- This article has been written and researched by Ana Luiza – a sleep scientist, psychobiologist, and biotechnologist, (Ph.D.) – to ensure the highest content quality and factual accuracy.
I have struggled with restlessness at night since I was a child due to anxiety disorders.
And as an adult, my night time restlessness has only gotten worse due to the addition of physical ailments like damaged shoulder muscles that cause pain.
As you can imagine, I have tried many different strategies for trying to reduce my restlessness over the years – some worked, many didn’t.
So how do you get to sleep when you are restless?
The best ways to reduce restlessness include: sleeping on a mattress that provides excellent pressure relief; applying progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) techniques; blacking out the bedroom; using earplugs or brown noise to block out sounds; and taking sleep supplements.
The rest of this article expands upon these points to give you 13 actionable strategies to help you get to sleep when you feel restless at night.
Although this article was written and researched by a qualified doctor (Ph.D.), and I have included my own personal anecdotes and experiences to add further value, you should always talk to your doctor for the best advice for you.
What’s the best mattress for restlessness? I was able to cure a lot of my restlessness by sleeping on the Puffy Lux Hybrid mattress due to its brilliant pressure relief. Click here to find out more and save $300 now.
13 Ways to Get to Sleep When Restless
Here are 13 ways to get to sleep when you feel restless at night:
1: Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation to Reduce Tension
Restlessness at night often comes from tension building up in your body.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation method that promotes the relative elimination of musculoskeletal anxiety and tension without physical or mental exertion.
It involves conscious contraction and relaxation of muscle groups throughout the body.
You can start at the head and work through your entire body to your feet or the other way around.
Watch the video above to learn the progressive muscle relaxation techniques that can help you to get to sleep faster by reducing tension.
One of the leading causes of my insomnia and restlessness at night is my inability to switch off – resulting in a racing mind and anxiety.
After a period of time has passed, I notice that my muscles become really tense and tight – making it even harder to get to sleep.
As such, I have had some success in using progressive muscle relaxation techniques to help alleviate the tension in my muscles and help me to get to sleep.
2: Sleep On the Puffy Lux Hybrid Mattress for Pressure Relief
A leading cause of restlessness at night is sleeping on a mattress that’s too firm, doesn’t provide enough pressure relief, and/or isn’t suitable for your body type.
If you find yourself having to turn over due to uncomfortable pressure points building up on areas like your shoulders, hips, or back, then you should buy a new mattress that can provide more pressure relief on the prominent regions of your body.
I personally become very restless at night when sleeping on a regular spring mattress because I have bad shoulders from sporting injuries so my rotator cuff muscles are very sore and hurt a lot when sleeping on my side – this gives me insomnia (click here to see the best mattresses for combating insomnia now).
However, I was able to cure this problem by sleeping on the Puffy Lux Hybrid mattress because this is a very soft (yet supportive) bed that uses deep layers of memory foam and polyfoam to provide deep contouring that alleviates the pressure points all over my body.
If you’re restless at night due to your mattress being uncomfortable, then I personally think that switching to the Puffy Lux Hybrid will be beneficial for you because it will reduce the trigger points on your body that are contributing to your restlessness.
If your mattress is at least 5 years old then I highly recommend that you switch your mattress because despite what a lot of the marketing hype from the mattress companies say, many mattresses start to sag and wear out after 5 years (especially cheap, low-quality mattresses).
More specifically, a mattress that’s sagging won’t support your body properly and can lead to back pain, stiffness, and more restlessness.
3: Black-Out Your Bedroom to Boost Melatonin
Making your bedroom pitch black by blocking out light and avoiding electronic screens before bed can help to boost your melatonin levels to help you fall asleep faster and reduce restlessness.
From personal experience, I can tell you that I always find it harder to get to sleep in the summer when there are still glimmers of light trickling in through cracks in the curtains until late, and then streaming back in early in the morning (leading to restlessness and early waking).
