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Restless Sleep: How Can We Find More Peace at Night?

You open your eyes, close them again, toss and turn in bed, you’re tired, irritable and groggy in the morning – restless sleep is unpleasant and can have knock-on effects over the course of the day. Perhaps, after one restless night, we sleep like a log the next night. We catch up on sleep, so to speak. But what if we suffer from restless sleep over a longer period? What might be the causes and how can we cultivate healthy sleep?

Is restless sleep normal?

If we recorded our whole night’s sleep and watched it back, we would probably be surprised to see how much activity goes on. Tossing and turning at night is normal for our bodies. So even if we fall asleep in an optimal sleeping position, it’s very unlikely that we will wake up in the same position. But it’s not just our body that keeps moving, there’s also a lot going on in our head: we dream, process, sort and consolidate memories.

With this in mind, it’s normal for us to sleep restlessly in the sense that a lot happens during our sleep. However, we usually notice very little of what’s going on. The “nocturnal work” proceeds without our intervention, ideally leaving us feeling fresh and rested after a good night’s sleep.

When does restless sleep become a problem?

If our night’s sleep seems restless and we don’t feel refreshed in the morning, this may be because our body isn’t going undisturbed for long enough to pass through the various phases of sleep. We keep on waking up, which interrupts the processes running automatically. Is our tossing and turning at night just because we want to fall back asleep in a different position, or perhaps because we aren’t managing to enter sufficiently into the deep sleep phases? And if our sleep rhythm is being disturbed, what keeps waking us up?

Restless sleep can have many different causes, including a combination of physical and psychological factors. For example, persistent stress can lead to elevated levels of cortisol in our bodies. Cortisol is a hormone that our body produces naturally and releases when we are in a situation of acute stress. This gives us a boost of energy to help us respond to the situation. However, cortisol also controls our sleep-wake cycle: in the evening, the cortisol concentration drops and we become tired; in the morning it is at its highest, so we’re awake and alert.

If we persistently have more cortisol in our blood due to stress, this can lead to tension and restless sleep.

The solution in this case would be to reduce our stress during the day in order to sleep peacefully at night.

Other factors and tips for sleeping better

Does stress not play much of a role for you? Alongside physical causes, which you can have checked out by a doctor, there are other reasons for experiencing restless sleep. One of these is alcohol. Many of us drink a glass of wine with dinner or a beer after work as part of our routine. While alcohol can make us fall asleep faster, it can also lead to a restless night. If you’re partial to a drink on a daily basis, you may want to try changing your habits, for example by drinking a herbal tea in the evening.

💡 Good to know: A note for especially health-conscious readers: so-called interval fasting or a ketogenic/low-carb diet can also lead to a deterioration in sleep quality. While interval fasting can certainly have positive effects, a lower calorie intake or an absence of carbohydrates can impair our rest and recuperation at night.

It’s also worth paying attention to your sleeping environment. Darkness, for example, is beneficial because it promotes the release of melatonin. This hormone is important for falling asleep or getting back to sleep.

Your bedroom should also be as quiet as possible so that you’re less likely to be woken up by noises. If this is not possible, you may want to try using aids such as earplugs.

Sleep more peacefully with HelloBetter

Have you been suffering from restless sleep for a long time and would like more support? Our online course HelloBetter Sleep is a scientifically evaluated therapy program that has proven to be effective in improving your quality of sleep. Over the course of 8 weeks, you’ll learn strategies and techniques to actively counteract sleep problems. Curious? Then head over to our course page now and take a look.

Get to know HelloBetter Insomnia and learn how your sleep difficulties can come to an end ✓ accompanied by a qualified HelloBetter psychologist.

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Our articles are written by psychologists and reviewed by psychotherapists.