Your question: Why do I wake up from naps with anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.

A scenario that has surely become commonplace for you: you lie in bed in the afternoon with the intention of taking a short nap to continue with your day’s activities, but suddenly, you wake up excited, anxious and worried.

Anxiety is a common experience, even necessary in small doses. However, when it causes complications in important areas of your life such as eating and sleeping, you are facing a problem that requires attention.

Waking up with anxiety from a nap is common, and is related to anxious thoughts that preoccupy you during the day. These thoughts are automatic (1), in that they come on abruptly, and usually bring a negative feeling and intense worry.

Automatic thoughts can appear even during periods of rest, generating the feeling of anxiety when you are resting or trying to fall asleep. Waking up with anxiety from a nap, in the morning or in the middle of the night is a sign that automatic thoughts are taking over your life, generating deep anxiety.

This is not your fault, as no one is responsible for feeling anxious. Sometimes the stresses of everyday life and responsibilities simply overwhelm us and cause anxiety that becomes difficult to control.

Although it may seem impossible, because anxiety makes you feel helpless and vulnerable, you are capable of dealing with this problem because you have the determination to get better. In addition, asking for professional help of any kind, even virtually, is a sign that you are on your way to feeling better about yourself.

Why do you wake up in the middle of your nap with anxiety?

Waking up anxious from a nap or in the middle of the night is a warning sign that you are exposed to a lot of stress recently. There are several reasons why you may wake up startled from your sleep, some of these are:

Daily stress

During the day you experience stress for different reasons. Work, studies, money and interpersonal relationships are some of the most common causes. When you sleep, your brain is still processing information. It is possible that you wake up with anxiety in the middle of your nap because the things that worry you in your daily life, activate your anxiety suddenly while you are resting and generate a feeling of exaltation that ends up waking you up.

Bad sleeping habits

Taking naps is refreshing, but it can be a problem when done in an uncontrolled manner. If you don’t have a fixed schedule for resting during the day, you may feel anxiety related to taking naps, since sleeping in the afternoon can make it difficult for you to fall asleep at night.


If you have caffeine shortly before going to sleep, you may have trouble falling asleep and/or wake up with a start. This happens because caffeine is a stimulant of the nervous system, when consuming it you will feel physical and emotional agitation, which causes complications when sleeping.

What can you do?

Some strategies you can implement to avoid waking up anxious from your naps, aside from consulting with a professional such as a psychologist or sleep doctor, are:

Emotional journaling

Writing down your emotional problems and anxious thoughts is a great help to alleviate anxiety symptoms and avoid waking up anxious from your sleep. In a journal, write down everything that is generating worry in your life. It is important that this journal becomes a space to drain your problems. It helps if you do it a few hours before you take your nap, repeating to yourself “I write down what worries me here and now so that it does not interrupt my sleep”. This is a mantra that, when repeated several times, will help you fall asleep without waking up in an exalted way in the middle of your sleep.

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 (2).

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…

When we prioritize our eating, sleeping and other key areas of our daily functioning, we are doing the right thing. The mind and body are closely related, and if you don’t get regular sleep, you will experience both physical and emotional problems.

Avoiding waking up with anxiety from your naps or sleep in general can be tricky, but with consistency and confidence, you can do it. Seeking help from a sleep and psychology professional is necessary if you feel your problem is getting worse.

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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