Nighttime Routines to Curb Anxiety

7 min Article Meditation & Mindfulness
Add these wellbeing interventions to your nightly ritual to improve the quality — and quantity — of your shut-eye.
Nighttime Routines to Curb Anxiety

Living with anxiety often means navigating through a haze of fear and dread. Nausea, tension, a racing heartbeat — these are just a few of the signs that you might be one of the 374 million people worldwide affected by anxiety. To make matters worse, anxiety’s symptoms can often lead to sleeplessness, keeping the body alert and awake with worries. 

Meanwhile, lack of sleep only contributes to more anxiety, resulting in a cycle of misery. If you suffer from anxiety and poor sleep, the good news is there are many wellbeing interventions you can incorporate into your nighttime routine to improve the quality (and quantity) of your shut-eye. So let’s explore some of them.

The Science of Sleep and Anxiety 

According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep deficiency actually changes activity in the parts of the brain responsible for problem-solving, regulating emotions, and coping with change. “Just like our electronics need to be charged, sleep may recharge or reset the brain to optimize functioning,” says Elizabeth Blake Zakarin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University and a clinical psychologist at the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders. Zakarin says there’s a large body of evidence to support sleep’s critical role in not only physical health but mental health, too: “Insufficient sleep has been found to increase negative emotional responses to stressors and decrease positive emotions.” So what should you do if you can’t sleep? Sleep medicine physician David Rosen and the Sleep Foundation say implementing a consistent bedtime routine that will pave the way for sufficient rest can help.

Building a Relaxing Nighttime Routine  

A proper bedtime ritual is a series of wellbeing practices or wind-down activities performed at the same time each night. With practice, the right nighttime routine can help ease anxiety and welcome deep rest. While any routine or ritual should be tailored to your own specific needs, below are some science-backed practices that help us usher in peaceful sleep.

1. Optimize Your Sleep Zone

Where we lay our heads down has a big impact on how well we sleep, says the Centers for Disease Control, which recommends a dark environment that’s cool, quiet, and comfortable. If you can, try hanging room-darkening shades, and make sure electronics are put away or in sleep mode: Blue light can trick the brain into thinking it’s daytime, suppressing the melatonin production we need to fall asleep. Mask noise disturbances with white, brown, or green noise. If temperature control is available to you, experts say the ideal sleeping temp is 65 degrees Fahrenheit (for most people, but it can vary with age), because it lowers your core body temperature, helping to recharge the body by conserving more energy. And certain smells can promote relaxation and ease bedtime anxiety, too: In clinical trials, lavender oil, for example, was found to contribute to improved sleep quality and participants waking up feeling refreshed.  

2. Choose a Bedtime and Stick to It 

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help train the body to recognize when it’s time to sleep, says Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist and the director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, based in New York City. Also known as “sleep syncing” — aligning your body’s natural circadian rhythm with your daily routine — the practice supports “more restorative sleep and [can] help improve your overall health and wellbeing,” Hafeez says. Sleep syncing can help reduce anxiety; other benefits include increased alertness during the day and improved mood, focus, and productivity, plus reduced risk of common sleep-related problems, like insomnia or daytime fatigue, Hafeez says. 

3. Pick a Wind-Down Activity

Reading, listening to soothing music or sleep stories, and relaxing with a hot bath or deep breathing can help ease anxiety and promote sleep. Music reduces activity in the  sympathetic nervous system (which directs the fight-or-flight response), decreases anxiety, and may promote muscle relaxation and distraction from anxious thoughts, according to the “Journal of Advanced Nursing.” Practicing some gentle yoga can also help relax the mind and body. Yoga is an opportunity to “offer the energy of relaxation to every cell in your body” and encourage healing and repair, says Roundglass Living yoga and meditation teacher Mansi Mahajan.  

Try this: Wind down for a restful night’s sleep with this soothing and relaxing nighttime asana sequence

4. Journal Worries or To-Do Lists

To quell anxious thought loops before they keep you up all night, try journaling out the thoughts, worries, and to-do lists that threaten your peace of mind at bedtime. Research published in the “Journal of Experimental Psychology” shows that off-loading worries by writing down detailed to-do lists helps people fall asleep significantly faster

5. Make Time to Meditate 

Perhaps the most powerful wholistic way to calm the nervous system and soothe anxiety at night is through meditation — which can help transition the body into parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) mode and quiet racing thoughts. When practiced regularly, meditation can help stave off anxiety before it hits, strengthening resilience to stressors and improving overall wellbeing. In fact, one study published in “JAMA Internal Medicine” found that after 6 weeks of mindfulness-meditation training, adults with sleep disturbances had less insomnia compared with another group who had 6 weeks of sleep education classes that taught other ways to improve sleep habits. “When we use mindful meditation practice, it helps to separate our anxious thoughts from our emotional reaction to them,” says Lindsay Browning, a psychologist and neuroscientist and the founder of Trouble Sleeping, a sleep clinic in Wokingham, U.K. “We can practice recognizing a worrying thought in our mind — such as ‘I am worried that I might catch COVID’ — but not allow ourselves to become anxious as a result of the worry by reminding ourselves that that is just a thought and we don’t have to react to [it].” By practicing mindful meditation before bed, you’ll increase physical and mental relaxation. “Relaxation in all forms is good for sleep,” Browning says. 

Try this: Learn a gentle breathing technique, like 4-2-6 breath, to get ready for a peaceful and restful night of sleep. 

Starting Your Sleep Routine  

To start a new sleep ritual or improve the one you’ve got, the first step is to take stock of your current practices, particularly those that may be working against you. Do you doomscroll in bed? Obsess over tomorrow’s obligations? Replay tough conversations in your mind? Is your room dark and quiet, or do you frequently fall asleep on the couch or with the TV on?

“When evaluating sleep habits,” Rosen says, “the challenge becomes figuring out how to break the bad habit and having a plan in place if you falter,” which you will do if you’re human. That plan, he says, “should include forgiving yourself if you have slip-ups and making sure you only start with one or two routine changes at a time.” So be gentle with yourself as you make small tweaks that can lead to big improvements in sleep and anxiety.

Try this: Sleep better and improve your wellbeing by hacking your bedtime habits with relaxing breathwork, soothing music, and sleep meditations designed to help you drift off to peaceful slumber. 

  • 1. A bedtime ritual is a series of wellbeing practices or wind-down activities performed at the same time each night that with practice, can help ease anxiety and welcome deep rest.
  • 2. Perhaps the most powerful wholistic way to calm the nervous system and soothe anxiety at night is through meditation — which can help transition the body into parasympathetic (rest) mode and quiet racing thoughts.

About the Teacher

Lindsay Tucker

Lindsay Tucker

Lindsay Tucker is a writer and multi-media producer at Roundglass. She's the former executive editor of Yoga Journal and host of the Yoga Show Podcast. Find out more at

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