Why Am I Tossing and Turning All Night?
It doesn’t take too many nights of poor sleep before you start to feel crappy. Lack of sleep wreaks havoc on your mood, energy, and ability to focus. You find you’re short-tempered with your loved ones and take shortcuts to get things done. You feel like you wanna go back to bed before your day has even started! These are issues you’ll notice even after a couple of restless nights. Chronic sleep deprivation occurs when the restlessness doesn’t let up and you find you’re now weeks or months into a pattern of poor sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation is a problem because it can be catastrophic to your health. People who are chronically sleep deprived have more accidents at work, are involved in more auto accidents, and have higher rates of illness.
Insomnia, the formal term for poor sleep, shows up in various ways. You may have difficulty actually getting to sleep. You may find yourself waking up frequently in the middle of the night. You may wake up hours before you have to get up for the day and not be able to get back to sleep. You may be one of those people who report you can get to sleep pretty quickly, even stay asleep all night, but when you wake up you find yourself crabby and tired. It doesn’t feel like you’ve got the sleep you needed at all.
Whatever type of insomnia you have, and no matter why you have it, you need to make it a priority to stop tossing and turning.
Poor sleep is caused by many things, from simple lifestyle habits to major medical issues such as chronic pain. It’s a good idea to mention the fact that you’re not sleeping to your doctor. A few simple questions will allow your doctor to assess whether a sleep study is needed. Your doctor can also assess whether medication is needed. We will come back to this later.
For some people, no matter what causes the tossing and turning, medication is clearly indicated. But what if your doctor feels it’s not time to try medications yet? What if you want to try to fix this problem with some behavioral changes? The good news is that, in many cases, you can regain your rest by making some lifestyle changes and practicing good sleep hygiene.
The Causes of Poor Sleep
Let’s talk about stress for a moment. It’s the most common cause of sleep deprivation. During sleep, your body repairs damage on a cellular level and your brain gets a chance to relax and recharge. Sleep boosts your mood and improves your resistance to disease. Lack of sleep deprives your body and brain of that much-needed downtime. You get sick more often. It is a vicious cycle. Stress makes it difficult to sleep, and lack of sleep makes it difficult to deal with stress. By reducing stress during the day, you have a better chance of sleeping well. Stress causes racing thoughts and a general feeling of being on edge. During the day you’re distracted by work, the bills, your friends, what’s for dinner – you get the idea. In the still of the night, all that stress and worry comes crashing through the surface. Sometimes stress and worry turn into anxiety. Anxiety and insomnia often occur together. It’s hard to relax and shut off the brain.
It’s a fact that there are times when there’s nothing you can do to change the amount of stress you are under. Making sure you practice and prioritize good sleep hygiene is essential if you can’t put the brakes on your stress. Sleep hygiene has nothing to do with taking a shower, but it does mean you’ll have to clean up those bedtime habits. I’ll show you how in a moment. Other common causes of tossing and turning that are related to lifestyle include: too much caffeine, eating late, alcohol use (you may feel chill and sleepy at first, but alcohol interrupts your circadian rhythm), watching or listening to overstimulating information prior to sleep, blue light from your technology screens or TV, being too warm, not having enough activity during the day, and not having a regular schedule.
Good sleep is health-promoting and life-saving. Sleep is your number one defense against stress, illness, and mental health issues. Insomnia is often the first red flag indicating we’re ‘off-kilter’. You are biologically programmed to need sleep. When an erratic schedule, shift work, or stress interrupts your ability to sleep, your health is on the line. Review the following habits to help you sleep soundly.
20 Daily Habits to Improve Your Chances of a Good Night’s Sleep
- Stay awake in the daytime and go to bed at night. Regulate this schedule and stick to it. Set a time for bedtime before 11 pm. Early waking (prior to 8 am) is key. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep. Sunrise waking is shown to greatly enhance productivity. You will only need an alarm for a little while, as your body is naturally programmed for early waking. (I do believe there are a few exceptions to this rule. Maybe there are some natural night owls? Anthropologically speaking, these people would have been our night watch). Even people that describe themselves as night owls quite easily begin sleeping at night with some behavioral adjustments. If you are a shift worker, you need to know shift work is directly correlated with difficulty sleeping. Talk to a counselor to figure out how to avoid common pitfalls of shiftwork.
- Exposure to sunlight when you first wake up is essential for boosting metabolism, improving mood, and creating an alert brain. Open curtains or blinds and turn on lights. Use light bulbs that mimic sunlight on dark winter mornings. Sit outside in the daylight for just a few moments. Use a therapeutic light box in winter to prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder.
- Mornings are your time for self-care. You need a power hour to kick off your day. Take vitamins, supplements, and probiotics in the morning with plenty of liquid. Eat a small meal. Try some lemon water in the summer. Switch to hot lemon water with honey in the winter for an immune booster. (Some experts recommend using a straw to avoid the toll that this takes on our teeth.) Morning is a great time to take a shot: of apple cider vinegar—not alcohol. Plan for success and set out your food and supplements the night before. Don’t rely on remembering what to do when you’re foggy from sleep (or lack of it). Boost your energy and feed your brain first thing. Do your juicing and smoothies in the morning for a healthy start.