To combat this, I wear an eye mask and use roller-blinds in my room to block out external light.
I also find that using my cell phone, computer, or even watching the TV right up until bedtime (or even a few hours before) makes it harder for me to get to sleep – especially if I’ve been looking at something that gets my mind racing or increases anxiety.
A Darker Room Balances Your Circadian Cycle to Reduce Restlessness
Changes in light and darkness directly affect your circadian cycle.
Without a well-defined light-dark cycle, your circadian rhythm becomes unbalanced, making it difficult to sleep.
This is because the light-dark cycle regulates your sleep-wake cycle.
Sleeping in complete darkness induces a state of relaxation that helps to maintain sleep.
Artificial Light Disrupts Your Circadian Cycle
Thanks to the emergence of artificial light, there is an incompatibility between modern life and the circadian cycle.
For example, it is now normal to expose ourselves to artificial light when it is dark.
In addition, we spend more time indoors: in offices, schools, and shopping malls – reducing exposure to natural sunlight.
As a result, we are not getting the best quality of sleep because we are at odds with our natural circadian cycle.
A Darker Bedroom Can Boost Melatonin and Improve Sleep Quality
Melatonin, known as the sleep hormone, is secreted by the pineal gland in your brain and helps to initiate sleep.
Its production is influenced by the detection of light from our retina.
Exposure to light inhibits the production of melatonin, whilst darkness stimulates its release.
Melatonin’s nocturnal concentrations are up to 10 times higher at night.
Therefore, making your bedroom pitch black can help to stimulate the release of melatonin, reduce restlessness, and help you get to sleep.
I personally have a bottle of 10 mg melatonin tablets that I take if I’m really struggling to get to sleep.
But I wouldn’t recommend relying on these supplements every night – always talk to your doctor before taking anything to help you sleep.
4: Use Mindfulness Meditation to Calm Anxiety
An anxious mind can lead to restlessness – with OCD thoughts being a leading cause of insomnia for many people.
For me, my anxious mind is the main cause of my insomnia – as soon as my head hits the pillow my mind becomes flooded with a thousand thoughts about the past, future, and other things that aren’t going to help me get to sleep.
I often find that trying to stop thinking completely is impossible – the thoughts just spring back with greater force after a period of calm!
Instead, I prefer to apply the principle of ‘mindfulness’ meditation – where I just observe the thoughts and try not to get involved in them.
Try listening to the mindfulness meditation video above with your earphones in before bed to help you relax and detach from the thoughts that are causing your restlessness.
Mindfulness Meditation Reduces Overthinking and Reduces Restlessness
Mindfulness meditation comprises of maintaining awareness of the present moment to relieve anxiety generated by overthinking about the past or future.
It is a non-pharmacological treatment to improve sleep quality.
The technique involves three processes:
- Experiential awareness.
- Attention control.
These processes can be worked on considering which risk factor is most evident for each person.
Meditation focuses on breathing, sensory, body scanning and promotes consciousness, including several experiences such as thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
It can also use external stimuli such as images and sounds.
The idea is that whenever our mind begins to wander into random thoughts and facts, we can use attention to what is being worked on as an anchor to return to the present time and moment.
It is also a way of accepting and making peace with your feelings, thoughts, and sensations, free of judgments.
This acceptance promotes a quieter and more sleep-friendly environment.
5: Apply the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique to Fall Asleep Faster
Sometimes, I get so lost in thought that when I take the time to shift my attention to my breathing, I realize that I’m only breathing in a shallow manner, or even holding my breath!
This can contribute to anxiety and hyperarousal – a state of acute physiological arousal that can be physical or mental.
Breathing correctly at a slow and deep pace can reverse this situation and induce a state of relaxation, helping you fall asleep.
A well-known method for helping you to become calm is the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
To perform the 4-7-8 breathing technique follow the steps below:
- Lie on your back.
- Close your mouth, inhale deeply and silently, and count mentally up to 4.
- Hold and count to 7.
