Night time paranoia
September 22, 2006 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Small problems or worries that are nothing during daylight, seem huge and insurmoutable during the hours of darkness, bordering on paranoia. Is this some form of mild depression, or a SAD related thing?

Problems that seem insignificant or extremely unlikely during daytime get all blown out of proportion in my head at night. I lie awake worrying, and then the next morning I wonder what I was so freaked out about. Its as if darkness makes me view things in a negative light, where I start to believe that terrible things will happen. Daylight makes life seem seem simpler and more positive. This has happened to me my whole life. For example, when I was a small child (in the 80s), I would regularly lie awake terrified that a nuclear war was going to start, my family would die leaving me alone. In the morning, these thoughts were far from my mind. Now I tend to worry about natural disasters, losing my partner, being murdered etc. Is this "normal" or am I slightly paranoid or depressed? This doesn't happen every night, but relatively frequently.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Are you also alone more at night? I find that kind of thinking sets in when I'm not around other people, or if I'm in the same house as others but they're all involved in their own projects so we're not interacting. I have always assumed that it's a matter of social interaction forcing me to get out of my own head, keeping me saner.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:34 PM on September 22, 2006

There's a Peanuts cartoon about this, where Snoopy's atop the doghouse worrying to hell about whether he'll be fed in the morning ... morning comes and he laughs at himself.

I think it's partly what LobsterMitten says, and probably at a more chemical level, your brain is closing down, is prone and vulnerable and not really in a position to take any sudden defensive actions ... so it hypes up every possible threat to make you aware of them.
posted by bonaldi at 8:44 PM on September 22, 2006

Anon, I've felt this way my entire life. I've always enjoyed daylight hours more than dark hours, as a result.

I don't have any explanation for it - likely, it is different for each of us, but probably comes from some bit of abandonement at some pivotal moment. Whatever it is, it's beyond our control, because it has already happened.

What I have done is this: I have acknowledged that I am much happier in daylight hours than dark. I know that daytime is better than nighttime. So I act accordingly. I have a job that gets me out of bed very early, and into bed very early at night.

We're all victims of our circumstances, to some degree. But we also take control of them. If you find that everything is worse at nighttime, then do things that emphasize the daylight. If you find that you hate nights, find things that you love during the day.

Here's a great article that I found to be totally inspirational, on the value of waking up very, very early. Something about early morning is so inspiring, in the same way a blank sheet of paper or the first page in a new notebook is. And none of the darkness or demons of late-night lurking about.
posted by jbickers at 8:49 PM on September 22, 2006

The times that's happened to me have been seldom and when I was bad stressed. It's good it doesn't happen every night. This would be appropriate to talk to a doctor about to see if an as-needed prescription would be in order.
posted by dragonsi55 at 8:49 PM on September 22, 2006

When you're lying in bed, usually alone, and it's dark there is very little to distract you from the noise in your head and to bump your train of thoughts onto another track.

I've always had this problem as long as I can remember and it sounds almost exactly the same as yours! Growing up in the 80's, lying awake at night wondering if I was going to die in a nuclear war...

Over the years I've learned to control it - up to a certain point. The trick is to recognise when you get into this mode to deliberately say (either aloud or in your head) "I will not worry about this now. I will think about this in the morning." I find this better than just saying "Nothing to worry about" because somehow giving yourself permission to do this thing later seems to work better than just straight-out-denial. And in the morning, as you say, it all goes away. Another ploy is to deliberately day-dream about something pleasant, or remember a particularly happy event or occaision. I usually do this and then doze off to sleep. It beats counting sheep!

I suffer from depression and anxiety and there's a family predisposition for it but I think it is a basic human problem that is just slightly more intense for people like us.
posted by ninazer0 at 8:58 PM on September 22, 2006

I do this maybe two or three times a month, generally with completely ridiculous concerns (what if zombies attacked?) and what helps me is turning on a light, reading a book, or talking to somebody (or more accurately listening to their voice).
posted by joannemerriam at 8:58 PM on September 22, 2006

This is common enough that I've heard it referred to as "the hour of the wolf." I wouldn't say that it happens to everybody but you're hardly alone in this. This, in and of itself, signifies nothing more than you're alive and self-aware.
posted by lekvar at 9:13 PM on September 22, 2006

This happens to me all the time. Except usually it's weird emotional paranoia that I wouldn't even think twice about during the day (ie "why didn't my best friend call me back OH MY GOD SHE MUST HATE ME! Of course why didn't I see it before?!") that irrational type of thing. I sometimes start crying in the middle of the night because everything suddenly seems so out of proportion and horrible, and the only thing that helps is knowing that my emotions inevitably do a 180 in the morning, and I'm able to shrug it off like a bad dream. So I guess my semi-trite advice is, try to remember that in the morning, it will be better.
posted by np312 at 9:13 PM on September 22, 2006

As bad as my track record has been of late when it comes to personal feelings or problems, I'll give you this:

My mother has ALWAYS told me, "No matter how bad your day is, the Sun always comes up tomorrow."

