What To Do When You Can’t Sleep: 9 Easy Ideas

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Figuring out what to do when you can’t sleep can be daunting, but there are solutions! Here’s how to calm your mind and finally get some rest.

A woman with her head in her arms while sitting on a bed with white covers and the words What To Do When You Can't Sleep

How To Get To Sleep

Trying to get to sleep can be daunting from time to time. Overwhelming stress and everyday life make it hard to shut down when it’s time for bed. It is as if your brain is finally able to relax and all it wants to do is go over every minute detail of your day. It can be difficult to calm your mind. 

In addition to stress, there are many reasons why you might struggle with sleepless nights. Whether your circadian rhythm is off because you work the night shift, you suffer from restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, other sleep disorders, or you have other medical conditions that contribute to chronic insomnia, you don’t have to continue to suffer. 

If you find that you have racing thoughts when you lay down to sleep, you are not alone. Especially at this moment in history, there are many, many people who have the same issue. 

There are many ways to develop good sleep hygiene, and other than consulting with your doctor and taking sleep medications, these suggestions should help. 

Get Some Exercise

One of the things that you can do for your overall health is to get some exercise. Doing some moderate exercise and getting your heart rate up during the day can impact your quality of sleep at night. 

According to the sleep experts at Johns Hopkins, there is solid evidence that exercise during the day does help you fall asleep faster and improves sleep quality.

Consider a daily routine (even for a very short time) where you increase your blood flow and get a little bit of physical activity in. This will not only impact the hours of sleep you get, but it will also likely help with your stress levels. 

Institute a Routine

One of the best ways to calm your racing mind is to start a nighttime routine for yourself. This can be anything that fits your lifestyle, but your goal is to get to four or five habits that you practice nightly so that your brain can learn that the last one is falling asleep. 

Consider a bedtime routine like this: say good night to the children, pets, or loved ones and go brush your teeth.

Watch a half-hour comedy (no social media!) while doing a relaxing activity with your hands (knitting, cards, a jigsaw puzzle, playing with a Pop-It toy), and then head to your bed. Drink some water, read a book for 15 minutes, and then lights out.

If you are like most people who have trouble calming down, you need to build in time to decompress. To be by yourself without the influences of everyday life. If you can help to focus your brain elsewhere and routinely, you’ll find it much easier to calm your mind. 

Shut off the Phone

You may not realize it, but the blue light coming from your phone, computer, and television is helping to create your sleep problems. Even if you turn down the bright lights and sound, your electronic devices will impact the quality of your sleep. 

There is scientific evidence that shows that when the sun has gone down and our brain can detect the continued use of blue light emitted from our devices, our bodies don’t release enough melatonin.

This makes it much more difficult for your brain to wind down so that you can get a good night’s sleep. As a result of not being able to sleep, one likely gets back on their phone to distract themselves as the hours tick by.

This ultimately turns into a vicious cycle. If you can’t sleep, the worst thing you can do for yourself is to get back on your electronics. Do yourself a favor and cut the screen time. 

Listen to Your Breathing

Breathing is not always about doing breathing exercises, it can also be about paying attention to how you breathe. When you get stressed, your breathing can speed up or slow down, which will hinder your ability to calm your mind. 

Throughout each day, if you happen to catch yourself in a stressful moment, try to stop and listen. Listen to the sounds around you for a second. Focus on how your breathing sounds as you breathe in and out.

Try to push out the world around you and keep your mind from focusing on anything other than your breath sounds. 

Once you become familiar with how you sound when you are stressed vs. how you sound when you have calmed down, you can try to replicate what you’ve heard during bedtime.

When you lay down to sleep, listen to your breathing. Much like counting sheep and other similar relaxation techniques, this is a great way to get yourself focused out of your head and onto something soothing.

*Note – Don’t discount deep breathing exercises! When you are stressed and overwhelmed, taking some deep breaths is a great practice to help center yourself. It won’t hurt you to do some slow breathing at night as well. 

Practice Gratitude

Sometimes the best thing that we can do to help ourselves calm down is to reframe the day. Get a gratitude journal and write down one thing that you are grateful for every night before you get into bed. 

