How to Cope with Nocturnal Anxiety Attacks

Clinical counsellor Caroline Lupetin recommends practicing these calming techniques before bed

Clinical counsellor Caroline Lupetin recommends practicing these calming techniques before bed


For most people, there’s nothing better than settling into bed after a long day. For some, however, sleep doesn’t always offer an escape from the stresses of the day. “Nocturnal anxiety attacks can be quite distressing,” says Caroline Lupetin, a registered clinical counsellor who practices out of Coquitlam, B.C. “Nocturnal anxiety can also lead to insomnia, which often compounds anxiety even further,” she adds.

“If an anxiety attack wakes you from sleep, get up, drink a glass of water, and pet your cat or dog (if you have one),” Lupetin suggests. “You could also try doing something mundane that might make you feel sleepy again,” she adds. “To help calm anxiety, take a deep breath, count to three, hold for three, and exhale for three. Or you could look around the room, list five things you can see, four things you can smell, and three things you can touch.”

To help ease nocturnal anxiety, Lupetin recommends practicing calming techniques 30 minutes to an hour before bed. “Write in a gratitude journal, meditate, practice positive visualizations, or drink some herbal tea.” If anxiety is seriously impacting your life, Lupetin recommends working through your anxiety with a professional counsellor.


Techniques to help calm nocturnal anxiety

  • Prepare for the next day by packing a lunch and laying out your clothes.

  • Limit your exposure to electronics before bed. Don’t watch TV, text, or go online when you’re winding down.  

  • Avoid any heated conversations that might irritate you, and don’t ruminate about what went wrong during the day.

  • Practice calming techniques, like gratitude, meditation, or deep breathing before bed.

  • Think of a calming place, like a sandy beach in Hawaii. As you lie down to sleep, take a few deep breaths and sense everything that’s there: feel the sand under your toes and watch the waves lap along the shoreline.

  • Perform a relaxation body scan by starting at your toes and working your way up to your head, relaxing each body part along the way.