All of us have certain nights when we struggle to sleep easily. Maybe we had an adrenaline-filled day and it’s taking time to wear off. Maybe we received bad news or even good news and our minds are restless while processing the information.

Whatever the reason may be, it is very common to have a hard time falling asleep once in a while. But if the trouble is prolonged then the condition is called insomnia.

Insomnia is defined by difficulty falling asleep at night. These people may also face issues staying asleep during the night. They may wake up multiple times during the night and have trouble falling back asleep, hence having a disturbed sleep cycle.

Not getting proper rest by not being able to sleep at night can be injurious to overall health.

The quality of rest and sleep from the previous night dictates how our day is going to be the following morning. So what to do when you can’t sleep? Here are 12 tips and tricks to follow for better quality sleep.

1. Causes of Insomnia

1.1. Screen-time Before Bed

Too much screen time, especially before bedtime, is the leading cause of insomnia among children and teenagers. Blue light emitted from these screens disturbs the natural sleep cycle of the body by interfering with the secretion of melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone. It relaxes the body and signals it to sleep.

1.2. Adjusting to a Major Change

Major life changes include moving to a new house or a new geographical location, getting a new job, settling with a partner, having a newborn, and more. These changes require some time to get adjusted to.

It is common to have trouble sleeping while our bodies and our minds are getting used to the new normal.

1.3. Stress During the Waking Life

Stress affects every part of the body including attacking a good night’s sleep. If you are constantly plagued by worrying and negative thoughts throughout the day, they are likely to follow you at night during bedtime.

Stress can cause you to struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep at night leading to fatigue in the morning. This, in turn, leads to another stressful day making it a vicious cycle.

what to do when you can't sleep
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1.4. Nightmares

Stress and anxiety can cause nightmares while sleeping. Sometimes nightmares can be terrifying enough to disturb you out of sleep for a period of time. While nightmares are not harmful in themselves, they can lead to poor quality sleep which affects the functioning of the entire body. If nightmares are frequent then they should be checked out by a specialist.

1.5. Room Temperature is Not Right

The temperature of the room you’re sleeping in is an important factor to consider while having a good night’s rest. It may be tempting to want to feel comfortable and warm under a thick blanket but if you’re feeling too hot, it may lead to sweating. Sweating at night can cause discomfort and disturb REM sleep.

1.6. Sleeping Position

Sleeping positions are often overlooked while trying to determine the causes of insomnia. You may be sleeping in a way that is putting pressure on your spine and limbic muscles leading you to keep tossing and turning the whole night.

Maybe your mattress isn’t comfortable and isn’t suiting your sleep-health requirements.

2. What to do When You Can’t Sleep?

2.1. Short-term Remedies

2.1.1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation techniques are used to relieve tension in the body in order to achieve restful sleep. The process includes lying on your back in bed and slowly tensing and relaxing each part of the body.

You may choose to start with the muscles in your face and move downwards to your toes or vice versa. This method of relaxation is also known as the body scan method.

Research has proven PMR to help alleviate symptoms of those suffering from insomnia as well as arthritis.

2.1.2. Yoga or Exercise

Both yoga and exercise are tools for the body to produce melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that aids with sleeping.

Yoga helps relax muscles in the body, relieving tension and helping with good quality sleep. The goal of exercising a few hours before sleep is to tire the body so that it falls asleep effortlessly.

what to do when you can't sleep
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2.1.3. Journal

Journaling is a wide term. At its core, it means putting your thoughts into writing. Journaling can involve planning for a goal or activities for the next day. Or it could be a simple recount of the day spent and the feelings involved throughout.

Journaling has proven to be an effective method to calm the mind. People prone to anxiety often notice positive changes when they start journaling regularly. Journaling is a form of transference.

We transfer our racing thoughts from our minds to paper. Once that’s done and our minds are clear, we have higher chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

2.1.4. Relaxing Sounds

The concept of ASMR is not a new one. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. ASMR is another technique used to relax the body for a good night’s rest.

Most people report feeling a physical tingling sensation from the scalp to the nape when listening to ASMR sounds. These sensations are caused by pleasant stimuli such as scalp massages and relaxing sounds.

