, your brain is still active, thinking about everyday worries.

What are the symptoms of your morning anxiety?

In general, the physical and emotional symptoms of morning anxiety occur moments before, during and after waking up, either in the early morning or at dawn. Symptoms may even persist throughout the rest of the day:

  • Sensation of fear or startle upon awakening.
  • Tachycardia and sweating upon awakening.
  • Wanting to cry upon awakening.
  • Shortness of breath or shortness of breath upon awakening.
  • Irritability during the rest of the day.
  • Difficulty concentrating for the rest of the day.

How can you manage your morning anxiety?

Managing the feeling of morning anxiety can be complicated. If your symptoms are persistent and worsen over time, it is advisable to seek help from a professional psychologist who can provide you with specific techniques for your situation and make a diagnosis if necessary. However, in many cases, by changing and adding healthy habits to daily life, people usually find an improvement:

Keep a diary of your anxiety

During the day, writing in a diary the things that are causing you anxiety in your life is useful to recognize and externalize this feeling. Expressing your emotions is necessary to learn to normalize them.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This technique consists of using your senses to dissuade emotional discomfort at a specific moment. It is useful when you are experiencing a lot of physical agitation or you feel that you have a lot of unpleasant thoughts, and find it difficult to control your emotions. Wherever you are, you will focus on identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.

You can apply it during the day, but it will be even more effective if you do it just before going to sleep, mentally repeating to yourself that you will rest fully without interruption of your anxiety. It may take time to adapt to it, but eventually you will notice its positive impact.

Physical activity

Exercising or practicing a sport allows your body and mind to connect and feel more relaxed during rest periods. By doing so, it helps your sleep period to regularize, thus avoiding the annoying abrupt and anxious awakening.

In my experience…

The feeling of morning anxiety can be quite unpleasant and frightening, however, it is not uncommon. I would like to tell you that even though at this moment you may feel overwhelmed and worried, there is a solution to your problems and you have the ability to cope with them and improve your physical and mental health. 

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.

I invite you to seek professional help when you feel that even applying these suggestions, your situation does not improve. Cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective in treating different forms of anxiety and will give you more accurate tools to manage your emotions. 

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