Restlessness at Night

Being restless at night is one of the most frustrating experiences that we can go through but one that all of us have felt at one time or another. You’re lying awake and it feels like everyone else in the world is a sleep. No doubt you’re feeling hot, your mind is racing and you find yourself tossing and turning. The more you stress about not sleeping the worse it gets and before long you start to notice the time on the clocks creeping into the wee hours of the morning. The ironic and highly frustrating thing is that you’re probably actually really tired… so the question is – why can’t you sleep?

Why Are People Restless at Night?

In this article we’ll look at why people are restless at night, what causes it and how to go about avoiding the problem. We’ll begin though by answering that simple question – ‘why can’t you sleep?’ – so that you will have a solid understanding of the problem and so be better able to combat it.

Well there are probably many reasons that contribute to your lack of shut-eye, but many of these are likely to revolve around similar principles. If you are restless then this means precisely what it sounds like – that you can’t rest and that you can’t get your body to calm down to a level where you would be able to sleep. That then probably is due to an active metabolism and chances are that you will find that your heart is racing, that you’re hot and that your mind is racing too. In other words your body is working too fast when you really want it to be working slowly – but there are many particular things that can cause this. Primarily these are:


If you simply have too much free energy in your system then it makes it hard for you to calm down and relax. This is usually a result of lots of free blood glucose which in turn is likely to have come from simple carbs. Simple carbs are things like chocolate and cake and these release a spike of energy as they are very easy for the body to convert. On the other hand more gradually released energy comes from complex carbs which includes vegetables and bread and these are better sources of energy if you struggle with restlessness.


Your brain can also have a big impact on your ability to sleep as your thoughts are connected to your bodily functions. For instance if you are panicked or stressed then you will often find that your heart beat is raised and that your body produces adrenaline. Likewise though you might just have racing thoughts about something you want to do, or an idea or that are going over something that occurred in the day. Either way though you will find that this leaves you unable to relax and you will find yourself focused and alert rather than drowsy and sleepy.


If it’s very hot then your body will work to cool you down and this will make you feel ‘hot and bothered’. At the same time you will also produce perspiration and find you feel itchy as a result which is far from conducive to sleeping.

Body Clock

It may also just be that you’re not tired, that you don’t need sleep and this can prevent your body from heading into that cycle. Your body takes a couple of cues from the outside world such as light and sound (external zeitgebers) as well as from your body (internal pacemakers). For you to get the optimum sleep you need to match these up – organize your body clock so that you are sleeping when it’s dark and cold and make sure you get the full eight hours sleep a night but not more.


Caffeine causes the brain to release adrenaline and this increases the heart rate and brain activity. Coffee or tea then are great for a way to wake up in the morning before work then, but they are far from suited to heading off to bed later.

So What to Do About It?

So now you know what’s causing your sleep deprivation and your restlessness, what can you do to prevent it? Here we will look at some methods that will help to avoid your body becoming too stimulated as well as a few other strategies you can use to create an environment more conducive to sleep.

Watch Your Diet

You should make sure then obviously to avoid caffeine as well as anything too sugary just before bed as both these things can make your body race somewhat. Other things than just coffee and tea contain caffeine though so also avoid chocolate and fizzy drinks.

Furthermore make sure you avoid all food for at least a few hours prior to going to sleep. This is important as digesting will increase your metabolism and uses a lot of energy while making us uncomfortable. If you have to eat, then try to stick to fibers and avoid fatty foods which take the longest to digest.

Don’t Stimulate Yourself

So you’re taking a few hours before bed to avoid eating anything and certainly to avoid caffeine. At the same time it’s a good idea to use some of this time to try and calm your mind and to do something relaxing and distracting. For instance try just painting quietly or playing an instrument. This focuses the brain but as there is no plot or information to soak up it doesn’t stimulate you to start thinking and it won’t cause your mind to race.

It can also help to avoid stimulation in your room. For instance if you have a lot of bright colors and pictures on the walls rather than placid and tranquil colors then this can make your mind more likely to race too.

Drink Warm Milk

Warm milk can help to trigger the release of melatonin – one of the chemicals released by the brain in order to regulate our sleep cycle (an internal pacemaker). As such then you should drink warm milk in order to get this effect. At the same time it will also cause the muscles to relax due to the warmth, and surprisingly it will cool down your internal temperature as your body will try and counteract the warmth coming in. However you should choose skimmed milk if you can stomach it as the lack of fat will give your digestive system less of a hard time (it’s this link that makes cheese so infamous for causing unusual dreams).

Use Sedatives

If you aren’t adverse to self medication then sedatives and sleeping pills are designed to make you drowsy by slowing down the metabolism. They can have some side effects though including drowsiness the next day and some can even be addictive. So consider your options carefully and make sure you try the other suggestions first.

Make a Cool Room

If you’re tossing and turning then your body will get hotter and you will find that you can’t relax. Cooling the room will help you to feel calm, but don’t make it too cold either as then your body will be working to heat you back up.

