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Blog > Sleep Tips > What to do when you can’t sleep

What to do when you can’t sleep

By Amelia Willson | 3 Minute Read

Can’t sleep even though you’re tired? The occasional bout of insomnia happens to everyone. Fortunately, there is a solution. Seven, in fact.

The next time you find yourself lying awake in bed, try one of the following seven things to fall asleep faster.

What to do when you can’t sleep

1. Follow a bedtime routine.

Each night, complete the same set of activities in the 30 to 60 minutes before bed. The activities should be calming, preparing your mind and body to wind down and relax. Good options include:

  • Taking a warm bath
  • Aromatherapy (a few drops of lavender oil can calm your nervous system)
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Turning off your electronics
  • Relaxation or breathing exercises
  • Reading a book

The key is to repeat these same activities in the same order each night. You are training your mind to associate the routine with falling asleep.

2. Turn off your electronics.

We mentioned turning off your electronics as something to include in your bedtime routine. Not only are these devices activating emotionally – from stressful work emails to exciting Facebook updates – but the blue light they emit is interpreted by your brain as sunlight. As a result, when you use electronic devices at night, your brain thinks it’s daytime and therefore a time to stay awake and alert.

Don’t confuse your brain. Turn these devices off, and keep them off, and you’ll sleep easier.

3. Journal about it.

Oftentimes what keeps us up at night is worry and anxiety about neverending to-do lists, a big meeting the next day, or that fight we had earlier with our friend.

If your over-anxious thoughts are what’s keeping you up, get them out of your head and onto a piece of paper. The physical act of writing them down will make them feel easier to manage, and replace your sleepless anxiety with a calming confidence.

4. Focus on relaxing.

By focusing on relaxation, not sleep, you give yourself an easier goal to achieve. This prevents further frustration and facilitates your actual goal of falling asleep.

Fortunately, you have your pick of activities you can do to physically relax your mind and prepare it for sleep, including:

  • Breathing exercises: Try deep belly breathing, lengthening your exhales, or one of these other five breathing exercises designed to help you fall asleep.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Tense each of your muscles for 5 seconds and then release. Start at your toes, then move on to your ankles, and progressively work your way all the way up to your shoulders.
  • Meditation: Meditation requires you to focus on one thing, whether that’s an image (as with visualization below), a mantra, a word, or your breath. Whatever you choose, your brain has to focus on that one thing instead of “trying” to fall asleep. As a result, you’ll naturally calm down and sleep will come easier. Need help getting started? Try one of these meditation apps.
  • Visualization: By visualizing a calm, serene environment, you give yourself something to focus on other than the fact that you can’t sleep. You might visualize the comfiest bed ever, and feeling so drowsy you can imagine your eyelids drooping. Just make sure you visualize something calm and positive!
  • Acupressure: Press your thumb in between your eyebrows for 20 seconds, or in the space between your big toe and second toe.

5. Get up out of bed.

If twenty minutes have passed, get out of bed and go into another room. You don’t want your mind to associate your bed as a place of sleeplessness.

In the other room, keep the lights low. Do a calming activity, like reading a book, listening to soothing music or a podcast, knitting or coloring.

Do not watch TV, check Facebook, or turn on your electronics to distract yourself – these devices will activate your mind and keep you up even later.

6. Do something boring.

It’s easy to fall asleep when you’re bored, so make sure whatever activity you’re doing is boring. Instead of sheep, try doing math exercises in your head, or counting from 1 to 100 over and over.

Listen to a boring podcast or audiobook with a calming narrator, or read an academic textbook. By boring yourself, or conversely, forcing your brain to work harder to understand, you’ll wear yourself out. Just don’t read or listen to anything overly dramatic or with a cliffhanger.

7. Practice good sleep hygiene.

You can never fully prevent a sleepless night, but you can make them a lot less likely by following good sleep hygiene the rest of the time. This includes:

Additional resources

For more help on enjoying better-quality sleep on a consistent basis, check out the articles below:

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