Nocturnal anxiety: symptoms, causes, treatment

Verified on 07/11/2022 by PasseportSanté

Nocturnal anxiety is characterized by sudden awakening, accompanied by sweating and palpitations, including, sometimes even, difficulty in breathing. There is sometimes also added a real feeling of panic, which can be associated with an anguish of death. Also, the appearance of uncontrollable thoughts can further enhance the feeling of anxiety. It is possible to treat these nocturnal anxieties.

Medications exist, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors. For in-depth care, it is often advisable to undergo psychotherapy.

In addition, herbal medicine, or treatment using plants, can also be useful, as can meditation, abdominal breathing or yoga exercises.

What are nocturnal anxieties?

Anyone can suffer from nocturnal anxieties, whether children, adolescents or adults. Nocturnal anxiety is also common in the elderly. Nocturnal anxiety is not fundamentally different in nature from any other form of anxiety; but it has the characteristic of occurring during the night. The awakening is sudden and is accompanied by sweating, palpitations, tightness, even breathing difficulties, and to this is added, in the most severe cases, a real feeling of panic, sometimes associated with a fear of death. You should know that one of the times when people most frequently feel anxiety is precisely at night. This human emotion that is anxiety is natural, it most often results in feelings of nervousness and worry. Nocturnal anxiety is thus an oppressive moment, characterized as much by a rise in stress as by anxiety, intense fear and panic during the night.

Anxiety is sometimes linked to existential questions, as highlighted in particular by the philosopher and mathematician of the XVII? century Blaise Pascal who writes, in the mouth of a libertine: “When I consider the small duration of my life absorbed by the eternity preceding and following, the small space that I fill and even that I see, damaged in the immensity spaces that I ignore and that ignore me, I am frightened and surprised to see myself here rather than there, because there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who put me there? By whose order and conduct was this place and this time destined for me?” Finally, all these questions come down to the same question: what makes the being of this being that I am?

According to some authors, anxiety is precisely the experience arising from the inadequacy between the questions that each individual poses to the world, as to his own origin and destiny, and the answers that this same world can give. In anguish, “it is not so much we who question the world as ourselves who find ourselves questioned”, writes Jean Brun, French philosopher (1919-1994). This one specifies besides that through this anguish, “all the reference marks defined by the knowledge appear only like derisory residual designs of the dimension and the dwelling”.

The anxiety that seizes an individual during the night can therefore be existential, and this nocturnal distress frequently occurs when individuals are obsessed with certain events or worry too much. Finally, people who are anxious during the night end up having a lot of difficulty falling asleep: this also makes the day more stressful and causes this anxiety to increase even more over time. However, the brain precisely needs a good night’s sleep to regulate itself. Indeed, sleeping allows physical, psychological and intellectual recovery. And sleep is thus decisive for growth, brain maturation, development and the preservation of our cognitive abilities. It is therefore not good for the health, the body, and especially the brain, to suffer from nocturnal anxiety. But what are their specific characteristics?

What are the symptoms of nighttime anxiety?

Anxiety is the paroxysm of anxiety. People suffering from nocturnal anxiety will tend to have certain specific symptoms such as:

physical symptoms

Increased heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, or even dizziness, which is an illusion of motion of things around you (such as walls, ceiling, or objects) or a sense of moving yourself through space.

Nocturnal panic attacks

These very often combine the sudden onset of fear, anxiety or intense apprehension, fear or even terror, with a feeling of imminent catastrophe very often associated with fear.


It consists of becoming obsessed with things that worry or disturb the person; most often these disturbing thoughts revolve around problems with money, relationships, or a particular trauma.

Body aches

They are linked to muscle tension caused by excessive nighttime distress; this type of pain can manifest itself in the form of headaches, jaw pain and even a feeling of tightness in the chest.

Nightmares or night terrors

Feeling anxious at night can also increase the likelihood of having nightmares or night terrors, and then people may find it difficult to go back to sleep.

Lack of control over thoughts

The appearance of these uncontrolled thoughts may result in an increase in the feeling of anxiety.

What are the causes of nocturnal anxiety?

According to the site, founded by a former insomniac named Sandra Baliozian, who later became a holistic sleep therapist, there are several causes that may be likely to cause nighttime anxiety. Psychology professor and researcher Susan Nolen-Hoeksema also indicates that 63% of young adults and 53% of older adults are subject to anxious thoughts in the evening. What are the various possible explanations for the appearance of nocturnal anxiety?

  • Fear of sleeping;
  • the anguish of finding oneself alone with oneself;
  • fear of dying at night;
  • fear of the dark;
  • evening anxiety (this affects 10 to 66% of elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease);
  • everyday worries;
  • lack of self-confidence.

Several ways are available to a person who suffers from nocturnal anxieties, in order to prevent them or to manage to attenuate them.

Drug treatments

If the cause of nighttime anxiety is anxiety, medications can be prescribed by a doctor, most often:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

They cause an increase in the presence of serotonin in the brain: developed during the 1980s, these molecules increase, in fact, the concentration of this neurotransmitter, and among these drugs, there are:

  • citalopram;
  • deroxat;
  • the diver;
  • escitalopram;
  • floxyfral;
  • fluoxetine;
  • fluvoxamine;
  • paroxetine;
  • prozac;
  • seroplex;
  • seropram;
  • sertraline;
  • the zoloft.

Serotonin (or 5-hydroxytryptamine) makes it possible to operate the transmission between two neurons, it also has a role close to that of hormones by acting on the central nervous system and inducing actions, in particular the regulation of certain behaviors such as mood or emotionality.

serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

They have the same principle, that of increasing the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine (associated with alertness and energy) in the brain. Among these molecules are:

  • the Cymbalta;
  • duloxetine;
  • effexor;
  • milnacipran;
  • venlafaxine.


It is in particular the practice of a cognitive-behavioral therapy, called CBT, which can help to change the thought patterns that feed this anxiety. Thus, thanks to this type of psychotherapy, people are made to become aware of their emotions and their dysfunctional cognitions; they therefore need to challenge the cognitive patterns that lead to their negative emotion and anxiety.


Plants such as passionflower and hawthorn are recognized as natural medicines to reduce nighttime anxiety as well as mild anxiety. They can, for example, be ingested in the form of herbal teas in the evening.


This plant has the particularity of containing flavonoids, similar to those of grapes. It is recommended in case of stress, anxiety, for its sedative action which is particularly conducive to sleep. The flowers must be infused for about ten minutes, with the dose of a teaspoon for a cup.

Passiflora (or passion flower)

It is especially recommended for cases of anxiety and mild insomnia, as it promotes sleep and restful sleep. It can be used in decoction for two minutes, with a tablespoon of plants per cup.


Meditation, which can be practiced anywhere and at any time, is a technique that reduces the level of anxiety and acts like anxiolytics or antidepressants, but without their side effects.

abdominal breathing

Thanks to abdominal breathing, it is possible to reduce stress and promote concentration, and thus, just as the heart slows down, the mind regains its calm. This method consists of breathing calmly and amply in order to regain control of your body. It is necessary to inflate the belly with the inspiration then, with the expiration, to push with the abdominals.

Physical exercise like yoga

Regular physical exercises, such as the practice of yoga Nidra movements, for example, which offers exercises specially designed to prepare for sleep, will help you combat your nocturnal anxieties. And thus, you will prepare to pass gently into the arms of Morpheus… So reassure yourself and remember, to conclude, this precious advice from grandfather: to every problem, there is a solution! In short, make obstacles a bridge and not a barrier…

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Nocturnal anxiety: symptoms, causes, treatment

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