Examples of ASMR sounds include whispering conversations, tearing papers, tapping on smooth surfaces, and more. There are three types of relaxing ambient noises that you can choose to listen to while trying to fall asleep.

White noise is most readily available. Humming sounds made by fans, air conditioners, etc are examples of white noise. Pink noise has a higher frequency such as those made by wind, leaves, and rainfall.

The last type is known as brown noise. This is the loudest among all three but it includes calming sounds like the flow of a waterfall, ocean waves, etc.

2.1.5. Benefit from Essential Oils

Essential oils are natural remedies to relax the body. Breathing these scents can help calm both the mind and body promoting good quality sleep. This relaxation technique is a part of aromatherapy.

Lavender oil is the most commonly prescribed oil. It has similar effects as a sedative acting on the body and mind. It decreases the heart rate and reduces muscle tension thus helping in better sleep.

Chamomile oil is known to alleviate stress and anxiety troubles leading to depression which can make it difficult to fall asleep or keep waking you up in the middle of the night.

Other commonly used essential oils for sleep difficulties are Valerian oil, Sandalwood oil, Jasmine oil, and Peppermint oil.

2.1.6. Fight the Urge to Use Electronic Devices

When you can’t sleep it may be tempting to scroll through your phone or watch a few funny YouTube videos on your tab or laptop. Electronic devices have blue light-emitting screens.

This blue light acts as a barrier preventing the body from producing melatonin. It is harsh on the eyes and keeps the mind sharp and alert increasing insomnia. So it is important to avoid screens including watching tv immediately before bedtime.

Avoid using these devices for at least a few hours before sleeping for better sleep quality. You can place them someplace that is out of reach or turn them off till morning. Use an alarm clock to set alarms instead of using a phone app.

what to do when you can't sleep
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2.1.7. Don’t Force Sleep

If you are lying awake in bed and worrying about not being able to fall asleep easily then you are stressing about it and have a higher chance of driving sleep away. The more obsess over not being able to sleep, the more you will not sleep.

Let sleep come to you naturally. You may choose to distract your mind by reading a book or you may choose to dump your thoughts on paper by journaling before sleeping. You can also calm your mind by meditating for a few minutes before sleeping.

2.1.8. Clean and Organize

If you’ve been tossing and turning in bed and just can’t seem to attract sleep, get out of bed and do an activity. You could try completing a task that you have been procrastinating such as cleaning or organizing.

The activity doesn’t have to take up too much of your time or be laborious. You could decide to clean and organize your bookshelf or closet. The completion of these activities ignites a form of positive and reward-like feeling in the body reducing the stress of not being able to fall asleep.

Moreover, a clutter-free environment is a good sleep environment. Messes create overstimulation for the brain which results in restlessness causing sleep deprivation.

2.2. Long-term Remedies

2.2.1. Mindfulness Meditation

Practicing mindfulness means focusing on the present moment. Mindfulness meditation is another one among many relaxation techniques available to help fall asleep quickly. It involves grounding yourself and focusing on present occurrences without any judgment.

You can start mindfulness meditation by practicing breathing exercises. Then you can shift your focus onto other things such as the feel of the mattress you are sleeping on, releasing the tension in your muscles, and the temperature of the room you are sleeping in among more.

Being mindful reduces anxiety about the past and the future by being thoroughly present in the present. Meditation may be difficult to master at first because the mind is known to wander.

But with practice and consistent efforts, the results of meditation are very rewarding.

2.2.2. Avoid Mid-day Naps

Long naps during the daytime can affect the entire sleep schedule. It throws the circadian rhythm off-balance causing insomnia at night.

Though sometimes napping can be beneficial for the body to rejuvenate. Proper napping should be limited to a maximum of 30 minutes before 3 in the afternoon.

Naps shouldn’t feel too short so that you still feel sleepy after waking and they shouldn’t be too long so that you wake up feeling disoriented.

what to do when you can't sleep
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2.2.3. Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule

The body’s natural internal clock is scientifically known as the circadian rhythm. It helps regulate bodily processes such as eating and sleeping. It is the circadian rhythm that sends signals to the body when it is time for meals and time to sleep.

You should train the body to have a proper circadian rhythm. Make a habit of retiring to bed every night at the same time. This way the body will be conditioned to a particular time and know that it is time to sleep.