I always took it to mean that every day is a fresh start. Not sure that applies to this particular question, but I think it might fit in there somewhere.
posted by matty at 10:03 PM on September 22, 2006

Somewhere I thought I read a theory that these nighttime fears might be related to an overnight drop in blood sugar levels. The theory is that low blood sugar levels cause the body to respond by releasing stress hormones that are meant to increase blood sugar levels quickly. The stress hormones can result in internal feelings of fear, anxiety, etc., even thought there is no actual external source. (I'm not sure if I remember what I read correctly.)

Next time you experience this, try getting up and eating something - preferably something NOT sugary - that will increase your blood sugar levels (a piece of cheese, perhaps). When you go back to bed, see if there's any difference in how you feel.
posted by La Gata at 10:11 PM on September 22, 2006

Yes. I started having this problem when I was 12 years old or so (also in the early 80's....maybe it's an '80's thing?) when I HATED the school in the new neighbourhood we moved into and wasn't fitting in so great. Nights were rough as I worried about every conceivable thing, then the worry was compounded as I realized that everyone else in the house was asleep...then I started worrying about how late it was getting (if I don't fall asleep I'll be so tired tomorrow) as I watched the clock tick past the hours...
It only happened periodically in my 'teens and twenties, but in the last few years it's been happening a bit more: I worry about things like what will me and my siblings do when my parents die; what happens if we run out of money; what if something awful happens to my kids...and 2 nights ago I SWEAR I couldn't stop thinking about "what if the sun just shut off, just burned out." It sucks but I think some people are just worriers, and naturally night makes it worse as you're on your own while everyone else is sleeping peacefully.
As for solutions, reading can help, or boring TV. Sometimes I try to picture something that just blanks my mind out, like imagining a close-up of a candle-flame. Stupid, I know.
Funny, but it must be genetic. My mother always tells me that some times she is up all night because she's worrying about us. And just tonight my 8-year-old daughter came downstairs in tears, she couldn't sleep because today at school someone whispered an answer during a French test and now she thinks she cheated, she can't stop thinking about it.
posted by chococat at 10:12 PM on September 22, 2006

I get like this occasionally; not so much fearful, but certainly a head full of busy busy busy thoughts that make it impossible just to go to sleep.

I've trained myself to get around it by using a technique similar to that used to focus attention on the breath during meditation: first, give yourself permission to have a head full of chatter - beating yourself up about it will only make it worse; second, whenever you notice that your mind is racing instead of settling down, just remind yourself that going to sleep is the Most Important Thing right now.

You might find, as I do, that it sometimes takes many many repetitions of this notice/remind pattern before it takes effect - but it surely will take effect.
posted by flabdablet at 10:23 PM on September 22, 2006

Happens to me all the time too.

I lie staring at the ceiling thinking "oh my god the mortgage is how much?"

And of course, in the day, you can do something about it. At the very least, get off your ass and go in to work, which is how you pay the damn mortgage anyway. Or look for another job or call the bank or just go to the pub and put off worrying about it for a while. But at 2 in the morning, there's nothing else to distract you and nothing to do about your problem except worry.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:21 AM on September 23, 2006

Sometimes early in the morning hours before I'm supposed to wake up I'll have these anxious thoughts. Usually it's about about work or school or both... about assignments or my own laziness or failures to follow through. Sometimes it's really torture. I'll lay there and think, "Oh god - I wasted the entire day and I didn't do X which I've been meaning to do all week and oh gosh that means that I'm a complete failure." And literally the anxiety is so bad that I have to think to myself, "Okay - I'm not going to think about that now... I need rest." So I'll try and think about something relaxing - like fly fishing or whatever. Then my mind will wander off and I'll get back to sleep.

The thing is that these feeling of anxiety only come at night when I'm half asleep - usually after I've slept several hours. It's never happened during the day. I think AmbroseChapel is on to something when he says that, "in the day, you can do something about it." Obviously at three or four in the morning you're stuck in bed, in a dark room, unable to balance your check book, write that report or whatever it is that you're worried about.

If you absolutely can't put your mind at rest (and sometimes I can't) then hop up and go to the bathroom, splash some water in you face -- or hit the kitchen for a glass of water. Do anything to get you moving for a few minutes. After that I can usually go back to bed and sleep soundly for the remainder of the morning.

Oh and great question by the way - I'm relieved that so many others have similar experiences.
posted by wfrgms at 12:39 AM on September 23, 2006

Daytime run away
Nightimes seem so long
I'm all right in the sunshine
But the evenings let me down

-- Carole King, Come Down Easy
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:59 AM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

What worked as a child, often helps as an adult. Try a night light, or better yet, a long burning, well shielded candle in your room. Personally, I find flickering candle light in the bedroom very soothing, and a couple of tea lights burning down in a couple of hours at a cost of 20¢ seems a great, no-hangover, no-side-effects way of getting to sleep, on nights my mind won't stop, to me.
posted by paulsc at 1:57 AM on September 23, 2006

occamFilter: it's called "being tired."
posted by Señor Pantalones at 2:57 AM on September 23, 2006

I'm not sure I agree with the occamFilter above that it's about being tired -- in fact, "not being tired enough" might be a cause.

