Sense of doom after waking up at 3am
February 19, 2021 4:18 PM   Subscribe

I noticed that recently, if I wake up in the middle of the night for any reason, (for example, to let my elderly dog outside to pee, or to use the bathroom myself), for the period of time that I'm awake to do the thing, I notice that I have a strong sense of doom and intense level of anxiety that I never normally have. (more inside...)

I only feel this way when I wake up during the midnight and early morning hours. There's nothing bad happening or that I'm especially worried about, and I don't have insomnia or any trouble going back to sleep. I'm just confused about why I feel this way during the short time that I'm awake, when I never feel this way otherwise. Any ideas on why this could be happening?
posted by koolaidnovel to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I experience something similar. I've been told by medical professionals it has something to do with cortisol, something I know very little about.
posted by nathaole at 4:21 PM on February 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have it, too as I have aged. I have some legit concerns that feel insurmountable and horrifying in at 2 am. It's better in the morning.
posted by beccaj at 4:40 PM on February 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

It seems to be functional, in that when you feel this way before falling asleep or wake up in the dark feeling this way it encourages you to pull the covers over your head and hide rather than to blunder around in the dark with the coyotes and holes in the ground you can't see. It's very common and probably a lot of why so many people dread insomnia. They get too distressed to sleep.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:40 PM on February 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

My dentist, who deals a lot with sleep disorders, has suggested that I get a sleep study because I have an oddly narrow airway and this happens to me sometimes. She’s of the opinion that I might be having some breathing difficulties in my sleep and that they’re waking me up. Note: some people will insist that if you are not of a certain BMI you cannot possibly have an obstructive sleep disorder but that isn’t true.
posted by corey flood at 4:49 PM on February 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

Have you had covid? This is something a lot of covid long-haulers experience. Waking up in the middle of the night with racing hearts and anxiety unrelated to their mood states. May be worth getting an antibody test in case you had an asymptomatic case. Magnesium apparently helps for some people.
posted by luckdragon at 4:54 PM on February 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

My first thought when reading your question was that when my thyroid deficiency is overmedicated, I am suffused with a very odd (for me) impending sense of doom. I've never it noticed it being more prevalent during the wee hours, necessarily, but hyperthyroidism is something you might want to research for a connection.
posted by DrGail at 5:18 PM on February 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Low blood glucose overnight can trigger anxiety.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:26 PM on February 19, 2021 [8 favorites]

Probably not this, but: I get anxiety and a sense doom some amount of time after even minor caffeine intake - often the next morning. You could try cutting out caffeine if you regularly consume it (including soda and chocolate) for a few days to see if it makes any difference.
posted by trig at 5:34 PM on February 19, 2021

Best answer: I'd figure it's a body temperature thing. You cool off a bit when you sleep and warm up when you wake in the morning. Those middle of the night awake times (especially when they're short) are a bit doom and gloom because your metabolism is cranked down to low.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:40 PM on February 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Have you noticed the timeline we're living in? I feel like this is perhaps to be expected In These Times....
posted by shadygrove at 6:04 PM on February 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

There are all kinds of reasons this could be happening but if I were you I would try to hit the easy things first and see if it does the trick. I have to work with my anxiety at different times for different things and my sleep is really weird but if I can manage it at the time it’s really good to have a sort of triage habit. First check your physical state. Are you in pain? Are you too hot or too cold? Are you hungry or thirsty? Are you experiencing other physical issues like trembling or stiffness or itchiness or difficulty with breathing? As you check in on those things, do things to help rectify any issues you encounter, like taking some pain meds, stretching, putting on or taking off an extra blanket, getting water or a snack, etc. For stuff that’s harder to pin down like shortness of breath or after effects of panic, you can do things like square breathing techniques or sequential muscle relaxation or other simple meditations. But often, it can be something as simple as my room being too cold and I’m not feeling cozy enough, or I got dehydrated, and once the heat is up or I’ve had some water my existential dread recedes.
posted by Mizu at 6:13 PM on February 19, 2021 [4 favorites]