- Exhale completely through the mouth, making a “woosh” sound counting to 8.
- Repeat the process at least four times.
6: Practice Good Sleep Habits to Trigger Sleep
Following good sleep habits – also known as a sleep hygiene routine – can help to trigger sleep at the same time each night by setting your body clock and reducing restlessness.
Some tips to follow include:
- Avoid excessive time in bed.
- Maintain a consistent sleep-time routine.
- Get out of bed if you cannot sleep.
- Restrict daytime naps.
- Exercise earlier on in the day.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Take a hot bath before bed.
- Perform light stretches before bedtime.
7: Set the Room Temperature to 17-19ºC to Induce Sleep
I definitely find it easier to get to sleep when the room is nice and cool rather than hot and stuffy.
In fact, poor environmental temperature is one of the leading causes of sleep disorders.
Environmental temperature is one of several aspects of the circadian cycle – the 24-hour cycle of the human body that regulates our biological activities – including sleep and hormone secretion.
Thus, it is crucial to maintain a comfortable body temperature for optimal sleep.
A decline in core body temperature facilitates entry into the deeper stages of sleep, so a cooler environment would be ideal for inducing this decline.
REM sleep (the sleep phase where you have most of your dreams) is the most affected by thermal discomfort.
Therefore, the recommended temperature of the room is 17 to 19ºC for sleep – possible through the use of air conditioners, fans, or simply by opening the windows.
8: Block Out Noise With Earplugs or Brown Noise
I’m hypersensitive to sounds – even the smallest sound like someone closing a car door down the road can wake me up.
That’s why I sleep with earplugs in every night to block out the bulk of the sounds that might disturb me.
If there’s a low-frequency sound (like roadworks or someone with a deep voice shouting) that’s getting through my earplugs, then I will listen to the brown noise in the video above with my headphones on and this will usually block it out (in some cases I’ll put the earplugs in and then put headphones over the top and play the brown noise for extra protection!).
I find that listening to the brown noise for an hour before bed can help to calm my mind and body whilst reducing my restlessness.
The maximum level of exposure to noise during sleep should be 30 to 40 decibels, which is the exact amount of decibels expected within a library.
Continuous noises do not disturb as much as noises that occur at intervals of time and stop.
Noises from household chores and traffic are among the leading causes of sleep disturbance, increasing physiological excitation and accelerating the slow waves of deep sleep, decreasing sleep time.
9: Get Out of Bed if You Can’t Sleep
If more than an hour has passed, I find that I become aware of the fact that I’m struggling to get to sleep – this makes my anxiety worse and causes me to start tossing and turning out of frustration.
If this happens to you, then I suggest getting out of bed and doing something else like reading a boring book.
This way, your mind won’t associate the bed with restlessness but instead a place to sleep.
Don’t lie there thinking that you MUST go to sleep.
These thoughts generate stress and anxiety, and your brain will associate the bed as a place to stay awake and be thoughtful.
If you worry too much about sleeping, the less likely you are to get it.
Restrict the Time You Are in Your Bed
A behavioral strategy used is sleep restriction.
That is: stay in bed only as long as you are sleeping.
Do not stay excessively in bed – such as lying in bed to watch TV.
Don’t Force Sleep
You can also try paradoxical intent.
Generally, sleeplessness gets worse when trying to control the sleeping process.
Paradoxical intention encourages the individual to stay awake as long as possible rather than focusing on sleeping.
Lay in bed in a dark room, keeping your eyes open (as long as possible) without engaging in sleep-incompatible behaviors (e.g., reading or watching TV).
Staying awake in this way decreases performance anxiety and may paradoxically trigger sleep.
10: Release Worries With the Pennebaker Writing Technique
As a child, I used to write creatively to express my emotions and as it turns out, this can actually be an effective way to unburden your mind just before bed so that you can relax, reduce restlessness, and get to sleep.
