Quality sleep is just as essential as getting enough to eat and drink each day. All forms of animal life sleep to some extent. Sleep allows your body’s cells to rest. Your brain is part of your body; it needs metabolic rest as well.
During sleep, your body temperature drops naturally, your heart rate settles down, and your brain undergoes important changes to allow the day’s memories to become stored in long-term storage when necessary.
Without quality sleep, you will feel tired, irritable, or foggy the next day. You might fail an exam or miss a turn on the way to work. You could snap at your coworkers and feel sluggish.
In the long term, lack of adequate sleep has life-long implications for your health and longevity. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and early death.
When you have restless sleep, it means that you fail to settle into a deep sleep pattern. You may have underlying leg restlessness or may feel like you’re always tossing and turning.
When you awaken, you often feel exhausted – as though you never really slept. About 10-15% of adults have this type of sleep disruption at some point in their lives.
Let’s look at this phenomenon of restless sleep to see how you can overcome it.
Restless sleep generally means you move around more in your sleep. You might simply toss and turn during the night, unable to settle into a quiet slumber. You could also have very restless legs, or a related condition called periodic limb movement in sleep.
Regardless of how it feels to you, others around you would notice that you rarely lie still for long enough during sleep to seem comfortable while sleeping.
There are several causes of restless sleep:
- Poor sleep environment – If your room is too warm or you are sleeping under bed clothing that warms your body too much, you will not be able to settle into the deeper sleep stages. Similarly, if your environment is too light or noisy, restful sleep would be difficult.
- Poor sleep hygiene – If you don’t sleep at the same time every day, drink alcohol or use drugs before bedtime, or watch blue light-containing screens (laptops, phones, or computers) before bedtime, you risk restless sleep at night.
- Stress or anxiety – You sleep better if you’re calm and free of stress before sleeping. Unfortunately, you can’t always avoid stress. Stress and some anxiety disorders predispose you to poor sleep quality and restlessness during sleep.
- Dietary factors – Dietary factors could play a role in poor sleep quality and restlessness during sleep. You need plenty of polyunsaturated fats, iron, and magnesium for optimal sleep patterns. Poor sleep is linked to high saturated fats, low fiber levels, and high sugar levels in the diet.
- Pain – Chronic pain can cause an inability to sleep well. Even if the pain is tolerable, you might sleep more lightly and be unable to settle into a comfortable sleep.
- Other medical conditions – Restless legs syndrome or its related disorder called “periodic limb movement in sleep” can make your legs twitch or jump during sleep. It can interfere with getting to sleep because it is so uncomfortable at times.
Having one or two nights of restless sleep is uncomfortable but probably won’t hurt you. However, if sleeping restlessly is part of your everyday life, your mental and physical health may suffer in ways that impact your life beyond the nighttime hours.
Poor sleep and lack of enough restorative, deep sleep hours can affect your ability to think clearly. Over time you can develop crippling dementia. Reduced deep sleep can also cause metabolic disturbances, leading to higher levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and heart disease.
You can see why this can be a vicious cycle. Poor sleep during a restless night, obesity, and the sleep apnea that might follow can further lead to a sleep disturbance due to disordered breathing during sleep.
What can you do to gain more restful sleep and avoid excessive daytime sleepiness? There are several options for better sleep using natural approaches to enhance restfulness before bedtime.
Some herbal supplements can help enhance sleep by promoting a faster onset of sleep or by allowing for more restfulness during the nighttime hours:
- Valerian Root – This is a common herb found mainly in certain grassland areas of Europe and the US. It seems to act on the neurotransmitters of the brain, like GABA, promoting overall central nervous system inhibition. When you take it, you can relax and sleep better.
- Chamomile – This is a common herb in teas used for relaxation. It likely binds to the benzodiazepine (GABA) receptors in the brain to ensure relaxation in preparation for sleep.
