Why is my anxiety worse at night?

Why Is My Anxiety Worse At Night?

Night-time is supposed to be when we unwind and give ourselves a break from the day's stress. So why do we often find ourselves reliving every embarrassing moment, frantically making mental to-do lists, and re-evaluating life decisions when we finally hit the hay? Many of us experience an increase in anxiety at night, which can manifest in several symptoms including:

  • Worrying about the future
  • A sense of impending doom
  • Stomach-aches or headaches
  • Increased heart rate and chest discomfort
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Tense muscles
  • Sweating

People with conditions such as generalised anxiety disorder or panic disorder experience these symptoms regularly. They are often adept at channelling their anxiety into productive projects during the day. Conversely, at night, in the absence of these distracting activities, their anxiety symptoms might be exacerbated and interfere with their sleep. 

However, evidence points towards the evolutionary roots of night-time anxiety affecting those without specific disorders. A study investigating fear responses in a population of women without anxiety disorders exposed them to fear-eliciting stimuli either during the day or night. The researchers found physiological indicators of fear e.g. heart rate and reported levels of fear in the participants were higher in the night-time condition (1). The results show that we have stronger fear responses during the night, which researchers speculate might be an evolutionary mechanism: being more alert and afraid at night may have been useful for helping our ancestors spot any incoming threats. So, it’s not uncommon to find yourself buzzing with a flurry of thoughts instead of drifting peacefully off to sleep each night. However, consistently losing out on sleep can lead to several adverse consequences.  

Lack of Sleep Contributes to Anxiety

When anxious thoughts keep us awake at night, they not only cause us to lose out on the health and well-being benefits of sleep, but they also contribute to increased anxiety in the long run. A systematic review of thirteen studies found insomnia to significantly predict the onset of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression (2). It’s a vicious cycle: sleep disturbances contribute to the onset of anxiety, and anxiety contributes to sleep disturbances, with anxiety disorders often characterised by insufficient sleep quality and quantity (3). However, there are some strategies that we can use to escape this relentless cycle and calm anxious thoughts during the night. 

Bedtime Anxiety Busters

Breathing Techniques. Deep breathing exercises are really good for calming down our worked-up bodies for a night of rest by regulating our heart rate and blood pressure (4). When we are stressed, we tend to breathe shallow and shorter breaths from the chest, but if you are feeling panicky at night, it might be useful to practice belly or abdominal breathing. Place your hand on your stomach as you are lying down, and inhale slowly through the nose, feeling your stomach expand as your lungs fill with air. Slowly exhale through your mouth and allow your stomach to fall. Repeat this 10 times, focusing on the rise and fall of your stomach as you slowly inhale and exhale.

Meditation. Meditation offers a holistic approach to managing anxiety and improving sleep, addressing both the psychological and physiological aspects of these issues. Regular practice, even just a few minutes a day, can result in significant benefits over time. It can enhance emotional regulation skills, enabling you to respond to stressful situations more effectively. By developing greater emotional resilience, you may experience less anxiety overall and find it easier to relax and sleep at night. Research even suggests that meditation can increase melatonin levels, the sleep hormone. Listen to Leapfrog's special 20-minute sleep meditation with breathwork expert Anna Gough.


Take Leapfrog SNOOZE. Taking 1 or 2 chewable SNOOZE tablets an hour or so before you head to bed can help calm anxious thoughts and slow down racing minds. The magic ingredient Lactium is an all-natural milk hydrolysate that works by increasing GABA levels. GABA is one of the most important calming neurotransmitters in the central nervous system that reduces the hyperexcitability of neurons and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Research indicates that people who experience sleeping problems have nearly 30% lower GABA levels than those without sleeping issues (5) and that low GABA levels are associated with mood disorders such as anxiety (6). A clinical trial published in 2024 showed 30 women who increased their GABA levels experienced reduced anxiety, depression and stress and enhanced their sleep (7). Supplementing with SNOOZE can help boost GABA levels, aiding sleep and putting the brakes on an overactive mind.

Writing To-Do Lists. If you find yourself running through a mental checklist of all the things you need to do over the next couple of days, it can be helpful to actually get them down on paper. A study in 2019 found that people who spent five minutes before bed writing lists of things they needed to remember to do fell asleep significantly faster than those who wrote lists of tasks they had completed (8). 

Avoid Stimulants. One reason that you might find yourself staring at the ceiling at night is that you have consumed too many stimulants, with caffeine often being the culprit. A study found that consuming caffeine as many as six hours before bed has disruptive effects on sleep and can reduce sleep time by a whole hour (9). Not only does caffeine keep you awake, but it’s also been found to make anxiety symptoms, including panic attacks, worse (10). Scientists therefore recommend you sip your last cup of coffee 10 hours before bedtime. 

Set Your Environment. Adjusting the light, sound, and temperature in your bedroom can help to calm your mind and instigate sleep. A sleep-friendly environment should be quiet, dark and cool, ideally 15.6-19.4°C. A 2023 randomised controlled study of patients in ICU found that wearing a sleep mask and ear plugs reduced their fear and anxiety and improved their sleep quality (11).


If Anxiety Persists, Seek Help

If you have an anxiety disorder you may find yourself feeling more anxious at night because of a lack of distraction, and even if you don’t, evidence suggests that we might all be more responsive to fearful thoughts at night than during the day. Anxiety at night can disturb our sleep and contribute even more to anxiety, but there are several habits you can incorporate into your bedtime routine to help quiet anxious thoughts for a more restful sleep. However, if you find that your night-time anxiety is becoming increasingly hard to manage, speak to your doctor or a medical professional for advice.



  1. Night or darkness, which intensifies the feeling of fear?
  2. Insomnia as a predictor of mental disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis
  3. Sleep and anxiety disorders
  4. How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing
  5. Reduced brain GABA in primary insomnia: preliminary data from 4T proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS)
  6. Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulation
  7. GABA Supplementation, Increased Heart-Rate Variability, Emotional Response, Sleep Efficiency and Reduced Depression in Sedentary Overweight Women Undergoing Physical Exercise: Placebo-Controlled, Randomized Clinical Trial

  8. The Effects of Bedtime Writing on Difficulty Falling Asleep: A Polysomnographic Study Comparing To-Do Lists and Completed Activity Lists

  9. Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, or 6 Hours before Going to Bed
  10. Effects of caffeine on anxiety and panic attacks in patients with panic disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis
  11. The effects of eye masks and earplugs on sleep quality, anxiety, fear, and vital signs in patients in an intensive care unit: A randomised controlled study.