We’ve all been there: a late night spent rolling from right to left, and the pressure of needing to fall back asleep so you can get up for work in the morning only makes it worse. Tossing and turning at night is never enjoyable nor usually welcomed.
Although sometimes it can be challenging to determine what caused a restless sleep, it’s pretty obvious other times.
From poor diet and high caffeine intake to stress, anxiety, and underlying medical conditions, we’re walking you through the most significant contributors to restless sleep and giving you our best ten tips to prevent tossing and turning at night and get a one-way ticket to dreamland.
Ready to get started?
What Causes Tossing And Turning?
While you may think rolling around in your bed staring at the ceiling is just a one-off and you’ll sleep better tomorrow, chronic tossing and turning can be a symptom of something bigger.
Often, it’s your body’s way of letting you know something isn’t quite right. So, what could be the actual problems? Here are some of the most significant contributors to restless sleep:
For anyone that struggles with anxiety, sleep disruptions are anything but new. Excessive worry and fear make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, and in turn, sleep deprivation worsens anxiety, creating a nasty cycle.
People with anxiety often experience mental hyperarousal, which has been identified as a key factor behind insomnia, but they also have higher sleep reactivity and changes to the overall sleep cycle 1, 2.
Stress takes a significant toll on the body, both physically and mentally, and can make it more challenging to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Chronically high-stress levels increase the stress hormone cortisol, which increases alertness and arousal and makes it hard to fall asleep 3.
Sleep loss, in turn, alters the HPA axis function and can result in hyperactivation, further complicating the problem.
Poor sleep hygiene
Your sleep habits have a lot to do with how well you sleep. Just like kids, going to bed too early or late can interfere with sleep quality.
If you’re over or under-tired when you get into bed, it can make falling asleep difficult. The same is true of anyone with an irregular sleep schedule, for example, night shift workers.
Specific nutrients support a healthy sleep cycle, and nutrient deficiencies resulting from a poor or imbalanced diet can impact sleep quality.
Nutrients from food play a huge role in the production of melatonin, your sleep hormone, and other neurotransmitters that regulate sleep.
Studies find that foods containing melatonin or promoting the synthesis of it via the availability of tryptophan, as well as foods containing vitamins and minerals needed as co-factors and activators in the synthesis of melatonin, may influence levels of the hormone and directly affect sleep quality 4.
If you want to protect yourself against nutrient shortfalls, consider investing in a good multivitamin like Performance Lab NutriGenesis Multi.
It’s a state-of-the-art multi supplying 100% RDI of 17+ essential vitamins and minerals in their most bioavailable form for optimal absorption and bioactivities. No synthetic nutrients forms, fillers, or additives—just pure, clean nutrition.
If you want to sleep well, you need an environment conducive to sleep. For example, thermal regulation is a huge factor that can affect sleep.
Heat or cold exposure can result in increased wakefulness, decreased rapid eye movement sleep, slow wave sleep, and altered sleep stages 5. But it’s also influenced by clothing choices.
People who sleep nude or in minimal clothes are more affected by cold exposure, but heat and humidity can increase thermal load during sleep and affect sleep stages and thermoregulation.
Additionally, brightness can also influence sleep via melatonin production. Light from external sources (windows, doors, etc.) or blue light from electronic devices interferes with melatonin production.
When melatonin levels aren’t high enough to support sleep onset, it can lead to restlessness where you’re tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep.
Underlying medical conditions
Pre-existing medical conditions like restless leg syndrome (RLS), sleep apnea, and insomnia can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
With RLS, the overwhelming urge to move your legs can lead to frequent tossing and turning. Sleep apnea leads to frequent wakeups due to breathing interruptions.
However, note that dealing with the actual medical condition is most likely the most effective route to address sleep disruptions.
How To Stop Tossing And Turning At Night
Several factors contribute to sleep quality, and sometimes, those details are small enough to slip under the radar, and we forget they impact our sleep.
Whether it’s one coffee cup too much or the heat is a bit too high, the sleep cycle is a delicate balancing act that can easily be tilted too far to one side.
For every problem, though, there is a solution, and with a bit of attention to what could be causing you to toss and turn, it’s easy to get the sleep you deserve.
1. Try relaxation exercises
For anyone who deals with monkey mind, anxiety, muscle tension, or ruminating thoughts before bed, relaxation exercises can go a long way to helping ease the body and mind and prepare you for sleep.
Generally speaking, stress is, in some capacity, at the root of tossing and turning, so mitigating stress is key to good sleep.
Meditation has been shown to be beneficial for sleep. Research has found that it can improve insomnia and sleep quality and reduce daytime disturbance in people with chronic insomnia 5, 6.
How? Meditation and mindfulness trigger the body’s relaxation response, downregulating the sympathetic nervous system and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system 7.
Other relaxation techniques include:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Deep breathing
- Body scan
- Guided imagery
2. Cut back on stimulants
When looking for a burst of energy, stimulants like caffeine might be a good option. But caffeine and other stimulating compounds aren’t helpful when you want to pack it in for the night.
