When You Can't Sleep Because You're Anxious

February 15, 2022 Rizza Bermio-Gonzalez

When I am anxious, one of the main symptoms I experience is a loss of sleep. And this is due to a couple of reasons -- first of all, my heart rate increases when I'm anxious, especially if I've had a panic attack. When this happens, it is hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. The other reason is that I will find myself thinking about whatever I'm worried or stressed about, and those racing thoughts make it difficult to sleep as my mind works overtime. Even if I fall asleep, I will wake up in the middle of the night and have a hard time going back to sleep, and so I might find myself fully awake before dawn.

How It Feels When You Can't Sleep Because of Anxiety

When you can't sleep because of anxiety, it can create a cycle of anxiety and lack of sleep. For example, I will find that I feel even more anxious the next day because of the lack of sleep, and then the increased anxiety contributes to having an even harder time sleeping. It is not until I am completely exhausted that I will get a restful night of sleep, but at that point, multiple days have passed by, and I've already had to cope with the effects of fatigue. These include feeling like I am in a brain fog for much of the day, having difficulty concentrating, and not having very much energy. 

Being anxious can make it difficult for your brain to relax, and I know that this is something I struggle with that makes it hard for me to fall asleep when it is time to go to bed. While I often share strategies for falling asleep and staying asleep, even if I use these strategies, it can still be hard to rest if I am in the middle of a stressful situation that worsens my anxiety.

What to Do When Anxiety Makes It Hard to Sleep

So what can you do if you are in the middle of a cycle of not sleeping because you are anxious and feeling even more anxious because you can't sleep?

In my experience, the key is in calming your nervous system to help you settle into sleep. I use calming techniques, such as mindfulness meditation. Practicing mindfulness is something that I have found calms my anxious brain in many situations.

It is also helpful for me to watch my caffeine consumption. In these situations, it is important that I reduce the coffee that I drink since I have noticed that caffeine exacerbates my anxiety. Because of this, I will reduce any caffeine that I drink, which is usually coffee.

Something else that can be helpful is a calming distraction. I find that reading a book before I go to sleep can calm me, and sometimes calming music or sounds can be helpful as well.

Lastly, I find it beneficial to focus on my breathing. Taking slow, deep breaths can help to slow the heart rate. Since this is so important for settling into sleep, I find it helpful to concentrate on it. When my mind starts to wander -- especially to something that I know will make me increasingly anxious, I bring my mind back to my breath and focus on it moving in and out of my body.

I have found this to be helpful for me in times of heightened anxiety and can't sleep. Share any strategies you use in the comments below.

APA Reference
Bermio-Gonzalez, R. (2022, February 15). When You Can't Sleep Because You're Anxious, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Rizza Bermio-Gonzalez

Lizanne Corbit
February, 15 2022 at 6:16 pm

Such a relatable struggle! During the day I try to be mindful of my caffeine consumption and make sure to cut it off by a certain point so I know I'm not too wound up going into the evening hours. Sometimes I miss my cut off or I'm just so keyed up about other things it can still be difficult to fall asleep, the mindfulness and present moment meditations prove particularly helpful then. As does breathwork.

February, 17 2022 at 1:21 pm

Hi Lizanne,
I appreciate your comments! I have found that focusing on my breath has also been very helpful if I wake up in the middle of the night and have a hard time falling back asleep. It is a struggle that is a continuous work in progress for me.
Thank you for sharing!
Stay safe and well,

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