Welcome to Sleepless Nights, Stylist’s weekly series designed to help you put your anxiety and worries to bed. This week, we’re looking at the steps you can take to support a partner struggling with night-time anxiety.
If you’ve never experienced anxiety before, or tend to sleep through the night without trouble, you might feel hesitant about doing or saying anything to help for fear of making things worse. But there are things you can do to make a difference – you just need to know where to start.
Of course, understanding what night-time anxiety is can really help. In short, it’s a term used to describe anxiety that strikes at night, either before or during sleep.
While the symptoms of night-time anxiety are the same as those experienced in the daytime, what makes night-time anxiety particularly challenging is the fact that it can stop the person dealing with it from falling asleep, leaving them feeling tired and groggy the next day.
You’ll have seen this in your partner if they deal with night-time anxiety a lot – while the restlessness and sense of panic which comes with night-time anxiety is one thing, the overwhelming tiredness that follows can be just as challenging to deal with.
So, you now know a bit more about night-time anxiety – but how can you help your partner if they’re struggling?
Dr Meg Arroll is a chartered psychologist, scientist and published author. She says the first thing to keep in mind when supporting someone with anxiety – night-time or otherwise – is to try and watch your words.
“While it can seem supportive to say things along the lines of ‘oh, don’t worry, it’ll be OK,” these reassurances can feel like papering over the cracks and ultimately lead to your loved one keeping their worries to themselves – which is the opposite of what we know helps to ease anxiety,” she says.
Instead, Dr Arroll recommends, try to use language which is supportive and encouraging. “Comments such as ‘I’m here for you and we can work on this together’ are much more helpful,” she adds.
In terms of what you can do to help relieve or reduce some of their anxiety, Dr Arroll suggests looking into an effective bedtime routine. It’s well-known that an effective bedtime routine can help you to switch off, unwind and create a buffer zone between day and night, so crafting one which works for both of you could be an effective anxiety-reducing tool.
“This routine can include mind-body exercises like yoga, which has been shown in research studies to decrease anxiety and improve sleep, using wind-down breathing practices to engage the stress-halting parasympathetic nervous system, and taking a few hours before bed to discuss your worries and concerns,” Dr Arroll says.
“Talk about what routine would work for you as a couple and try a few things, as forming habits with someone else usually helps you to stick with them long-term.”
Although these actions may seem small, they’ll go a big way towards helping your partner feel more secure in opening up and talking about their experience – and that’s certainly no small thing.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.
If you are struggling with your mental health, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.
For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.