Sleep Advice From Psychologists for Exhausted Introverts

P.Imagine the pinnacle of social exhaustion: maybe you’ve just spent four hours at a company holiday party and met the people behind a row of Zoom Squares IRL for the first time. Or maybe you had a day when you reconnected with family members you haven’t seen in two time-blurred pandemic years. It seems hitting the hay would be the most obvious solution – but as soon as you go to bed your body seems to say: Not so fast. For introverts in particular, the exhausting nature of social gatherings can make you paradoxically chase sleep.

In general, this counterproductive scenario stems from the difference between fatigue and fatigue, says psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist Shelby Harris, PsyD, DBSM, author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia. While the former reflects a total loss of energy (which is what an introvert does after a social event), the latter is more about physical drowsiness, that is, that drowsy feeling that allows you to drift off into dreamland.

“For introverts, socializing tends to overstimulate the brain and body, causing some to feel irritable, indecisive, or jittery.” – Behavioral sleep medicine specialist Shelby Harris, PsyD

“For introverts, socializing tends to overwhelm the brain and body, causing some to feel irritable, indecisive, nervous, or even experiencing physical symptoms like headaches or muscle aches,” says Dr. harris. “While all of this can be very tiring, it doesn’t necessarily result in drowsiness.” In contrast, a social event can actually flood the brain with drugs like dopamine, adrenaline, and cortisol, which an introvert tends to perceive negatively, says Mike Dow, PsyD, psychotherapist at Field Trip Health, a psychedelic assisted therapy practice. In fact, these neurotransmitters can keep you on your toes long after an event is over (cue: the introverted hangover).

Trying to fall asleep in this state can take a whole lot more than just going to bed; after all, biologically, the process of falling asleep is nothing like an on-off switch, says Dr. harris. For introverts in particular, it’s best to put yourself into sleep mode with a calming ritual before bed. Below, the experts offer tips for socially exhausted introverts who want nothing more than a good night’s sleep.

It’s especially hard for introverts to fall asleep after a very social experience, but these 5 tips can help

1. Create a container for your thoughts.

“Introverts are internal processors,” says psychologist Laurie Helgoe, PhD, author of Introverted Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength. “They often take inputs from conversations and process them later, which can mean reflecting on what someone said, replaying or continuing a conversation, coming up with a better comeback, and the like.”

Journaling can help break that spiral by providing you with a space where you can essentially discharge all of your thoughts and come back to them later if you wish – ideally at a time when you aren’t desperately trying to to catch precious zzz’s.

2. Contradict negative self-talk.

When you reevaluate a social event (as introverts do), you may find that certain pervasive thoughts turn into negative or anxious ones. For example, it’s easy to start overvaluing and hyper-personalizing, says Dr. dow “You might start to think, ‘Did Cindy give me a weird look? I must have done something wrong.’ And as the night progresses, the thoughts can become more catastrophic, leading to something like, ‘If I don’t sleep well, I’m going to screw up this presentation tomorrow, and if that happens, I could get fired,’ and so on,” he says.

In this case, he suggests using one of the classic strategies of cognitive-behavioural therapy, which consists of not considering thoughts and feelings as facts, but merely as information that you can ignore. “Access the best parts of yourself to talk to those inner voices,” he says.

3. Write in a gratitude journal.

Taking time to remember all the things you’re grateful for — whether they’re highlights of the day’s social activities or something else entirely — can also help you avoid the kind of thought spirals which tends to ward off sleep.

“Because introverts are problem solvers by nature, they can get stuck focusing on what’s not working,” says Dr. Helgoe. “But a gratitude list can help you balance that problem orientation by reminding you what is Working.” And that in and of itself can be incredibly comforting.

4. Practice relaxation without a screen.

While it’s tempting to scroll through Instagram or scan email in bed to keep a restless mind busy, this level of mental stimulation combined with the melatonin-suppressing blue light is a recipe for alertness. Instead, do anything off-screen that feels calming and relaxing, whether it’s reading, knitting, listening to music or even painting or doing a simple crossword or puzzle, says Dr. harris. (You can also practice mindfulness meditation, but since it can be difficult to really engage with an overactive mind, Dr. Harris says it’s most beneficial for someone who already meditates during the day.)

If you really don’t know where to start, try connecting to each of the five senses, says Dr. Dow: “Soothe your touch with a bath, your sense of smell with a lavender candle, your sight with dim lighting, your hearing with soothing music or a meditation track, and your taste with a late-night tea.”

5. And if you toss and turn, get up.

Trying to facilitate sleep often prevents it from happening. So, instead of staying in bed trying to lull yourself to sleep, get up, go to another room, and return to the relaxation exercise you did earlier in the dim light, says Dr. Harris: “Simply changing what you are, what you do, and where you do it can often help stop an overactive mind in its tracks.”

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