- Vigorous exercise in the morning, especially outdoors, boosts metabolism. If you can’t exercise vigorously, focus on movement. Walking is a great form of exercise if you are not able to run or jog, or simply do not have the energy for it. Cycling is not weight-bearing so it’s good for sore feet, the back, your knees, and hips. It’s also great for the legs and core. If music gets you out the door, grab your headphones and breathe in the sights.
- Prompt your wake cycle with peppermint oil or your favorite citrus based oils. Add stimulating oils to your shower or body care routine. Help yourself relax at night with lavender oil in a diffuser or sprinkled on your pillow. You can also put those old odd socks to good use by using them for your essential oil pad. Sprinkle, lay by your pillow, and breathe in! Odd socks never smelled so good. #sockhack
- No social media first thing. It contributes to brain drain. Avoid the temptation to scroll when you’re waking up.
- Save hot showers or warm soothing baths for later in the day. This will help you wind down. Take a cool shower in the morning and get outside when you can.
- Cut off all caffeine after 2 pm, including pop, and limit yourself to two to three cups per day at the most. Do not use energy drinks, ever!
- Bedtime routines help the body to know when you want to sleep. Over time, your routine alone will induce a big yawn. Make a ritual of having decaf tea, practice some gentle stretches, and do some journaling in bed before trying to sleep. Get those thoughts on paper so they have a chance to be expressed before you close your eyes.
- Keep lunch light, tasty, and crispy to avoid post-lunch fatigue and brain drain. Smaller meals with protein, less sugar and carbs will help the post-lunch crash. A salad is a good go-to in summer, while soup with good crackers and some fruit hits the spot in colder months.
- Afternoon naps should be kept to less than one hour if you’re lucky enough to get one. If you must doze in the day, set an alarm.
- Sleepy during the day? Drink something cold, suck on ice, eat something crunchy, chew gum, splash your face with cool water, sit outside, stretch, or move. If you sit at work, get up every 15 minutes.
- Try to eat dinner before 7 pm. Limit alcohol to one serving or none at all. Alcohol interferes with your sleep/wake cycle.
- Darkening shades or blinds are a must in your sleeping area. If you can’t afford them, use heavy blankets or towels. The less light
pollutionthe better. Make sure there are no sounds or flashing lights from phones, computers, printers, air conditioners, etc. Blue light from a TV is particularly problematic. This is why TV watching should end about 60 minutes before you try to sleep. Set your phone display to night shift if you must use it in bed. Use your technology only to play relaxation music or a guided sleep meditation at night, but not to look at distressing emails or texts. You can save the world in the morning. YouTube has lots of free guided meditations and relaxation music. There are hundreds of apps and sleep trackers out there on the market. By the way, speaking of blankets and towels, some people need a heavy blanket to sleep. It’s a sensory thing. You can buy weighted blankets online.
- There are various supplements that may improve sleep quality including melatonin, chamomile, valerian root, and magnesium. These are available in teas, powders, capsules, liquids, and tablets. Talk to your doctor, a pharmacist, or natural food consultant.
- If you use an OTC (over-the-counter) sleep aid or medication for sleep, try to take it before 9 pm. Know that you may have to work hard to get awake in the morning due to the ‘hangover’ effect. It may be worth the side effects for a while to get your brain back into the habit of sleeping.
- Room temperature should be somewhere between 60 – 68 degrees when possible. If you’re overheated you won’t sleep well.
- Keep a stack of books by your bed. Read until you are ready to sleep. If focusing on a book is difficult, try magazines or an audiobook!
- Explore apps that teach you mindfulness, meditation, and other skills to reduce stress during the day. I love the “Calm” and “Headspace” apps.
- Consider getting a sleep study if your sleep problems are chronic. Insomnia is a major contributor to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It also affects our physical health. If you have sleep apnea, your mental health issues won’t improve until you can sleep.
Prioritize Your Sleep Over EVERYTHING. Without Sleep, It Will Be Much Harder to Make Other Lifestyle Changes.
- There are many causes of tossing and turning in your sleep.
- Stress is a major contributor to tossing and turning in your sleep.
- There are simple lifestyle changes you can make that will help you to sleep better over time.
- There are times when medication is needed to reset your body’s ability to sleep. It’s as though prolonged night waking helps the body ‘forget’ how to sleep straight through. Sometimes, even though stress is greatly decreased, the body keeps waking itself up. Medication can be used in the short term to get you sleeping again. Medications such as Trazadone, Buspar, Amitriptyline, and Vistaril are commonly prescribed and generally thought to be safe, as well as non-habit forming. Learning CBT can help you manage stress. Sleep centers evaluate for sleep disorders. A sleep study to assess for sleep apnea is a good idea if you’ve noticed these sleep problems for a while, or your partner reports restlessness and/or snoring.
Don’t be shy! If someone you know has difficulty sleeping, sharing this information can ward off the health risks and catastrophic events that lack of sleep can cause.
© Vibrant Health Company LLC All Rights Reserved. Traci Baxendale Ball, LMSW, CAADC is the founder of Vibrant Health Company LLC
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