Keep a Notepad by the Bed

The reason this works is that it enables you to take things off of your mind that would otherwise occupy your thoughts and that allows you to forget about them and come back to them in the morning. Say then you suddenly have a great new idea for your business and can’t stop thinking about it, you can simply then write this down in your little notepad and then come back to it the next day when you wake up as opposed to trying to remember what it was that you were thinking of and worrying about it.

A similar method that some psychologists recommend for taking your mind off of things and particularly for taking your mind off of emotional events is to try and section off the thoughts and memories through visualization. Just imagine that you are taking your thoughts and then locking them up in a separate compartment in your brain and swallowing the key. This genuinely works for some people as a way to put the thoughts to one side.

Have a Strict Regime

As mentioned your internal pacemakers should line up with your external zietgebers. This means you need to be strict and make sure that you stick to a pattern and that will mean that every day when you come to go to sleep your body is tired at that time, while at the same time it will be dark outside. By staying vigilant with your body clock you will also be able to maintain a regular eight hours a day and that will help you to avoid oversleeping and then being restless at night. It only takes a couple of times to disrupt your pattern so make sure that even at the weekend you don’t succumb to the temptation to lie in until late in the afternoon.

Exert Yourself

Exerting yourself throughout the day will help you to feel calm and relaxed in the evening and you will be likely to get a heavier sleep. Exercise produces endorphins and growth hormone both of which cause relaxation and help you to enter an anabolic state where the body gets repaired and rejuvenated.

Use Distraction Techniques

If the creative part of your brain is running away with you then you need to find a way to silence that inner monologue by distracting it. There are a few strategies you can use for this and this is largely the hallmark of meditation where they use a mantra. Try just repeating the same phrase over and over and this will then mean your inner monologue can’t operate and you can’t have those thoughts that keep you awake. Counting sheep essentially achieves this same end. Alternatively you can just concentrate on regulating your own breathing, or play some quiet classical music and concentrate on that instead.

Enjoy It

The most important thing of all though is to just enjoy the experience of relaxing in bed – no matter how late it is and no matter how much you want to be asleep. There’s nothing you can achieve through fretting and in fact all this will do is cause you to become stressed thereby further elevating your heart rate and your bodily processes and that will mean that your more aroused again and less able to sleep. Rather than getting stressed then, just try to remain calm and relaxed and not think about the stresses. You’ll still be doing yourself good by relaxing and the more you unwind the more you will benefit from it. Think how rare it is to be able to lie down and not have to do anything for anyone in a normal waking day and suddenly it’s okay to be left alone in the dark with your thoughts. And guaranteed that as soon as you are finding the experience really pleasant and enjoyable – you’ll fall off to sleep.

Comments 6
  1. The part about food makes so much sense to me. I usually eat late and it's usually a heavy meal (pasta, red meat, etc.). I usually pass out right after (if not during) eating, however, I never stay asleep and now I know why. I'm going to try and move my dinner time to a little earlier and seeing if it makes a difference in my night. I never knew this and I'm glad I found this article.

  2. This is definitely a helpful article. However, whenever I take the dose you're supposed to take of melatonin in the form of a pill, it seems to BARELY, with emphasis on barely, work enough to SLIGHTLY help, with emphasis on slightly, after about 2-3 hours! I'm not sure how I'd build up immunity that's just a natural chemical that's normally produced in the body, so I don't think that's it.

    Even when I have a REALLY good run that day, take a refreshing shower before bed, stretch a ton really good before bed, pop all my joints [knees, toes, arms, fingers (both sections), ankles, and back, excluding neck], brush my teeth well, and take a pill of melatonin, I STILL can't sleep! I won't be on my laptop, smartphone, or anything with a screen, because I know that'll actually deprive you of sleep, and I STILL can't sleep! It ends up taking 1-3 hours for the melatonin to kick in, and it makes so little of a difference that, if I didn't take it, there almost wouldn't even be a difference.

    I'm always heavily pondering on tons of various things no matter what I'm doing during that time, excluding dreaming. Sometimes, they'll be big things, and sometimes, they'll just be various things with varying size.

    I've never been able to turn it off in my life, but when I'm trying to go to sleep, I just wish I could lower it a little, so I can get some sleep.

    I have a relatively new mattress, along with a pretty comfy wedge pillow. However, I also have restless leg syndrome, but it doesn't bother me when this is going on in bed. I don't exactly have normal dreams, and it's been that way my whole life. However, sometimes, I'll have very unusual dreams. I'm thinking it's linked to my huge, powerful imagination. Parts of my imagination, along with my imagination as a whole always seem to be heavily exercised. I seem to not be able to lower the amount it's being exercised, though. I don't want to turn it off; I just want to be able to lower it enough to where I can fall asleep easily enough.

    I also experience lucid dreaming quite often, which is really enjoyable, but also helps me consciously, along with sub-consciously during the day as well. I'm not sure if that'd have a connection.

    How do I solve all of this, so I can fall asleep faster? I also have OCD, ADD, and mild Asperger’s. However, my ADD doesn't apply during the mentioned time at night.

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