Last Updated on June 29, 2022 by Rebecca Huff
Don't resort to counting sheep, although repeating phrases or reciting verses can help you drift back off. There are some things to do when you can't sleep that will help you get sleepy again. First, stop thinking too much, or at least stop thinking about the fact that you're not sleeping!
If you want better sleep stop trying so hard.
The more you think about the fact that you are awake, the harder it will be to fall asleep. While it may seem counterproductive the last thing you want to do when you're having trouble falling asleep at night is to lie in bed waiting (impatiently) for sleep to happen.
Still, you don't want to throw in the towel and stay up all night! Here's a list of things to do when you can't sleep. I've even made this a handy printable so you can keep a copy nearby to remind you of your options.
Here are things to do wh
Tea and Books
My kids and I enjoy a good cup of Sleepytime Tea. You may have seen it on the shelf at the supermarket and just passed right by. This tea is a blend of chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass, tilia flowers, blackberry leaves, orange blossoms, hawthorn, and rosebuds. When I make this tea for my children, I add a spoonful of honey.
A teaspoon of honey before bed is just what the doctor ordered. The sweet liquid will restock the liver with the glycogen needed to prevent the crisis trigger from the brain. Honey's natural sugars also slightly raise insulin, allowing tryptophan to enter the brain. Beekeepers Naturals
For serious sleep challenges, I have used this Sleepytime Extra.
Pair your tea with a book. Definitely not a self-help book to anything too exciting, no Stephen King. You want a book that isn't going to get your heart beating too fast.
Another alternative is to listen to an audiobook. Once you get a nice collection of books on your audio shelf, you can go back and listen to your favorite ones, that way you don't miss any plot details when you start to snooze.
Cool Down or Warm Up – But get the temperature right
Adjust the temperature before going to bed. Doctors recommend keeping the thermostat set between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
The best way I've found to control the temperature in my sleep environment is to use a ChiliPAD. This is a hydroponic mattress pad that allows you to adjust the temperature between 55-115°F. You can read more about this sleep hack and listen to a podcast with the inventor here.
Relaxation Techniques to try in Bed
Breathing exercises or deep breathing can help you relax. Try Dr. Weil's 4-7-8 breathing exercise to help you unwind the next time you are struggling to doze off. Once your mind and body begin to chill out you may experience an onset of sleepiness.
Take it a step further by tightening and releasing all of the muscles in your body starting at the top of your head and working your way down to your toes.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
The technique described above can help if you have anxiety or stress and is called progressive muscle relaxation. This exercise is used in many different scenarios, including childbirth. Holding tension in your body can prevent you from falling asleep initially, and can also affect your sleep quality.
Learn to practice progressive muscle relaxation by implementing the technique each night as you prepare for sleep. Turn off the light, get comfy, and practice this mindfulness technique and Mr. Sandman will be on his way for a visit.
Both breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation are part of cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (cbt-i) and are employed by sleep experts everywhere. You can learn to practice these techniques on your own!
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Create an Oasis for Slumber
Okay, not all of these are things you can do right when you wake up, but they're things to think about.
A bedroom oasis will help you get quality sleep, night after night! When furnishing your bedroom, think minimalistic. Try to keep the exercise equipment, desks, computers, and other hobby supplies out of the bedroom. Having a lot of furniture and other “stuff” in your bedroom leads to feelings of chaos and reduces the calming effect your bedroom should have on you.
In addition to carefully selected furnishings, try to reduce clutter by clearing the tops of the dressers and nightstands. It only takes a few minutes each morning to make your bed. Try it, as this really can make your bedroom seem more luxurious. If possible avoid having family portraits, etc. hanging on the walls. Instead, opt for one or two large pieces of art that make you feel happy or calm.
Do a Mental Health Checkup
Not at night! During the day! If you are up at night combatting negative thoughts, you are likely revving up your nervous system to the point your adrenals feel like you're running from a tiger. Depression, anxiety, stress, and even changes in your daily life can affect your ability to fall asleep.
If your mental well-being is suffering it might be difficult to discern which came first, the chicken or the egg?? Depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges can cause sleeplessness or the other way around, sleeplessness can lead to mood disorders.
Don't miss out on your shut-eye. Make an appointment with a therapist and work it all out. You'll be amazed at how much better you sleep when you get some things off your chest. It can be as beneficial as seeing a sleep specialist!
Skip Social Media
Speaking of mental health, do yours a favor and skip social media if you can't sleep. It's not just the blue light that causes sleep problems. Scrolling through social media can bring you face to face with some disturbing content! No need to get worked up right before you try to fall asleep.
Checking social media too close to bedtime can interfere with good sleep hygiene, which involves increasing practices that promote sleep and eliminating practices that harm sleep. Because checking social media is so tempting and easy, it’s important to be intentional in creating good social media habits. National Sleep Foundation
Instead, use that time to talk to someone on the phone or listen to a sleep-inducing book or podcast. For years, we listened to Johnny Cash read the New Testament. His voice was so soothing, I'd fall asleep fast!
That glass of wine you drink to unwind right before bed isn't doing your sleep problems any favors. You may drink wine for your health because you read about the benefits associated with the compound resveratrol. However, drinking alcohol before bed is one of those bad sleep habits you want to break.
A study published in 2015 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research revealed that subjects who drank alcohol experienced an increase in deep sleep early in the night, but then experienced sleep disruption, greater numbers of awakenings and more time spent awake later on in the night. https://www.winespectator.com/articles/busted-5-health-myths-about-wine
So skip the wine before bed if you want to do yourself a huge favor. (1) Instead of wine, try magnesium which is considered the calming mineral. Some people swear by it to help them get to sleep.
While melatonin is a hormone that your body produces, many people also supplement to help them sleep better. Take care when supplementing with melatonin. It's best not to take it all the time. Your body doesn't necessarily become dependent on it, but there's a risk that your body may slow down its own production of this hormone.
Block Annoying Sounds with White Noise
Did a sound wake you up? This is more common than you may think.
Living in an apartment complex, a busy street, or in the city might mean that you can hear your neighbor's kids playing basketball at midnight. You will do yourself a favor by using white noise to block out all those potential disruptions. Instead of lying awake all night, you could be sleeping peacefully so that you wake the next day feeling refreshed and calm as opposed to grumpy!
Filter out light pollution
Okay, so you probably don't want to do this in the middle of the night when you can't sleep, but you can certainly put it on your mental to-do list. Get a nice eye mask to block out lights. If you don't like the idea of wearing an eye mask, consider using blackout curtains on your windows. You've probably heard this tip before and maybe dismissed it.
Sleeping in total darkness isn't just about falling asleep. Your body needs total darkness to set the internal sleep schedule. Light and dark have a direct impact on your circadian rhythm. So seek light during the daytime and complete darkness at night.
Seek Medical Advice
Many times we can start getting a good night's sleep by practicing better sleep hygiene. Although, that's not always the case. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that chronic insomnia, or symptoms that last for at least a month, affects about 10 percent of adults.
In some cases, an underlying medical condition may be the cause of disruptions to the sleep cycle. Don't worry, your doctor can refer you to someone who can help you get some answers.
Seeing a sleep specialist is important if you think you may have sleep apnea or a sleep disorder. It may help alleviate worry and stress if your sleeplessness is starting to cause you serious concern.
1 – Alcohol and the Sleeping brain: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5821259/
2 – National Sleep Foundation: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/treatment/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-insomnia