How you wake up in the morning sets the tone for the rest of your day — and if you're waking up with anxiety, you're not off to the best start. This is especially true if you glance over at your alarm clock and find that it's 3 a.m., and you can't fall back asleep.
Morning anxiety can have a negative influence on your mental health throughout the rest of the day, and as such, should never be ignored. Whether it’s caused by life events or a generalized anxiety disorder, waking up with anxiety can leave you in a funk. If it affects how much sleep you get, your mental and physical health can also suffer.
Fortunately, lying awake in bed during the early hours of the morning trying to fight off anxious thoughts doesn't have to be a permanent problem.
In this article, we'll take a look at what can cause people to wake up with anxiety. Even more importantly, we'll also go into some self-care practices that can help you overcome it. A good night's sleep will dramatically improve your overall wellness and make anxiety symptoms easier to manage.
Why Do Some People Wake up With Anxiety?
Waking up with anxiety doesn't necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. Many people experience anxiety as a result of external stressors in their life that come and go. Stress is a natural response to challenges at home, school, or work.
When you're feeling anxious, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol. This essentially puts your body into fight or flight mode. The stressful situation is perceived as dangerous to your wellbeing, and pumping up the cortisol is how your nervous system tries to protect you.
Unfortunately, many people in a stressful life situation will experience what is known as a cortisol awakening response (CAR). This happens when the body starts to release more cortisol in the morning, which can cause you to wake up feeling anxious. Many people also have racing thoughts that make it nearly impossible to fall back to sleep.
Common situations that could cause you to wake up with anxiety include:
- Relationship troubles: Studies show that we sleep better after having positive interactions with our romantic partner. However, we sleep worse after negative interactions.
- Stress at work or school: Whether you're cramming for a final or have a big project at work, the stress can cause you to wake in the early morning.
- Financial stress: A surprise bill, the loss of a job, and major expenses can trigger anxiety that makes it harder to stay asleep.
- Significant life events: Research shows that major life events, such as the death of a spouse, divorce, moving, getting married, or suffering from a major illness will often trigger anxiety and depression.
For many people, waking up with anxiety because of these situations will be a temporary issue — or at least something that just comes and goes. However, others find they wake up feeling anxious almost every day. When this occurs, it likely means your symptoms have developed into a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
In addition to trouble sleeping almost every night, GAD can make it harder to concentrate and leave you feeling irritable and even prone to panic attacks. GAD is often worsened by substance abuse or other health challenges, like heart disease or diabetes.
How to Avoid Waking up With Anxiety
First and foremost, if morning anxiety is significantly impacting your quality of life, you should consult with a health care professional. While the ideas we're going to talk about here can definitely help relieve symptoms, those with GAD may need cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other care.
To avoid waking up with anxiety, examine your sleep hygiene and bedtime routine.
First, consider sleeping with a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets use deep pressure therapy to provide what feels like a gentle hug. This calming "embrace" lowers cortisol levels while also helping the body produce serotonin and dopamine so you can feel relaxed and in a better mindset for sleep.
You can further improve your bedroom environment by turning down the thermostat (65 degrees Fahrenheit is generally considered the best for sleep) and using blackout curtains and a white noise machine to block out unwanted light and sound. A blackout eye mask can also help.
Choose relaxing activities in the hours leading up to bed. While physical activity is a great stress reliever during the day, the rush of adrenaline you get from exercise could make it harder to fall asleep. Similarly, drinking caffeinated beverages or using devices that emit blue light (like a smartphone) will cause you to feel more awake.
Calming activities like reading in bed, journaling, or taking a warm bath may help you relax and feel less anxious before you sleep. Mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can relax the muscles and help you control racing thoughts. Intentionally focusing on things you’re grateful for or enjoyed about the day can also help you relax and avoid dwelling on the negative.
How you feel when you go to bed can set the tone for how well you sleep and how you feel when you wake up.
Creating an Anxiety-Relieving Morning Routine
If you still feel like curling under the covers when you wake up in the morning, it's okay. If you’re waking up with anxiety, there are ways to relax so you can face the day with a cheerful attitude — or, if you've woken up at 4 a.m., fall back asleep:
Don't forget your weighted blanket: Remember the weighted blanket we talked about cuddling with to fall asleep? It provides deep touch pressure therapy benefits that can relax you in the morning or at night. Try wrapping your weighted blanket or weighted throw around your shoulders as you sit up in bed and consider the day ahead. This can start lowering your cortisol levels.
Practice relaxation exercises: Deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation are great ways to relax your body so you can mentally reset. This will make it easier to either fall back asleep if you wake up during the night and feel good about starting the day.
Exercise: While you don't want to exercise right before bed, it will almost certainly help you feel better in the morning. Exercise relieves anxiety and depression and improves your mood and self-confidence. A quick run or pilates routine in the morning might help you start the day on the right foot.
Proactively practice positive thinking: Negative thoughts can become a habit that cause you to start feeling anxious the moment you wake up. You can counteract these by developing positive statements that you can repeat as a mantra to change your way of thinking. For example, “I am enough” or “I am capable of accomplishing all that this day has in store.” You'll know what you need to hear.
Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also help you develop a positive mindset — consider working with a mental health professional to create more lasting change.
- Slow down your mornings: Many people feel anxious when they wake up because of their stressful morning routine. It's hard to feel relaxed if you're hurrying to shower and wolf down a piece of toast before rushing off to work. While it may sound counterintuitive, you may feel less anxious if you wake up earlier. This way, you can take a few minutes to eat a nourishing breakfast, read a book, or just take a few minutes to practice positive self-talk before heading out the door.
Manage Nighttime Anxiety With a Hush Weighted Blanket
Anxiety shouldn't ruin your sleep or prevent you from feeling positive as you start your day.
If you frequently wake up feeling anxious, making healthy changes to your daily routine and improving your sleep hygiene are an absolute must. Hush Blankets may help relieve your symptoms of anxiety.
Our weighted blankets use deep touch pressure therapy to provide a reassuring, cocooning pressure that helps you feel calm and relaxed. Additionally, they are backed by a 100-night guarantee. When it comes to improving your sleep quality with our weighted blankets, you have nothing to be worried about.