You won’t have trouble falling asleep. Instead, your body will produce melatonin naturally urging you to fall asleep effortlessly.

2.2.4. Practice Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene includes following certain environmental and behavioral guidelines throughout the day so that you may have a better time falling asleep at night. Consistently following the correct sleep habits and the mentioned pre-bedtime tips are guaranteed to ensure better sleep during the night.

Starting with the basics of good sleep hygiene, decrease the number of caffeinated beverages and alcohol consumed throughout the day. These drinks should especially be avoided in the evening time and before bedtime.

2.2.4.1. Guidelines

Caffeine is known to stay in our systems for over 10 hours and alcohol disrupts good quality sleep. If you feel thirsty try drinking herbal tea instead of water. Tea relaxes the body eliminating sleep troubles.

The bed should only be synonymous with sleeping. Daytime activities such as eating, studying, watching tv, and more should be either carried out on a desk in the bedroom or in another room. This conditions your mind giving it the message that the bed is only for sleeping and relaxing.

Create a better sleep environment. You can do this by optimizing your bedroom with calming paint colors. You can also buy house plants that will keep your room feeling cool and fresh.

Your sleep environment should be organized so that your mind isn’t clustered being influenced by your room. Keep your room cool and dark at night to avoid tossing and turning while sleeping and to avoid sleepless nights.

what to do when you can't sleep
Photo by Devon Janse van Rensburg/ Unsplash, Copyright 2019

Lastly, comfort is the most important ingredient in the concoction of sleep. Whether it is your sleeping position, your mattress, pillows, or the pajamas you wear to bed, they should all be comfortable enough to promote relaxation and sleep naturally.

3. What is a Sleep Disorder

Sleep disorders are conditions that disturb the sleep-wake cycle. There are many sleep disorders. The most commonly reported ones are insomnia, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome.

Insomnia is when a person struggles to fall asleep or stay asleep for the whole night. The person may not feel well-rested after their sleep. This can lead to other health conditions related to the heart and sleep apnea.

Narcolepsy is also referred to as daytime sleepiness. Because of their improper rest during nighttime, they are affected by vast amounts of drowsiness during the day making it difficult for them to perform their daily activities.

Restless Leg Syndrome is a condition where an individual has the uncontrollable urge to move their legs. This usually occurs during the evenings and at night while sitting or lying. It is one of the leading causes of sleep disturbances.

what to do when you can't sleep
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4. Sleep Disorder Supplements

Supplements and medications are available for people who have sleeping disorders. Medications help in changing the brain chemistry artificially aiding with sleep.

There are a few supplements available that market themselves as being ‘natural’ sleep remedies. Side effects are possible with these medications too and must be taken cautiously.

Make sure to visit a sleep specialist or doctor before any medications. Self-medicating with sleep supplements can have dire consequences.

4.1. Melatonin

It is a hormone produced by the body naturally to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. But some people may need to consume them orally for the body to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Melatonin is available as a supplement in pharmacies. These supplements may not help everyone so stop using them if they are not working or if you are experiencing any side effects.

4.2. Prescription Sleeping Pills

Prescription sleeping pills work on the theory of relieving anxiety to promote better sleep. These medications are only short-term solutions because of their guaranteed side effects. Talk to your doctor about how these medications will suit you before taking them.

These pills are habit-forming. You may get dependent on sleep medicine and face withdrawal symptoms if you try stopping after using it for a long time.

Their effect in helping you sleep may also reduce the longer you use them. It is also known to reduce the quality of sleep. You might experience more REM sleep, that is when you dream, rather than the deep sleep you need for the body to feel rested.

Conclusion

Sleeping is a very important body function. Our bodies repair themselves every night when we are sleeping. Getting the right amount of sleep and rest along with a healthy lifestyle keeps our bodies functioning in the most efficient way.

When we are not well-rested, the effects follow us in our waking lives. No rest leads to being tired throughout the day and being tired leads to not achieving our desired goals every day causing a domino effect on our health.

Exercise, healthy diets, and maintaining good sleep hygiene are often enough for the body to naturally fall asleep. The above-mentioned tips should further help with chronic insomnia and when you don’t know what to do when you can’t sleep. Visit a sleep specialist if the problem is not improving.

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