More specifically, the Pennebaker Writing Technique specifies that you write down your deepest concerns, thoughts, and feelings in a private and non-judgmental manner in order to release them so that you can calm down.
Alternatively, you can try talking to a family member, friend, or even a therapist to help process your internal dialogue and find peace.
11: Talk to Your Doctor About Sleep Supplements
You can try talking to your doctor about your restlessness and ask them if they think you are a good candidate for using sleep supplements.
Some of the following supplements that you can ask them about include:
- Melatonin: A compound that your pineal gland (a part of the brain) produces naturally. You can also find melatonin in foods of animal sources such as eggs and fish, in cereals such as corn and rice, and fruits like grapes, cherries, and strawberries. Tomatoes and peppers have a high concentration of melatonin. This natural substance can decrease the time to fall asleep and improve sleep quality. It also has hypnotic, antidepressant, antiepileptic, and immunomodulation effects.
- Chamomile: This is a medicinal herb with anxiolytic and hypnotic effects that can help you sleep better.
- Rose Damascena: The extract made from the flowers of roses has a hypnotic sedative effect and can be an excellent alternative to induce sleep. It can also relieve headaches and uterine cramps.
- Karira/ Kerda: Its phytotherapeutic potential lies in the bark and roots. Besides having sedative activity, it also has anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diarrheic properties.
- Lavender: Its relaxing properties that can help improve sleep quality are in its flowers and essential oil. They also exhibit antidepressant, sedative, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory activity.
- Kadam: Its barks and roots have a sedative effect, increasing the time and quality of sleep.
- Valerian: Its roots can help you fall asleep faster. However, pregnant women and children should avoid this medication.
- Japanese cananga: The rhizome is the portion of the plant that has medicinal properties. This plant is used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and depression in countries like Japan, India, China, and Bangladesh.
- Passion fruit: It has sedative action and is widely used to treat insomnia and anxiety because it promotes a significant increase in total sleep time and decreased wakefulness time. It may also assist in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, opioid withdrawal symptoms, and menopausal symptoms.
12: Try Yoga to Relax Your Body and Mind
Exercise is one of the main allies in the fight against restless sleep.
It is scientifically proven that frequently exercising improves sleep quality significantly.
It acts in both slow-wave sleep and REM sleep and decreases latency time, increasing total sleep time.
One of the most widespread exercises for improving sleep quality is yoga.
Yoga seeks to work both physical strength and flexibility, breathing, and self-knowledge to promote mental and spiritual health.
It can also be associated with mindfulness.
It is a safe and effective practice that improves fatigue, mood, and sleep quality and contributes to the release of melatonin.
It reduces stress-related cardiac and respiratory hyperarousal.
I personally found that working on my pelvic floor using yoga stretching and breathing helped to ground me and reduce my restlessness.
Try watching the video above that shows you how to get started with yoga for better sleep.
13: Eat Foods that Boost Sleep Quality
Your diet also affects your sleep quality and duration.
The interaction between diet and sleep is highly bidirectional and complex.
An imbalance in this change can lead to problems, especially cardiovascular and diabetes.
A large intake of fiber and low saturated fat intake is associated with a more prolonged restorative deep sleep stage.
On the other hand, a high sugar intake is associated with an increased incidence of nocturnal awakening.
Try the Mediterranean Diet
Adopting the Mediterranean diet brings excellent benefits to sleep and health in general.
It reduces the reduced risk of hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, depression, and insomnia.
A high-carb diet just before bedtime decreases sleep quality.
In contrast, consuming high glycemic index carbohydrates about 4 hours before decreases latency time.
Not ingesting micronutrients at the recommended dose also causes deficiencies in vitamin B1, folate, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, and selenium – leading to shorter sleep duration.
Lack of alpha-carotene, selenium, calcium, low vitamin D intake, and lycopene make sleep difficult and leads to non-restorative sleep.
Foods with high tryptophan content show beneficial results for sleep.
Tryptophan is a precursor of melatonin and serotonin.