- Lavender – Lavender increases the parasympathetic tone in the nervous system to promote feelings of calm and relaxation before bedtime. You can use lavender essential oils to help you feel more like sleeping and sleep more deeply at night.
- Kava – Kava reduces norepinephrine levels to reduce the fight-or-flight response in order to induce relaxation and enhance feelings of calm.
- Melatonin – Melatonin isn’t an herb but is a hormone that encourages sleep each night. You can use supplements to enhance your sleep or consume foods high in melatonin, including walnuts, cherries, pistachios, eggs, milk, and bananas.
Aromatherapy is time-tested in helping promote relaxation when it’s time to sleep. Just as certain essential oils make you feel energized, others enhance relaxation. Lavender, as mentioned, is an essential oil known to promote relaxation in most people. Others include the following oils:
- Chamomile oil
- Oil of Bergamot
- Peppermint oil
- Sandalwood oil
- Oil of marjoram
- Cedarwood oil
- Ylang ylang oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Clary sage oil
Part of the way essential oils work is that they enter the brain’s emotional centers through the nose and olfactory nerves. Some work in similar ways for everyone; however, those scents that have memories for you that are particularly relaxing will generally recreate those calming memories.
Try putting an essential oil mister in your room or put a little on a sachet or cotton ball next to your bed. Some essential oils can be rolled onto your wrist or behind your ears using special rolling devices you can place strategically in your home whenever you need them.
Relaxing before bedtime helps ensure more restful sleep. You will be able to reduce your nervous system activation before sleeping and potentially promote hours of restful sleep during the night simply by learning some tested techniques for relaxation:
- Deep breathing exercises – Deep breathing slows your heart rate and reduces blood pressure. This sends signals to your brain that you are calm enough to sleep. You can also expect reduced leg restfulness and an enhanced ability to fall asleep quickly. Breathing to relax before bedtime can improve more than just your sleep; it can enhance your stress resilience and even immunity.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – This is often combined with deep breathing. When engaging in progressive muscle relaxation, you begin by relaxing your facial muscles before working your way down to the muscles of your legs and feet by selectively isolating groups of muscles to relax before moving downward.
Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and meditation can also induce relaxation and promote better sleep. When you perform yoga, you combine breathing exercises and specific poses used to calm you and prepare you for adequate sleep.
You can also practice simple meditation to clear your mind of excess thoughts and boost your mental health. Most meditation involves focusing on breathing to aid this process. You can combine breathing with biofeedback devices to aid in training your body and mind toward enhanced states of relaxation.
CBD and Sleep
CBD is a plant terpene found in hemp and marijuana. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and not CBD is the psychoactive component of marijuana. THC Is activating, while CBD is entirely relaxing for most individuals. CBD has no known addictive potential.
Oil containing CBD is useful for individuals with stress or anxiety interfering with sleep. CBD is found in gummies and other products for those needing something to promote better overall sleep.
Acupuncture has a variety of uses beyond relaxation and sleep. Certain acupressure and acupuncture points will help reduce the perception of stress, allowing for better sleep.
Lifestyle matters as much as anything else you can do to promote better sleep. Before considering taking strong medications or even supplements for sleep, make sure you check out the best lifestyle measures for restful sleep.
Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Your body responds best to consistency in everything you do. Just as you decide to eat at particular times of the day, you need to establish a schedule involving predictable times to go to bed and wake up. It helps to work backward from when you know you need to wake up in the morning.
Choose that as your morning routine and subtract 7 to 9 hours to find the time you need to be asleep to get enough restful sleep hours. If you are naturally a night owl, this part can be challenging, so be sure to work gradually into a tolerable routine.
Creating a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Most people know that relaxing before bedtime is a good idea but fall short on how to accomplish this task. Make sure you avoid blue-light screens (laptops, phones, and tablets) before bed or wear blue light-blocking glasses so your eyes don’t take in this activating light.
