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11 pm. 1:26 am. 3:10 am. You keep checking the time. Your eyes won’t stay shut. Your mind races uncontrollably. You start playing the hour counting game: “If I fall asleep RIGHT NOW, I’ll get 4 hours of sleep.” Raise your hand if this resonates with you…*oh look, my hand is up too.* So while I write these suggestions, I am also practicing using them. I can tell you, firsthand, that when I follow these suggestions, the difference is remarkable. So try these suggestions and then let me know what works for you!
The importance of things to do when you can’t sleep
Oh that tired, dragging morning. The sore eyes, foggy brain, craving for sugar. The thing is, a sleepless night sticks you with more than just a sleepy day. Did you know that sleep deprivation is actually messing with your body’s core processes? Among other things your immune system can be weakened, you’re more likely to get into accidents, and it can even put you at increased risk for diabetes. Yikes! Don’t worry. We’re going to attack occasional insomnia with 5 things to do when you can’t sleep so you can thrive and vibe your way through tomorrow.
#1 – Step Away from the Caffeine (especially the sugary caffeine)
Caffeine and I have a complicated relationship. I desperately want to like coffee, and yet I’ve never been able to pull that off. I know, I know, it’s appalling. But I do enjoy caffeinated tea, especially those sugary Tea Refreshers from Starbucks. Yum! When I feel stressed or tired, pre-Covid days anyways, I would pull right through that drive through and sip on a blessed cup of energy. It was usually around 2 or 3 in the afternoon and I would go from slump to dancing my way through the afternoon. Hallelujah, right?
Problem was, by 10 pm, I was still wired and awake. Now, I didn’t notice this at first, but eventually I connected the dots. So I’ve turned my back on drinking those in the afternoon unless I have a specific reason to be up all night. Is there a similar culprit in your life? Sugar can also give you a boost of energy so be especially careful of sugary caffeinated drinks. Move these treats to the morning and don’t indulge too often!
#2 – Create a Regular Bedtime and Stick To It!
Gahhh, I find this one particularly challenging. An article from a couple years ago explained that moms stay up too late because it’s “their” time. This totally resonates with me. Along with my instinctive night owl tendencies, it’s the only time of day when I can have some peace and quiet. I love my daughter and she is the light of my life, but her chatterbox tendencies still make my head spin some days. That’s why a couple months ago, I decided to stop trying to go to sleep at 10 pm. I gave myself permission to stay up to 11:30 pm instead.
This works better for my brain cycle, and gives me a good several hours of creativity, quiet, or goofing off watching reality TV. In fact, by 11 pm, I can start to feel my brain getting sleepy. And when I respect this feeling and wind down, I get awesome sleep.
So, take a second to feel curious about yourself. Do you feel better when you are up a little late, or do you love waking up early for that energy burst of getting ahead of the day? Find what feels best, what works best in your schedule, and set that bedtime! Then commit to sticking to it so your body can anticipate it!
#3: The Bedtime Routine
Let’s recap. So far you’ve taken stock of caffeine’s influence on your life and identified when you want to go to bed. Now let’s talk about what to do in preparation for that special moment.
This is very much a personal process. Some people love to take a bath or shower right before bed. I’m not one of those people because I’ve found that showers wake me up and energize me. Some people have to put the phone down an hour before bed to feel sleepy. Nope, while I do try to stay away from social media, I have no problem playing a nice relaxing crossword game or reading on my Kindle app. So while I’m not suggesting to ignore research because I LOVE research, get curious about what your body craves to wind down.
For example, it turns out the lighting in my room is very important for me. About fifteen minutes before I want to drift off, I turn my lamp on low. I also make sure the built in blue light filter is turned on if I’m still reading on my phone. Some nights, I just use my salt lamp to create a warm glow.
What do you like the environment to be? Do you need a glass of cold water next to the bed? The pillows arranged just right? What do you prefer to wear for pajamas? Think through all of these details as you create a consistent routine and environment for that last thirty minutes before sleep. Maybe also think what’s different about the things you do when you can’t sleep. Try to eliminate activities that leave your mind wakeful.
#4: Give your Brain Something Relaxing to Do
My favorite suggestion, I just couldn’t wait to share this one with you! One of my most favorite things to do when I can’t sleep is to listen to a sleep story. A good friend got me started on these several years ago and it has been a GAME CHANGER. I use the app Calm, starting with the free version, upgrading to premium, and finally buying the lifetime membership. Can you see my devotion is to this particular component of falling asleep? It’s because it works!
Here’s the scenario: Instead of falling asleep my brain decides to go over (in great detail) the day, 4th grade, that embarrassing thing that happened last month, or a myriad of other non relevant information. Enter the sleep story superhero. As soon as I hit play, my brain shuts up and falls into rhythm as the narrator soothingly shares a story. There are many way to access sleep stories, even YouTube channels devoted to them, as well as calming music, white noise, etc. Calm on YouTube might be a good place to start. This isn’t an affiliate post, I just really like them.
#5: Stop Thinking about How You Can’t Asleep
Ouch, this one is totally easier said than done. Remember how I mentioned my favorite little game where I calculate how many potential hours of sleep I have left? In all honesty, that just makes the whole thing so much worse. Lying in bed worrying about how you can’t fall asleep is stressing you out, which makes drifting off that much more difficult.
Break the cycle!! If you can’t fall asleep, get up! Get some water. Walk around your house for five minutes. Journal to clear your mind. Do a 10 minute meditation or speak some affirmations to yourself. Give yourself a good twenty minutes of self care activities before snuggling up and giving the sleep opportunity to take over.
I have complete faith that armed with these strategies, those nights when you are desperate for things to do when you can’t fall asleep will become fewer and farther in between. If it’s an ongoing problem, make sure to visit your doctor and see if you need medical intervention to solve it! For those of us who encounter these nights just occasionally, having a toolbox of ideas can be relaxing in and of itself. Be sure to tell me which suggestion you like the most!