There's something singularly devastating about not being able to sleep. You toss, you turn, you fluff your pillow countless times – all the while getting more and more worried about the next day. And as a result? The struggle to sleep is even harder.
If this feeling is frustratingly familiar, you're not alone: about 35% of American adults experience symptoms of insomnia, while 10% of adults chronically struggle with it.
But shut-eye doesn't have to remain elusive, night after night. The next time you’re struggling to fall asleep, try a few of following immediate tricks, as well as lifestyle changes for more restful slumber long-term. Happy snoozing!
What to do if you can't fall asleep
1. Put away the electronics!
Avoid using your phone, computer, and other electronics in the bedroom.
The bright light from screens can interrupt your body’s natural inclination to sleep, and stressors like email or news feeds can make it difficult to quiet your mind.
2. Read a book
If you can’t go to sleep, read a physical book instead of looking at your computer or phone screen.
Avoiding the blue light from screens can help calm your nervous system and get your eyes and mind more receptive to sleep.
3. Listen to meditation or hypnosis recordings
You can memorize a sleep meditation; alternatively, sleep hypnosis recordings can be found on YouTube, though you may want to download these in advance as MP3s and have them available on your phone so you can avoid advertisements.
3. Check your bedroom temperature
If you're too hot, it can be hard to drift off. Your bedroom should be calm and cool –60-67 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal temperature for sleeping.
4. Try deep breathing techniques
Simple mindfulness and deep breathing exercises can help calm your mind when you begin to experience worry about sleeping.
Try this simple exercise, known as square breathing:
- Exhale all breath completely through your mouth.
- Close your mouth, and inhale through your nose for four counts.
- Hold your breath for four counts.
- Exhale all breath through your mouth for four counts.
- At the bottom of the breath, pause and hold for four counts.
Repeat these calming breathing exercises as much as you need to drift off to sleep.
Behavior changes to improve sleep
5. Gear up on sleep inducing accessories
Use blackout curtains, eye masks, or ear plugs to make your bedroom more conducive to sleep. You can find eye masks that wrap around your head for a full blackout effect, as well as silicone ear plugs to block out noise without falling out. If you need to work until close to your sleep time, use tools like f.lux to change your screen color to a warmer orange that is easier on your eyes, and set Night Shift on your iPhone.
6. Set a personal sleep rhythm
If possible, go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s internal clock.
7. Unwind a full hour before bedtime
About an hour or so before you go to sleep, take time to intentionally unwind. Shoot for activities that are enjoyable, yet calming, such as:
- Reading a book – preferably outside the bedroom, so that your body only associates your bed with sleep and intimacy
- Drinking an herbal tea – try sleep-specific teas like Soothing Caramel Bedtime
- Listening to relaxing music
8. Use your alarm clock wisely
Use an alarm clock, but don’t be a “clock watcher,” as this can lead to frustration and anxiety about sleep, and further interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
Consider using apps like Sleep Cycle, which not only give you insight into your sleep schedule and quality, while also allow you to have the alarm go off at an ideal time between your REM cycles.
9. Avoiding consuming caffeine or alcohol later in the day.
Caffeine and alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle and lead to difficulties falling asleep and a reduced quality of sleep.
- Caffeine: Some insomniacs benefit from avoiding caffeine after lunchtime; others may cut it out completely. Try keeping a caffeine journal, tracking how you sleep after consuming different amounts of caffeine at different times of the day.
- Alcohol: Avoiding alcohol is advisable when experiencing insomnia, as alcohol both disrupts sleep and diminishes its overall quality.
10. Limit in-bed activities
Restrict in-bed activities to sleeping and sex. Avoid watching tv, reading, using your computer, or being on your phone while you’re in bed.
11. Exercise regularly – but not right before bedtime
Exercising in the morning or afternoon is advisable for insomniacs. Late-night exercise may cause unwanted evening energy, which could disrupt sleep.
12. Avoid napping
Even a short nap can disrupt sleep when you’re trying to break insomnia.
13. Reassess if your bed is right for you
Though a good mattress isn’t a panacea for sleep disorders, it can be helpful if your sleep disorder is tied to physical discomfort!
14. Try cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia
If sleep issues are persistent in your life, seek treatment from a therapist that specializes in sleep issues.
A therapist can not only rule out potential medical causes of your insomnia, but also help reduce your anxieties about sleep and systematically shift sleep habits. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (also known as CBT-i) has been proven to be an effective method of treating sleep issues.
Note that many therapists who specialize in insomnia treatment have specialized training and education and are less likely to be in-network with health insurances.
If you have trouble finding a therapist who takes your health insurance, consider applying for out-of-network benefits from your health insurance to offset the cost of treatment.
Sleep is a crucial part of your overall physical health. And as frustrating as insomnia can be, it doesn't have to be permanent! The next time counting sheep just isn't cutting it, try one of these tricks to get back on a heathy sleep track.