Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of struggling to fall asleep. You might be tossing and turning in your bed for hours, or you might just not feel tired when it’s time to go to bed. There are many strategies you can use on an ongoing basis to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep, such as eating healthier, exercising, and avoiding caffeine and digital screen exposure before bedtime. But you can’t exactly change them in the course of an evening—so what are you supposed to do if you’re struggling to fall asleep now?
Fortunately, there are some strategies that can help.
Stop Checking the Clock
First, stop checking the clock. It’s common for people struggling with sleep to check the time every once in a while to see if they’ve truly been tossing and turning for hours or if it just feels like it. This is counterproductive, however, as the constant checking will keep your mind active, and the longer it takes to fall asleep, the more stressed you’ll feel. Try not to think about it, and if necessary, turn the clock away or hide whatever device is tempting you.
Avoid Digital Screens
Digital screens tend to emit bright, blue-wavelength light, which can trick your body into thinking it’s daytime, making it harder for you to sleep. Even if you use a red light filter, the content you view can keep your mind too active to sleep. If you have to find something to occupy your mind, try reading a physical book.
Keep a Journal
Use pen and paper to keep a journal, writing down your thoughts about the day and summarizing how you feel. This is useful for helping you resolve the thoughts and feelings that might be keeping you up. Plus, if you keep this habit consistently, you’ll be able to detail the issues that are chronically keeping you up, so you can study, understand, and resolve them.
Reduce the Temperature
Most people fall asleep much easier in rooms of a cooler temperature. If you feel even slightly warm, consider trying to lower the temperature. You can turn down the heat, turn up the air conditioning, or use fans and other additions to make you feel cooler. You could also take a cool shower to reduce your body temperature; however, if you do this, make sure the water isn’t ice-cold, or else it could end up making you feel more alert.
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the body for a variety of functions, but most notably to regulate your sleep cycle. You need melatonin if you’re going to fall asleep, but sometimes our bodies don’t produce it in quantities we need. Melatonin supplements are available over the counter, and while the evidence supporting their effectiveness is mixed, many people swear by these supplements as viable sleep aids. If you can’t get to sleep, try taking a few milligrams of melatonin and go to bed afterward.
Practice Deep Breathing
Focus heavily on your breathing. When we sleep, we tend to take bigger, slower breaths, so doing this while you’re still awake can condition your body for sleep. It can also help you relax, and give you something neutral to focus on (so you don’t get lost in other thoughts). Take a slow, heavy breath in and hold it for a three-count, then slowly exhale and repeat. Controlling this for even a few minutes can make you feel more relaxed and help you drift off to sleep.
If you’re plagued by restless thoughts or intrusive, meandering thoughts, meditation can help you clear your mind. The basic idea is to concentrate on something neutral (like deep breathing, which is a good strategy on its own), then acknowledge and let go of any thoughts that enter your mind beyond that neutral focal point. Meditation works best when you practice it on a regular basis, but once you’ve had a few sessions, it can become a perfect way to clear your head and get to sleep. You can also shift your attention to something else, like counting numbers or chanting a mantra.
Changing Your Habits for the Better
If this seems to be a pattern—in other words, if you struggle to fall asleep on a regular basis—it’s in your best interest to adopt better long-term habits to support healthy sleep. That means trying to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day, making time for exercise on a daily basis, moderating your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and other substances, and watching your consumption habits before bed. In combination with the quick fixes detailed above, this should help you get the quality sleep you deserve.