Last Updated on September 9, 2023 by Louise Carter
When there’s a milestone event, we need to be well-rested to enjoy it. Unfortunately, a palpable sense of excitement and expectation can turn to anxiety that keeps us awake the night before.
It’s common to spend the night preceding a big day lying in bed, worrying about what could go wrong and remembering instances where similarly important events were derailed.
These concerns may nag at the subconscious mind, even if you feel calm. Don’t force yourself to sleep, as it won’t be successful. You’ll likely become frustrated and even less able to sleep.
Instead, set aside time to write down your worries and devise solutions to put your mind at rest.
Outside of hypothetical concerns about problems yet to arise, ensure you follow your usual sleep hygiene routine the night before a big day. Don’t try to stay up late or try to pull an all-nighter.
Stop any preparation for your event at least 1 hour before bed to allow your mind to find a different focus, and stay as mentally and physically active as you can on the eve of the big day.
If you still struggle to fall asleep, consider natural sleep aids like melatonin supplements, aromatherapy, or tryptophan-rich drinks or snacks. Prescription medications and alcohol should be avoided.
Why Can’t I Sleep Before A Big Event?
The wait for sleep to arrive when anticipating a big event can feel interminable.
Many of us have childhood memories of excitedly awaiting the arrival of Christmas morning or a birthday, but adults can still struggle to sleep ahead of an exciting day.
Whether bracing yourself for a first shift at a new job, preparing to walk down the aisle on your wedding day, or anticipating an early start to catch a flight, you may struggle to doze off.
Why can’t we sleep when excited? The short answer is that excitement often leads to anxiety. Working through this can help you manage this disconcerting and often frustrating experience.
A German psychiatrist, Fritz Perls, coined the memorable phrase, “Fear is excitement without the breath.” This can apply to a lack of sleep before a big day, as anxiety and anticipation often go hand-in-hand.
Your excitement may turn to worry as you contemplate your big day. You’ll naturally hope that everything progresses well and may start ruminating on everything that could go wrong.
You may also recall unwelcome memories involving significant events in your past. You may remember how you missed the bus on your first day of school or forgot your passport when traveling overseas for a business trip and worry that these events have set a precedent.
These thoughts are frustrating but are the brain’s misguided attempt to protect you.
Even the biggest optimists are hardwired toward ‘negativity bias’ – recalling bad memories and considering adverse outcomes to prepare for potential challenges.
As explained by Brain and Behavior, negativity bias is increasingly pronounced in people with pre-existing mental health concerns, including generalized anxiety disorder or depression.
However, anybody can be plagued by unwelcome memories or thoughts before a big day.
Thankfully, you can reverse unhelpful recollections and turn negative experiences into positives with the power of imagination. According to Nature Communications, you can alter the outcome of events in your subconscious through force of will.
Human memory is endlessly fallible and unreliable. You can convince the brain that you made it onto the school bus in the nick of time, your passport was in your luggage, and your business trip was a roaring success.
Trying Too Hard to Sleep
You may think that the earlier you go to bed, the sooner the night will pass and your big day will arrive. This is sound logic in theory, but it rarely works in practice. Sleep can’t be forced.
You’re likelier to struggle to sleep if you attempt to rest before you’re ready. Lying in bed, impatiently and unsuccessfully waiting to doze off, will lead to irritation, frustration, and resentment. The longer you remain in bed, the stronger a link between your bedroom and insomnia.
Wait until your usual bedtime before retiring and attempt to drift off naturally.
Turn clocks away from you so you’re not anxiously staring at the time, only checking if you feel that 20 or 30 minutes have passed and sleep still evades you.
If this is the case, get out of bed and leave the room for a while. You need to break the psychological association between your location and not sleeping. Read a book, stretch, or do some breathing exercises, then restart your sleep hygiene routine and return to bed.
How To Go To Sleep When Excited for Tomorrow
Certain techniques can lull you into sleep when you are otherwise struggling for rest ahead of a big day. Don’t lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and willing sleep to arrive.
Take these steps to calm your body and mind:
Write Down Your Worries
Excitement for a big day can lead to anxiety, so schedule some “worry time” before bed to control this issue. You can use this opportunity to write down concerns and assign solutions.
