The 13 Things You Need To Do ASAP When You Can’t Sleep

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Picture it: you're lying in bed with bloodshot eyes, fully awake as you watch the clock tick closer and closer to morning. It's been an hour (or two, or three) since you hit the pillow, and yet you still can't get to sleep.

I think you'll probably agree this scene is the stuff of nightmares. Nothing's more stressful than knowing you need to sleep and not being able to — especially since it can turn into a vicious cycle. The longer you lie in bed, the more you worry about not sleeping. And the more you worry, the less likely you are to fall asleep.

In moments like these, it's helpful to have a few go-to sleep tips. But keep in mind, this awful situation can be (mostly) avoided if you have better sleep hygiene. "To fall asleep quickly it's important to first have a wind-down routine that you follow at the same time each night," Jamie Logie, a health and wellness coach, tells Bustle. "This lets your body know that sleep is coming and it makes it easier to fall asleep."

Your bedtime routine might include dimming the lights a few hours before bed, washing your face (before you're tired), putting your phone away, and relaxing with a book. If you do the same thing every evening, you'll have an easier time falling sleep. But if all else fails, give some of these tips a try.

1. Get Out Of Bed

If you can't fall asleep, don't lie there and stress yourself out for hours on end. "You're better off getting up and reading or listening to soft music to help distract your brain and hopefully start the wind-down process again," Logie says. Once you feel sleepy, you can give it a go again.

2. Turn On A Fan

If your bedroom is boiling hot — or even slightly warm — do what you can to cool it down. "Warmness may make you feel sleepy, but is not conducive to deep sleep," Logie says. "Our body starts to naturally cool later in the day and keeping your room cooler can help speed up this process that's involved with you falling asleep quickly and getting that deeper sleep."

3. Pull Those Shades  

It'll be easier to fall asleep if your room is completely dark, so cover up any blinking clocks, turn off your lamp, and pull your curtains to block lights from the street. And remember for tomorrow night: always dim your lights a few hours before bed. As Logie tells me, exposure to bright lights — like from your TV, lamps, or phone — in the evening can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

4. Go Soak In The Tub

If you have a tub, fill that baby up and have a soak. Or, at the very least, take a warm shower. "It can make you feel drowsy and relax your muscles," Julie Tramonte, a sleep advocate for Verlo Mattress, tells Bustle. "A warm bath also raises your body temperature, and when your temperature falls back to normal, it can trigger sleep."

5. Jot Down Your Worries

When you're stressing about life in the middle of the night, it can help to get it all out on paper. So keep a pad of paper handy. As Logie says, "Write down any thoughts or pressing issues you need to remember, so your brain doesn't have to focus on them or worry about forgetting."

6. Write Some Good Things, Too

While you're at it, try writing down a few things you're grateful for — even if it's something small. "Focusing on what is good in your life as opposed to what is going wrong with your life not only calms you down ... but also helps you reflect on your day," says NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW. And that can help you get to sleep.

7. Grab A Sleep-Inducing Snack

Some foods can help knock you out, all thanks to their anti-stress nutrients. As Tramonte tells me, almonds are a good choice for a relaxing dose of magnesium. Bananas also have magnesium, as well as the sleep-inducing chemical tryptophan. You can also try oatmeal, which Tramonte says is "right up there with bananas in terms of promoting sleep."

8. Do Ten Minutes Of Meditation

If stress and anxiety is keeping you awake, it might help to do a quick guided meditation. Hershenson suggests apps like 10%Happier, which can get your head into a better space. And hopefully that'll help you drift off.  

9. Drown Out That Noise

If car alarms or noisy roommates are keeping you up, drown it all out with a loud fan or a "white noise" app. But if it's your loud inner thoughts that are keepin' you up, Hershenson tells me it can help to turn on the TV or put on some music. Anything that'll help quiet your mind.

10. Hide Your Phone

When you can't sleep, it's be tempting to scroll through your phone. But this habit will only keep you awake longer. "The bright light, playing games, going on social media, and texting all keep the mind stimulated and will make it difficult to turn off," Hershenson says. So keep your phone as far away from your bed as possible, and on silent.

11. Do A Breathing Exercise

Get comfy in bed and try what's known as the "4-7-8" breathing exercise. "This technique is also known as 'The Relaxing Breath' and helps promote better sleep," Tramonte says. To do it, simply breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold it for seven, then breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight. And just like that you'll be asleep.

12. Tell Yourself A Story

If your brain is racing with stressful thoughts, fill it up with up with something a little nicer. "Tell yourself a gentle story — could be a favorite childhood book or movie — and use the same one night after night," says Catherine Darley, ND, of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, Inc. "This is helpful for those people who have an active mind and their thoughts interfere with sleep."

13. Spritz Some Essential Oil

Studies have shown that lavender oil helps ease anxiety and induces sleep, according to Rupinder Mangat, co-founder and CEO of MEVEI. "The researchers found that lavender increased slow-wave sleep, the very deep slumber in which the heartbeat slows and muscles relax," she says.

So keep a bottle of lavender oil by your bed, stick to a healthy bedtime routine, and make sure your room is cool and dark. If you haven't been able to get to sleep, these little tricks will definitely help.

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