Waking with Anxiety - What Helps?

image by Cecilia Aros
In this week's podcast we answer the question: "I wake in the middle of sleep most nights at almost exactly 2am with anxiety. I feel hot and panicky and my heart races.

The heat rushes up my body and I have to throw my bed covers off. Sometimes I feel like I have to get out of my bedroom, or even out of the house. My heart races and I feel very fearful. After a while I can usually get back to sleep.

Do you have any advice on what might be causing this and what might help?"


What Causes us to Wake with Anxiety - and Why 2am?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are twelve significant organs in the body and each one has a two hour time where it is most active. The liver is the organ that is active from 1–3am. At this time, the liver performs complex detoxification and blood cleansing work. Hormone levels and alcohol consumption can both affect the liver’s night-time cleansing.

It’s also worth noting that the liver is affected by heat, and it will affect us when it is over-heated.



Waking Up at the Same Time Every Night: Another common sleep problem that people have is waking up at the exact same time every night. They will say, “I wake up at 2:55am every night”, or “I can’t get to sleep before 1:00am.” When specific times are involved this has to do with the acupuncture meridian system and its relationship to certain organs at those times. 11pm to 1am is the time when the gallbladder is at its highest energy. So if a person has a problem with their gallbladder, (too many bad fats, smoking, caffeine, etc.), then they often can’t get to sleep between those times, or if they are asleep before 11pm then they may wake up during that 2-hour cycle. Between 1am and 3am is liver. This is the most common time a person wakes up and is due to many reasons. As noted above, when cortisol or epinephrine levels elevate to pull sugar from the liver, this will wake the person up, as it taxes the liver as well. Also the liver has to deal with detoxification of hormones, such as cortisol and oestrogen, leading to more work for the organ at that time. 

Dr. Stephen Gangemi 



Night-time waking and anxiety can be made worse by:

Alcohol, spicy foods, tomatoes, citrus fruits. Stress, rushing, anger. Anything that increases heat and adrenaline in your body.



Night-time waking and anxiety can be helped by:

Mint or coriander tea, coconut water, cool showers, getting outside, walking by water.

Rose or sandalwood essential oils. Massaging your feet with lavender and coconut oil before going to sleep.

Listening to a guided relaxation to unwind and transition into a peaceful sleep.

If you have a specific unwanted thought or anxiety on your mind when you wake up, or if you wake up feeling generally anxious or panicky we recommend trying EFT Tapping.


Listen to the full podcast here (if your browser doesn't show the podcast player please listen on iTunes

Resources for help getting back to sleep:

EFT for Anxiety Relief

How to Calm Your Fragile Mind