9 Things to Try When You Can’t Fall Asleep

Use our handy tips to avoid those sleepless nights

We’ve shared our sleep hygiene checklist, which is designed to help make sure your lifestyle is helping you get a good night’s sleep – covering everything from the temperature of your bedroom to your diet and exercise.

But what happens when you just can’t fall asleep? The sleep hygiene list won’t help you right in the moment. So, what can you do then? Try these sleep-inducing techniques…


1. Relaxation and stretches

Yoga, deep breathing, and progressive relaxation have all been found to have positive effects on getting to sleep. Progressive relaxation involves consciously relaxing every muscle in your body, starting at your feet and moving up to your head. Tense each muscle and then relax it – clench your toes, then relax, tense your calves, then relax, and so on. Visualise each muscle going to sleep as you relax it. Many people find the process so relaxing that they’re asleep by the time they get to their chest.

There are a variety of yoga poses that you could try, too. These ones can be done from the comfort of your bed, so you don’t have to get up to try them out: child’s pose, happy baby pose, half wheel, sphinx pose, and reclined twist.


2. Meditation

Meditation is like relaxation and stretches for the brain. Studies have found that meditation can be effective in treating insomnia, so if you’re struggling to drop off, this could be just the thing to help.

If you’re not comfortable meditating alone, there are plenty of apps that can help – for example Calm and Headspace. A guided meditation should help you relax and drift off, but it’s worth trying out a few different apps and meditations and picking the one where you find the voice soothing – there’s no sense in using one where the accent of the narrator is jarring for you.


3. Brew some chamomile tea

A warm drink can help you get ready for sleep, and chamomile has been found to be great at reducing anxieties – helpful when not being able to fall asleep is stressing you out.

One word of caution, however – don’t have a large mug. Stick to a small drink, because you don’t want to fall asleep only to be woken up by a full bladder in the early hours.


4. Stop negative thoughts

When you’re having trouble falling asleep, do you find yourself worrying about how tired you’ll be at work tomorrow? Or thinking “if I fall asleep right now, I’ll have 5 hours until I have to get up”? It’s common to have these thoughts, but they’re more likely to be keeping you awake.

The more you stress about the fact that you’re not asleep yet, the harder it becomes to fall asleep. As hard as it sounds, stop the bargaining, the calculations, and the frustration. Accept that, right now, falling asleep isn’t happening easily. If you can find a level of acceptance or peace, in spite of the situation, you’ll be removing a barrier to sleep. If that’s too difficult, perhaps meditation would be a more helpful option, to redirect your thoughts.


5. Visualise something soothing

Although counting sheep is the most well-known suggestion for falling asleep, it’s not the most effective. Some people find it works, but many more find it’s an unfortunate combination of too distracting while not being distracting enough.

Instead, try visualising a soothing landscape. Pick something that’s soothing to you, whether that’s a walk through a dense and sun-dappled forest, swimming in a clear blue sea, sitting under a waterfall, or taking a stroll in the mountains. This one is Oxford University approved, too. A study in 2010 found that people who imagined a relaxing scene fell asleep, on average, 20 minutes sooner than on other nights. They also found counting sheep to be ineffective.


6. Add subtle sounds

If the noise in your room is keeping you awake, or there’s buzzing in your ears, using some kind of soothing sound can make a big difference. White noise is great at covering other sounds that might be causing a distraction, while nature sounds can be extremely relaxing.

Everyone’s different, so some sounds we may find relaxing, while you might hate them, so it’s worth testing out different options to see what works for you – whether that’s rain sounds, crackling fires, oceans, or rainforest creatures. There are plenty of apps that play a variety of sounds – find one that offers the option to turn the sound off after a set period of time and you can drift off to sleep without worrying about your phone running all night.


7. Focus on your breathing

There’s a technique called the 4-7-8 Exercise, which is helpful for inducing a feeling of sleepiness. You start by inhaling for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, and then exhale forcefully for 8 seconds. Repeat three more times.

Focusing on your breathing helps to decrease your heart rate and lower your blood pressure – both of which are needed to help you feel sleepy. We can’t guarantee you’ll fall asleep in 60 seconds the way many devotees of this trick claim, but it’s one of the most popular breathing techniques for sleep.


8. Write notes

Are you awake because you keep thinking of things you need to do tomorrow? If your brain is constantly going over a mental ‘must not forget’ list, it won’t shut off long enough for you to fall asleep.

The best thing to do if this is the cause of your insomnia, is to make a note. Keep a small notebook and pen on your bedside table and scribble down anything that’s stopping you from drifting off. By writing it down, you’re telling yourself that there’s no need to think about it any more – you’ve got a note, so you can’t forget, therefore those thoughts can wait until tomorrow.

If you’re anxious about any of the items on the list, and that’s what’s keeping you awake, then it’s time to try meditation.


9. Get out of bed

If all else fails and you’re lying in bed awake and frustrated, it’s time to get out of bed. It doesn’t matter what time it is, just get up and do something else for a little while.

The longer you lie there unsuccessfully trying to sleep, the more you risk creating a mental association between your bed/bedroom and sleeplessness. That’s the last thing you need. If none of the techniques above have worked, you’re just going to be stewing in negativity and nothing will get better. So break the association, change the situation, and leave the room.

Ideally, you’d go somewhere else in the house, curl up, and relax in dim light with a book or something non-electronic to wind down. Don’t start watching TV or scrolling through social media – they’ll just wake you up even more. Try out some of the yoga poses mentioned above, and make your chamomile tea, before heading back to bed once you’re sleepy.


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