Hence strenuous exercise might -- might -- deepen sleep and cut down on the night thoughts somewhat.

Also, try repeating affirmations. This is similar to the meditation suggestion above. "I'm strong enough to cope with the mortgage/my relationship/my tenuous job."

I'm also curious about the blood sugar comment. I find that I sleep more soundly on an empty stomach, though that's not a totally reliable, band-aid solution for negative thoughts.

Still, if the combination of exercise and small evening meals can lead to a drop in negative thinking, it's worth investigating.
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:58 AM on September 23, 2006

The main problem is that you lay awake for so long. This tells me that you probably aren't really tired enough when you go to bed. Some things that may help:

1) Exercise more. It'll help get rid of some of that excess energy and will have you nodding off more quickly.

2) Don't go to bed until you're tired. If you lay in bed for 10-15 minutes and still aren't drifting off, get back up. Do some minor tasks, do a little reading, and then go back to sleep when you really are tired.

3) Along those lines, read in bed until you feel your eyelids drooping. Then, drop the book, click off your bedside light, and catch some solid Z's.
posted by chrisamiller at 4:52 AM on September 23, 2006

Oh, thank god someone else does this. It's definitely NOT just being tired. This tends to happen to me when I'm much more stressed out and have more than I can deal with during the day. I'll wake up in the middle of the night, something I need to do/haven't done pops into my head, and it's blown entirely out of proportion. I mean, bordering on panic attack proportion. I've woken up my partner before to tell him I'm having one of those night worry things. That helps me calm down a bit. If that's not an option for you, I think the knowledge that you will wake up and it won't be so IMPENDING DOOM can be useful. I try to calm down and say to myself "From experience, I know this won't be quite as troublesome when I wake up. It's okay. Try to go to sleep." After many repeats, it starts to work a bit.
posted by theantikitty at 8:05 AM on September 23, 2006

Ego quoque!

I have experienced (and still do on occasion) something very similar. Although in your case it’s slightly different as it sounds you get this every night. I’m not at all certain what causes it in me but it seems to roughly correlate to periods of anxiety and stress, some degree of depression and perhaps a subconscious (or maybe even conscious) dissatisfaction with certain aspects of life. Coming down from recreational pharmaceuticals seems to magnify the problem ten fold. Here’s something I wrote on a blog about it a few years ago:

I feel an incredible sense of anxious unease and totally irrational unease at that. I cannot pin-point exactly what it is that’s concerning me but what I do know is that I am very, very concerned; a general feeling that something just isn’t right, something terribly ominous is afoot and I am powerless to stop it. My thoughts are going round and round at incredible speed but in a totally un-ordered and panicked way […]. Overall the world seems very dark, sinister and depressing.
posted by ed\26h at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2006

I'm surprised by all the "oh wow I'm not alone" type comments - isn't this seen as an almost archetypal human behavior? It's dark, you're alone (or if not technically alone, still in a sense alone with your thoughts), and you're lying there preparing for the small death that is sleep. May sound weird but I do think that plays a subconscious role - you're striving to turn off consciousness; you realize that in all likelihood you will wake up from it, but if you didn't, you'd never know...

anyway, this is one of those judgment calls - "depression" and "SAD" are not physiologically determinate [obviously they are physically manifest, but even if we went to the most quantitative level possible, whether a certain amount of seratonin would count as 'depressed' or not would still a normative judgment]. To a certain extent they are part of the lives of all human beings - it's completely normal to be sad sometimes, or to respond to light and dark. So don't think of the question as a yes/no, "do I have depression" kind of thing. It's a spectrum, and ultimately you have to decide what to do with that.

If it's happening too often and affecting your life or getting in the way of things, you can try to treat it in various ways. Being tired out at night is a great way to avoid the problem, but that can often lead to behavior that isn't really helpful in the long term - it's possible depressives tend to drink and stay up late for that reason, which just exacerbates things. I have found that getting up early can really improve my mood if I get on a good schedule with it, but since our natural sleep cycles are not always perfectly aligned with the 24 hr cycle of the earth (a lot of people have 25 hr cycles), it can be hard to really feel ready for bed early enough.

I don't recommend eating or watching TV (or surfing the internet) - those things just seem to put off the problem, rather than really change anything, and turning off the TV can feel kind of depressing, plus your brain is full of all that rambling, etc... I find writing in my diary useful to sort of get the thoughts out of my head; being physically tired from exercise is a good one, and if I had a treadmill at home, I would work out before bed rather than in the morning. Reading at night can be sort of calming, and in general spending the hour or so before bed quieting down may help - a cup of herbal tea, relaxing music, a hot bath, that kind of thing, rather than overstimulating with TV/internet etc..

If the issues are always the same, or there are other things in your life you feel you need to address, seeing a therapist can give you a space to work things out, although I cannot stress enough the importance of finding someone who wants to make progress - don't go to someone just to talk; go to someone to figure out specific problems and reach specific goals.
posted by mdn at 10:20 AM on September 23, 2006

« Older How do I turn off single-window mode in Powerpoint...   |   Help me find out the title of this book Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.