Take a sheet of paper, create 2 columns, and fill it out with all that could go wrong and how you will resolve it. For example:
|Your car will not start, or your bus or train won’t arrive on time.
|Arrange with a friend or family member to give you a ride.
|You may forget a vital document, gift, or piece of equipment.
|Place the document in your bag now, and leave a note on the door to check you have it before leaving the house.
|It may be raining at an all-outdoor event.
|Smile and focus on making memories in the rain because nobody can control the weather.
|You may oversleep.
|Set alarms 2-5 minutes apart in different parts of the home.
|You may spill coffee on your clothes.
|Take an emergency change of shirt.
Another counter-productive worry that you may have is that you will not be able to sleep.
It’s not the end of the world if you struggle to rest well for a single night. People can function for a day on 4 hours of sleep. Get through the event, and repay your sleep debt later.
Cease Preparation Early
Working long into the night will be tempting if you prepare for a big event the next day. However, the longer you stimulate your brain, the harder it will be to sleep.
You’ll likely have spent previous days preparing for a job interview or writing a presentation, weeks or months arranging a vacation or party, and maybe even years planning a wedding.
An extra hour of preparation on the eve of the occasion is unlikely to make much difference to the outcome, but it could prevent you from resting well enough to enjoy a day you’ve been anticipating.
Practice Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene – a series of tasks you perform before bed each night – is always important. Following your routine is more critical than ever the evening before a significant event.
Don’t stay up later than usual, assuming this will make you more tired and likelier to sleep. Equally, don’t stay up extra late the night before so you’re exhausted on the eve of the event.
If you drastically change your sleep routine, you’ll unbalance your circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are governed by the sun, encouraging us to rise and sleep at similar times.
Common components of effective sleep hygiene include:
- Avoiding screens for at least 1 hour before bed. TV, video games, and social media can all overstimulate the brain ahead of sleep. Here are some alternatives to television.
- Dimming overhead lights or replacing them with lamps as the night progresses. According to Chronobiology International, bright artificial light resets the circadian rhythms.
- Taking a bath or shower before bed. This lowers your body temperature, which triggers melatonin production within the brain.
- Ensure your bedroom is dark and cool. Switch on a fan if you feel the room is too stuffy.
- Avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before bed (longer if you are sensitive to stimulants), and eat several hours ahead of bedtime so you have time to digest.
Everybody has unique habits and rituals performed before bed to raise the chances of high-quality sleep. Ensure you abide by your schedule, not allowing excitement to derail you.
Stay Active During the Day
The day before the event, keep your mind and body occupied. Don’t push yourself too hard and expect the impossible, but equally, avoid being sedentary for long periods.
If you have the opportunity, take a walk in the afternoon. As well as potentially tiring you out enough to sleep later in the evening, this will keep your circadian rhythms balanced.
Avoid napping during the day unless this feels unavoidable, as this may interfere with your sleep cycle later at night. Eat sensibly, and drink plenty of water.
Natural Sleep Aids
If you’ve tried many techniques but rest still evades, consider natural sleep aids to help relax:
- Lighting incense or a scented candle can help relax your mind and body.
- Warm milk will flood your body with tryptophan, which encourages melatonin production.
- Eating a banana will help as it contains tryptophan.
- Take melatonin supplements.
- Listen to calming music or an audiobook that you consider comforting but dull.
Avoid taking prescription sleeping pills or benzodiazepines designed to tackle anxiety, like Xanax or Valium. They may help you fall asleep but leave you groggy and disoriented.
Alcohol should also be avoided if you’re trying to calm yourself down before an exciting day.
While alcohol has sedative effects, Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences explains how it stimulates the brain, potentially keeping you awake and active.
Even if you doze off with the aid of a nightcap, there are no assurances that you will remain asleep.
Alcohol is a diuretic that increases the risk of nocturia (frequent urination during the night) and dehydration, leading to prolonged sleep inertia upon waking.
No matter how old and experienced we are, jitters and excitement can prevent us from sleeping the night before a major event or milestone. Managing nerves and expectations can go some way to escaping insomnia, helping you gain the rest you need.