Remember that stimulants like caffeine (energy drinks, coffee), cocaine, and amphetamine-containing drugs will interfere with sleep, particularly if taken too close to bedtime. Finally, dim the lights and reduce ambient noise as you prepare for bed.
Bedroom Environment Optimization
Restless sleep is often caused by excess ambient light, too much noise, or high room temperatures. Your room should be about 65 to 67 degrees for optimal sleep. Use a dehumidifier if it’s too humid and a humidifier if it’s too dry.
If you can’t control the ambient temperature, take a cool shower before bedtime. Your mattress and pillows should feel comfortable for you and should not lead to back or neck pain during the night.
Exercise and Physical Activity
Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up and leads to sweating, is good for sleep. Regular exercise improves metabolism during the day and primes your body for optimal sleep.
Try not to exercise heavily too close to bedtime so you aren’t sore and so that your body temperature isn’t so high before trying to sleep.
Eat food higher in polyunsaturated fats (fish, avocados, and nuts) and lower in saturated fats (beef, pork) to enhance sleep and reduce restlessness.
Iron can help reduce restless legs, and magnesium can induce overall calmness of the nervous system before sleep. You can get these things if you eat a low-sugar diet high in vegetables, fruits, and complex carbohydrates (whole grains and starches).
As mentioned, reduce caffeine before bedtime. Alcohol might make you feel like you are getting restful sleep, but its metabolites are toxic to your brain and actually reduce your ability to sleep without restlessness.
Stress management sounds simple, but it isn’t always easy when your life is hectic. Mindfulness meditation works anywhere to help reduce the perception of stress. Journaling before bedtime can help you put all of your stressful thoughts on paper, allowing you to clear your mind before lying down for the night. Use pen and paper to reduce screen time.
Naps are great when you need them; however, limit your naps to fewer than 45 minutes in total length and take them only when necessary. You need to cluster your sleep into one time period at night to sleep at the recommended time with reduced restlessness.
Most people can gain insight into their sleep by reading about ways to optimize sleep and implementing changes to avoid long nights of restless sleep. If the easy lifestyle changes don’t work, you may need to seek professional help.
Consider seeking help if you have complex medical or mental health issues or when taking medications that could interfere with your sleep. Healthcare providers specializing in sleep-related issues can help you identify if you have a particular sleep disorder impacting your sleep.
Restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder are two common disorders that can be helped through proper diagnosis and treatment. They commonly lead to restlessness and are difficult to self-manage, particularly if you aren’t certain of your diagnosis.
Other sleep disorders, including sleep apnea and circadian rhythm-related disorders, may lead to restless sleep. They are also difficult to manage on your own without a proper diagnosis or medical intervention.
CBT-I (Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia) is a type of therapy that involves brief visits with a provider who can diagnose your sleep issue and help you find ways to overcome the helplessness and frustration that come with being unable to comfortably sleep each night.
There are places for medications used to manage restless sleep; however, most are addictive or promote dependence that will make it harder in the future to get the kind of sleep you need. If your lack of sleep is profound and no other treatments are available, you could resort to these types of medications for brief periods as you learn to develop better sleep habits.
There are many causes of restless sleep, many of which involve diet, lack of regular exercise, and higher levels of stress. Your sleep hygiene (habits) and the substances you consume also contribute to feeling restless and being unable to get restorative sleep.
You have a long list of options for improving your sleep. Herbal supplements, aromatherapy, breathing, yoga, acupuncture, and meditative practices can all help you gain mastery over your sleep as you relax in preparation for nighttime and restful sleep. If these don’t help, consider professional advice or CBT-I to further help you avoid the metabolic and mental health complications found when sleep is suboptimal.
Remember that restless sleep rarely occurs in a vacuum. Often, you develop this unhealthy sleep pattern through lifestyle choices, environmental issues in your bedroom, and other factors, such as stress or a genetic tendency toward poor sleep. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help reduce restlessness so you can feel calm and relaxed as you drift off toward another restful night of sleep.