Invest in the consumption of milk, fatty fish, cherries, and kiwis.
Bread, vegetables, and shellfish are also recommended.
How Restlessness Affects Sleep
The stress and rush of daily life are the main reasons you can get agitated before bed.
If you’re a restless sleeper, you may roll over in bed, change positions, get up, and check your cellphone.
You go through various periods of restless and fragmented sleep during the night.
Restless sleep is not considered a sleep disorder.
Thus, how it feels is a bit subjective; it depends on the individual who experiences it.
Restless sleep usually involves:
- Rolling in bed trying to get comfortable.
- Feeling that you do not sleep deep enough.
- A racing mind.
- Frustration with the inability to sleep.
- Difficulty falling asleep.
- Waking up in the middle of the night.
Persistent Restlessness Can Indicate a Serious Disorder
Although it is not pleasant, it is normal to have a little trouble resting from time to time.
But sometimes, having trouble sleeping consistently can indicate you have a more severe disorder that requires medical attention.
These disorders may include difficulty falling asleep, poor sleep quality (sleep and waking up more tired), circadian cycle problems, respiratory disorders like sleep apnea, teeth grinding, sleepwalking, nightmares, or periodic limb movements.
Many people are unaware of these behaviors, and they only get to know when someone tells them.
Because of that, they may never understand why they’re having such poor sleep.
You’ll know that it is time to find help when your restless sleep is too frequent, persistent, or it is worsening.
Besides these sleep disorders, restless sleep can result from anxiety, stress, depression, or excess of certain substances such as coffee, alcohol, and other drugs.
Another possible cause is poor sleep hygiene.
Long Term Restlessness Can Cause Health Issues
When these problems persist for too long, they can impair your sleep quality.
Restlessness causes interrupted and non-restorative sleep, increasing the risk of developing health problems such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, mood disorders, and immune system impairments.
Luckily, there are pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments, each with its pros and cons.
Non-pharmacological therapies include cognitive-behavioral therapy and improved sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene includes maintaining a healthy sleep routine, not trying to compensate for sleep lost on holidays or weekends, preparing a suitable sleeping environment by regulating temperature, light incidence, and noise exposure.
Pharmacological treatment must be guided by specialized healthcare professionals – who may order specific tests and prescribe medications if necessary.
Conclusion: Talk to Your Doctor
If restlessness at night is a persistent issue for you then you should talk to your doctor to find out the cause and come up with a treatment plan that’s going to be effective for you.
Beyond this, you may have success treating short-term restlessness at night by combining several of the techniques listed in this article.
I personally have had the most success by switching to the Puffy Lux Hybrid mattress for more pressure relief.
Click the button below to learn more about this brilliant mattress in my own personal hands-on review.
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No part of this article or website offers medical advice – always consult with a qualified medical professional for the best guidance.
Image Attribution and Licencing
Main image: ‘Peaceful Sleep’ by Goodboy Picture Company (Getty Images Signature) used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.
Dan is the founder and head content creator at Bedroom Style Reviews.
He has been working as a professional online product reviewer since 2015 and was inspired to start this website when he ended up sleeping on a memory foam mattress that was too soft and gave him backache.
Through in-depth research and analysis, Dan’s goal with this website is to help others avoid such pitfalls by creating the best online resource for helping you find your ideal mattress, bedding, and bedroom furniture.
Dan is a qualified NVQ Level 2 Fitness Instructor with 6 years’ experience helping clients improve their health through diet, exercise, and proper sleep hygiene.
He also holds several college and university-level qualifications in health sciences, psychology, mathematics, art, and digital media creation – which helps him to publish well researched and informative product reviews as well as articles on sleep, health, wellbeing, and home decor.
Dan also has direct personal experience with insomnia, anxiety, misophonia (hypersensitivity to sounds), and pain from both acute and long-standing sporting injuries – he enjoys writing insightful articles around these subjects to help fellow sufferers of such conditions.
Learn more about Dan here.