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What to do When You Can't Sleep

People with insomnia tend to have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep throughout the night, or they wake up too early in the morning.

There are ways to help with each of these patterns:

Tips for falling asleep

  • Carve out at least 30 minutes of wind-down time before bed in which you do something relaxing, such as read a book, have a cup of herbal tea.
  • Dim the lights slightly for an hour or so before bed.
  • Disconnect from close-range electronic devices such as laptops, phones, and tablets, as the light from their screens can alert the brain and make it harder to fall asleep.
  • In order to calm your mind, meditate, do a breathing or relaxation exercise.
  • If you get into bed and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and return to another space in the house to do a relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music. Lying in bed awake can create an unhealthy link between your sleeping environment and wakefulness. Instead, you want your bed to conjure sleepy thoughts and feelings only.
  • Wake up at the same time every day. Even if you have a hard time falling asleep and feel tired in the morning, try to get up at the same time (weekends included). This can help adjust your body's clock and aid in falling asleep at night.

Tips for getting back to sleep

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening, and alcohol close to bedtime. These can promote wakeups during the night.
  • Make sure your sleep environment is quiet and dark throughout the night. Use darkening shades to block streetlights and early morning light, and a fan or noise machine to block sounds.
  • Practice a simple breathing exercise or meditaton.
  • If you are unable to fall back asleep for 20 minutes do not lay in bed and worry about not sleeping, get up and go to a space in the house to do a relaxing activity, like reading, with dim light.
  • Keep the room dark when you wake up. Keep a small book light or mini flashlight next to your bed and use it to navigate your way to the bathroom, or put a dim night-light in the bathroom and leave the door cracked, so you can find your way there. Whatever you do, don't turn on the overhead light in the bathroom once you're there.
  • Don't turn on the TV or computer. Not even for a few minutes -- the light from the screen "resets" your internal clock, stimulating your central nervous system and making it harder for you to fall back asleep.
  • Don't eat unless you're truly hungry. Getting your digestive system revved up can keep you awake, so avoid snacking unless a growling stomach is going to keep you awake. 
  • Keep a pen and paper next to your bed. If you're often kept awake by racing thoughts and worries and you tend to make to-do lists in your head, keep a pen or pencil and a small pad of paper handy and write them down. As you put each item down on paper, imagine yourself setting aside that concern. (Again, use a book light; don't turn on the overhead or a bright bedside light to write.)
  • Do a simple isolation and relaxation exercise. Relax methodically, starting with your feet: Tense the muscles as hard as you can, then relax each area completely. Do the same with your calves, thighs, buttocks, hands, arms, and on up. By the time you get to your neck and head, you should have banished much of the tension.

Tips for avoiding waking up too early

  • Make sure your sleep environment is quiet and dark throughout the night. Use darkening shades to block streetlights and early morning light.
  • Consider earplugs or a fan or noise machine to block sounds.
  • Practice a simple breathing exercise.

Suggestions compiled from numerous resources, including the National Sleep Foundation

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