What To Do When You Can't Sleep

What To Do When You Can't Sleep

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Tossing and turning is an awful feeling… and waking up groggy and grouchy is even worse. So, what can you do when you can't sleep at night? If you find yourself restless in the middle of the night, settle in and check out these tips and tricks for (finally) getting some shut-eye.

DO: Breathing exercises

Woman doing mediation and breathing exercises in bed

Mindfulness and meditation aren't just for monks. Calming your mind might seem like an art form, but it's something anyone (even you!) can learn to do over time.

Before bed, get your space ready by turning off lights and playing soothing music. Lay on your back with one hand on your heart and the other on the stomach. Try calming your mind by removing all thoughts and feelings from the day. Take deep inhales, hold and focus on your breath, rather than what is going on around you…or what's been on your mind. Exhale slowly and focus on your breath leaving your body slowly through your nose.

A little meditation goes a long way; incorporating at least 10 minutes of meditation before bed will help you relax your body and mind, helping you fall asleep.

DO: Read a book

Woman reading a book in bed

When you can't fall asleep at night, break out a book. Reading signals to your brain that it is time to wind down and relax. After a chapter or two your brain and eyes start to tire, making it easier for you to fall asleep.

If you read on a tablet, make sure you are using night mode, which eliminates any blue light that may emit from the screen and send the wrong signals to your body.

DO: Supplement for support

Woman taking a Melatonin for sleep support

A sleep supplement you should be incorporating before bed and in case you can't fall asleep is melatonin. Melatonin is a chemical found in your body, but sometimes your melatonin levels are thrown off and your internal clock is out of whack.

To reset your natural circadian rhythm and get the full and restful eight hours your body needs, incorporate a melatonin supplement before bed. Speak with your doctor first to find out which dosage is best for your body and sleep needs.

DO: Try tea

Man drinking chamomile tea for better sleep

You do not have to live across the pond in England to make time for teatime. In fact, a warm cup of soothing chamomile, a natural sleep remedy, is brimming with beneficial antioxidants and promotes a relaxing and restful night's sleep.

If tea is not your forte, chamomile and other sleep promoting herbs can be taken in supplement form before bed to help provide a restful and full night's sleep.

DO: Listen to music or white noise

When you can't sleep at night, turn on some tunes. No, you don't want to blast heavy metal or rock & roll, but relaxing instrumentals or soft, soothing vocals can lullaby you to sweet dreams. It's best to play music on a stereo and avoid headphones as they can cause harmful effects if you sleep with them in.

If music isn't your jam, try downloading a white noise app or purchase a small machine. White noise is best for those who can't tune out all the noise around them (and is particularly key for those living in bustling cities) because it masks loud sounds that stimulate your brain.

DON'T: Turn on electronics

Man and woman laying in bed looking at cell phones

It may be tempting to turn to your phone or TV when you are tossing and turning but doing so will further negatively impact your quality of sleep. Electronic screens emit blue light, which signal to your brain that it is still daylight, instead of time for bed. It is best to avoid screen time at least two hours before you turn in for the night, to let your eyes and mind unwind in preparation for slumber.

Make sure to turn your phone on silent before bed, too, so notifications and calls don't interrupt your sleep. Also, that juicy television drama can wait until the morning; as much as you might to stay up to watch your favorite show, it is best for your body and sleep to record and watch the next day.

DON'T: Forage for food

Man looking for food in refrigerator as a late-night snack

When you cannot sleep, the first thing you might think of doing is foraging in your fridge for a late-night snack to satisfy your cravings. As good as that snack might taste going down, it may only be hindering your chances of going to sleep.

Ideally, you should enjoy your last meal at least two hours before bed. That's because when you eat, your body has to produce energy in order to metabolize and digest your food. Rather than winding down your internal systems for the night, you are restarting them and signaling to your brain to activate your digestive system.

Make sure that you are eating smaller meals throughout the day and that your plate is filled with fresh fruits, veggies, lean protein and healthy fats that will keep you full all day long, which should keep your late-night cravings at bay.

DON'T: Overthink

Woman writing down thoughts before bed

There is nothing worse than having a racing mind when you are laying in bed. Overthinking, such as when your brain races through scenarios, may keep you tossing and turning all night, deterring you from the rest you need.

Rather than fretting about your worries all night long, keep a journal beside your bed and write down your thoughts and feelings before bed. By removing them from the forefront of your mind, you won't be as troubled by them as you try to fall asleep.

DON'T: Drink alcohol

Woman drinking a glass of wine in bed

Grabbing a glass of wine may sound like a good idea when you can't fall asleep, but too much merlot or pinot is going to hinder you from adequate rest.

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to irregular sleep patterns and may affect your melatonin production, leaving your circadian rhythm imbalanced.

DON'T: Exercise vigorously

Woman stretching in bed

Getting regular exercise helps to tire your body out and may improve sleep. However, vigorous exercising too close to bedtime may result in difficulty going to sleep. By exercising intensely late at night, your heart rate and blood pressure levels are elevated—the opposite of the state of relaxation you need to be in to drift off to bed. If you're in a state of high alert, it will take you longer to fall asleep.

That being said, exercising earlier in the day or evening is great for promoting better sleep at night! Just make sure you're getting in that sweat session at least an hour before your head hits the pillow.

If the mood does strike to exercise late at night, try stretching instead. By doing low-impact, gentle stretching you are promoting overall body relaxation which will help you fall or go back to sleep.