Each day can be incredibly stressful, but there has to be a silver lining. If you can find that lining regularly, you’ll find that the way you look at each day is a little different.

You’ll find yourself beginning to see the positives in the little things, which is something we all need if we’re trying to get to a calm enough place to sleep at night.

You don’t need to limit yourself to only one item each day, so allow it to flow. If you have only one, that’s fine; the next day you might have a lot of things. 

If it was a particularly wonderful day, list everything you can think of so that you can look back and find some peace in the memories. Laying in bed and focusing on the positives is a lot more productive toward a healthy night’s sleep than focusing on the stress. 

If you decide that journaling is peaceful for you, use these therapy journal prompts for some additional ideas. You can also use these 50 additional questions to help you be the best version of you

Release Your Mind

On the flip side, sometimes it is negative thoughts that keep you up. If you have an anxiety disorder, intrusive thoughts, are dealing with a stressful situation, or have other chronic conditions that affect either your physical health or mental health, difficulty falling asleep can be the norm. 

There are various ways of dealing with anxious thoughts, but you do have to be proactive. Cognitive behavioral therapy or a lengthy talk with a healthcare provider can help calm a busy mind. 

Confiding in a good friend or writing your unwanted thoughts out in a journal before bedtime can lead to a good night’s rest. 

At the end of the day, doing what you can to release your fears and anxieties before laying down is your best bet for getting enough sleep at night. Your stress response can be extremely powerful and sleep deprivation can build on itself, so practice whatever mental health exercises work best for you on a regular basis. 

Drink Tea or Hot Milk

You may know that caffeine consumption in the evening (think energy drinks or coffee) will lead to a lack of sleep, but some beverages can help you. 

Many herbal tea options encourage restful sleep. Sleepy Time Tea is a popular brand of bedtime tea that is said to help calm your mind and soothe your body so that you can get better sleep.

In addition, any tea that has chamomile or lavender in it may help relax your entire body and mind to get a good night’s sleep. Just make sure that your choice doesn’t have caffeine in it.

If you aren’t a fan of tea, try hot milk instead. A warm beverage before bed may be soothing to you and allow you to calm yourself. 

I know what you are thinking – do these really work or is it some kind of placebo? The truth is, the tea or milk may or may not help you relax and help calm your mind, but the process of making and drinking the tea or the milk can.

When you put your focus on doing something soothing, your mind may follow, whether it planned to or not. And other than the possibility of needing to wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, it’s not going to hurt.  

Create The Right Environment

If you are going to do anything well, you have to have the right tools. If you are having a tough time calming your mind so that you can get to sleep, see what you can do to help yourself.

Does white noise help? Try running a white noise machine or a floor fan through the night, or play some quiet music. Are your sheets a little too scratchy? Invest in a new set of softer sheets that meet your needs better (think sateen, flannel, or high thread-count cotton). 

If your room is not dark enough, invest in an eye mask or blackout curtains. If your body feels sore, try taking a warm bath with essential oils and do some progressive muscle relaxation. If you don’t have a comfortable mattress, consider investing in a new one. 

Create a space where the primary focus is getting some rest and escaping from the stress of the world and daily life. You cannot force sleep, but you can invite in better sleep. 

Attempt Sleep Hypnosis

Whether you opt for a sleep hypnosis app or a meditation app, there are many free apps on both Android and Apple phones that will help calm your mind when you’re having sleep issues. The trick is to try a bunch. Eventually, you will find the right one for you. 

Your goal when looking for the right app is to find one that speaks to you. You like the speaker’s voice, the music puts you at ease, and the process helps you relax your mind. It may feel a little strange, but give it a chance.

Listen to the app right before bed or make it part of your daily ritual during a time that works best for you. Anything that allows you to calm yourself at all during the day will allow you to relax a little more at night as well. 

With everything happening in the world right now, it is no wonder that many of us are facing sleepless or restless nights. Sleep affects our mental health and our physical health, so it is extremely important.

There are things that you can do though, and you owe it to your sense of well-being to try to do what you can for yourself. You can’t help anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first, so do yourself a favor and try to get some rest. 

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