Caffeine is classified as an adenosine receptor antagonist that enhances arousal and fights fatigue; adenosine levels naturally rise in the brain in the evening, helping to support tiredness and sleep onset.
However, because caffeine blocks adenosine from binding in the brain, it prevents it from binding and inhibits fatigue 8.
And because caffeine has a half-life that can last up to nine hours after consumption, a cup mid-day has the potential to interfere with sleep, especially if you metabolize caffeine slowly.
If you’re going to consume caffeine, limit consumption to 1-2 cups per day, and avoid drinking it after about 2 pm.
3. Invest in a new mattress
Often, tossing and turning at night can be from discomfort due to a bad mattress. If you want peaceful, good-quality sleep, you need a mattress that offers good neck and spinal support—and quality bedding is critical for proper alignment.
Studies find that a medium-firm mattress with adjustable firmness can promote better comfort, proper spinal alignment, and better quality sleep 9.
If aches and pains are your kryptonite, the surface you sleep on can make a big difference. A 2015 study found that people who used a medium-firm memory foam mattress had less pain and fell asleep faster 10.
Ideally, your mattress should support the healthy curvature of your spine, shouldn’t help facilitate proper airflow, and fit your budget and other personal needs.
4. Follow a consistent sleep schedule
Being consistent about your bedtime and wake-up time is part of practicing good sleep hygiene. Humans operate surprisingly well on consistency, and going to bed at the same time—or around the same time—daily allows your body to feel awake and tired at roughly the same time each night. Studies find that irregular bedtime schedules lead to poorer sleep quality 11.
Being consistent with sleep times also helps your body get prepared for sleep, which can mean less tossing and turning and a deeper, more refreshing sleep.
5. Use a weighted blanket
A weighted blanket works wonders for anyone who struggles with restlessness at night, thanks to deep pressure stimulation. It uses firm, controlled pressure to induce calmness 12.
And research finds that weighted blankets improve the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep and support relaxation during the day 13.
6. Set an electronics curfew
Removing your electronic devices from the bedroom, or at least limiting their use before bed, can help to support sleep by facilitating the release of melatonin. Blue light from devices naturally suppresses melatonin and triggers cortisol release 14.
Essentially, blue light exposure in the evening tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, which disrupts your circadian rhythm and leaves you feeling alert instead of tired.
To avoid this, put your electronics away 2-3 hours before bed and keep them outside your room. If you have to use them, install light-altering software to minimize the harmful effects.
7. Reduce external light
Have you ever tried falling asleep in a bright room? It’s next to impossible. As with electronic devices, fluorescent light and daylight can have the same effects.
Rather than facilitate sleep, they support stimulation, especially at night. To avoid having light interfere with your sleep, invest in blackout blinds or wear a sleep mask that fully covers your eyes.
8. Exercise regularly
Our bodies are designed to move, and regular physical activity not only supports a healthy body but it also supports sleep. Get rid of that excess energy causing you to toss and turn at night by going for a walk, running, or hitting the gym.
Studies consistently find that exercise promotes better sleep efficiency and duration, regardless of the type and intensity 15. If you struggle to fall asleep, make it a goal to get out for a 15-20-minute walk before bed!
9. Sip herbal teas
Thanks to the lack of caffeine, herbal teas are a fantastic choice for supporting sleep.
Chamomile, lavender, passionflower, and valerian all have properties that promote sleep, acting as natural sedatives to reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and induce calmness.
10. Take a natural sleep supplement
There are also plenty of natural supplements that provide sleep-supportive herbs and nutrients. Although melatonin is widely available in supplemental form, the dose is often significantly higher than needed, leaving you with serious next-day grogginess and fatigue.
Instead, opt for something like Performance Lab Sleep, which supplies low-dose natural melatonin derived from Montmorency tart cherries, L-tryptophan, and three types of magnesium.
Getting the sleep you need can be challenging, but when you take a look at diet and lifestyle habits, it’s easy to see where we go wrong.
While it may seem overwhelming to implement all these tips at once, take it slow—start with one or two new things a week and build up to an overwhelmingly sleep-supportive lifestyle.
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- Radwan A, Fess P, James D, et al. Effect of different mattress designs on promoting sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment in adults with or without back pain; systematic review of controlled trials. Sleep Health. 2015;1(4):257-267.
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- Kang JH, Chen SC. Effects of an irregular bedtime schedule on sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and fatigue among university students in Taiwan. BMC Public Health. 2009;9:248.
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- Bolic Baric V, Skuthälla S, Pettersson M, Gustafsson PA, Kjellberg A. The effectiveness of weighted blankets on sleep and everyday activities - A retrospective follow-up study of children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and/or autism spectrum disorder (published online ahead of print, 2021 Jun 29). Scand J Occup Ther. 2021;1-11.
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