The anxiety you feel, what's it about? Is it the same thing every time? There must be something specific you worry about, because it's hard to imagine somebody being afraid for literally no reason. I'd suggest thinking about that during the day, when you're not anxious, to see if there are stressors in your life that you're not addressing. The middle of the night is a famously anxious time, because many of the distractions of daily life fall away and you're left alone to obsess.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:16 PM on February 19, 2021

It sounds like something related to cortisol
posted by flamk at 6:39 PM on February 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I started blood pressure medication to deal with terrible people and the world around me, and I no longer get up at three in the morning in a panic, heart racing. Maybe check your blood pressure, if you can, and see if that needs treatment.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 7:37 PM on February 19, 2021

Not to give you a heart attack, but sense of doom is often correlated with heart attacks. Some further googling says its really because of the drop in blood pressure that predates a heart attack.

So I agree with They sucked his brains out! This might be a blood pressure issue. Its something to take to your doctor.
posted by jello at 8:53 PM on February 19, 2021

I don’t know if alcohol is part of your life, but if so, it does a number on your blood sugar and often wakes people up when they are metabolizing it in their sleep. It also increases anxiety in general.
posted by Miko at 9:23 PM on February 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have generalised anxiety disorder and panic order and even though I'm well medicated and fine during the day, I still get this most nights. I largely just ignore it, ha. But, my anxiety started with issues at night and night has always been the worst time for me. Like, I just wake up with a sense of doom and sometimes it tips over into a panic attack. It could be anxiety related, anyway.
posted by thereader at 9:55 PM on February 19, 2021 [5 favorites]

it's hard to imagine somebody being afraid for literally no reason

I don't find this the slightest bit hard to imagine, for what it's worth, because I've experienced it myself. Just sudden, overwhelming, free-floating dread overlaying whatever else I happen to be doing or thinking about.

Stress hormones are weird.
posted by flabdablet at 2:34 AM on February 20, 2021 [21 favorites]

Occasionally I wake up in the night for a while and my mind usually turns to anything I’m concerned or worried about, and anxieties that aren’t (usually) a big deal during the day, and any mistake I’ve ever made and every regret I have. I have to keep reminding myself that this is just what happens at night and none of this will be such a big deal in the morning.

I kind of though this was a standard way to feel if unexpectedly awake in the dark small hours, and clicked through here expecting to read lots of “me too, don’t worry about it” responses. Instead I now have a whole load of other things that I fear might be wrong with me :)
posted by fabius at 5:40 AM on February 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

That's a cortisol spike. Your blood sugar drops naturally around that time, and that causes a release of cortisol to lift it back up. But since cortisol is a stress related hormone, if it wakes you up you will feel unsettled.

Eating some protien closer to bedtime can help with this.
posted by ananci at 8:28 AM on February 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Do you have a carbon monoxide detector?
posted by Jacqueline at 9:27 AM on February 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

it's hard to imagine somebody being afraid for literally no reason

IT's exactly what panic disorder is - please don't dismiss it. I also experience the midnight doom.

Let's not question people's reported experience.
posted by Miko at 10:29 AM on February 20, 2021 [12 favorites]

[Popping in to emphasize the importance of practicing restraint when it comes to questioning someone's experience with anxiety/panic disorder/feelings of doom and fear just because you may not experience it in the same ways. ]
posted by travelingthyme at 1:44 PM on February 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Like fabius, my first thought was this is Just What Three In The Morning Is Like, if you know what I mean - there are a few physiological reasons people have mentioned above for why people do tend to feel anxious and depressed at that time, plus being awake at a time when most people are sleeping can feel lonely and disorientating. Obviously if this is new for you, though, that suggests something has changed.

My first recommendation would be to have a hot sweet drink and/or a small snack, something comforting and easy to digest. That would address the possible low blood sugar thing, would help get your body temperature up, and is just a nice comforting thing to make you feel a bit better. Helps me.
posted by BlueNorther at 5:43 PM on February 23, 2021

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