Why can't you sleep when you're excited?

“Only __ more sleeps ‘til Christmas!”

The child-like joy that accompanies a rapidly-approaching event like Christmas is meant to be savored and enjoyed by people of all ages. Unfortunately, it usually spells trouble for our sleeping habits. As we draw closer to the thing that excites us, we tend to lose sleep over it, which can end up making it harder for us to enjoy that very thing when we show up sleep-deprived and grumpy.

Even if the upcoming event is a positive one, like a holiday or a wedding, our bodies react similarly to if the event is something we’re dreading. When we’re excited or stressed, our bodies release adrenaline and cortisol, which are the chemicals that make your heart beat faster and put you on high-alert. It’s an evolutionary advantage to help you stay awake and vigilant when you’re under attack, but since these days it’s a little more rare to be chased by a predator, our bodies sometimes fire these signals at inopportune times - such as right when you’re about to fall asleep.

When you find yourself wide-awake, staring at the hours ticking down on your clock, you can counteract the over excitement by reprogramming your brain to think everything’s fine. You can use meditative breathing to relax your nervous system and make you feel more tired than wired. You’ll wake up feeling much more prepared to emotionally tackle whatever you’re facing the next day, which in turn will help you process those emotions better the following night - meaning you’ll be prone to fewer nightmares in the future.

For guided breathing exercises, we recommend the Headspace app or the Calm app. Check out more of our favorite things here.