Insomnia 101: What NOT to Do When You Can't Sleep

what not to do when you can’t sleep

As experts on great quality sleep, we are practically brimming with tips on how to get to sleep more effectively and more deeply than ever before. Whether you're curing insomnia or just improving your sleep quality, we'll do anything we can to enhance your satisfying sleep. But that's not what we're here to talk about today.

When you can't get to sleep, you start to go a little crazy. You'll do whatever it takes to soothe yourself into peaceful timely slumber, but your instincts don't always lead you the right way. There are a number of ways that not only don't help you get to sleep, they actually make it harder to sleep no matter how much you need to be awake the next day. So we decided to dedicate an article to what NOT to do when you can't sleep. See if any of them are mistakes you make from time to time:

Lie in Bed for Hours

One of the worst things you can do for yourself when you can't sleep is to continue lying in bed after you know you aren't going to drift off. This gives your brain 'awake time' in bed and can send the wrong message: that bed is a place to lie awake in. Don't let yourself form a pattern of wishing you were asleep.

If you miss the sleep-train, get up after no more than an hour failing to fall asleep. It's time to reset and give yourself time to get properly sleepy again puttering around the house or doing boring paperwork. When you find yourself nodding off, crawl back into bed and let nature do its thing.

Sleep By Your Phone

Phones are the exact opposite of restful. If you sleep with your phone on your side-table, under your pillow, or clutched in your hand this is like telling your brain to stay alert for messages. While that is appropriate if you have a relative in the hospital or some similar emergency, mostly it's best if your phone is not a part of your sleep routine.

And whatever you do: Do not start texting, playing phone games, or browsing the web on your phone instead of getting up. This will keep you awake in a zombie state that is not useful for getting to sleep or being wakeful the next day.

Indulge in Bedtime Snacking

Eating a small meal an hour or so before bed can help you relax into sleep. However, what you eat and when matters a great deal. Especially if you've just gotten back out of bed after failing to sleep. Your body will tell you to seek refined sugars and carbs. Don't do it.

Don't reach for the coffee, caffeinated soda, or black/green/white tea either. Each of these is a stimulant that will keep you awake for an hour or more rather than making it easier to fall back to sleep. Alcohol is also a bad idea. While it may help you to fall asleep, it also lowers the quality of your sleep and increases your chance of waking up in the night.

Flip on the TV

There is nothing more tempting when you're shuffling around the house half asleep to flip on the TV. Just to keep you company, if nothing else. While putting on an old show you've seen a million times can help you settle down for sleep, actual programmed television is the enemy.

The problem is that it's in the networks’ best interests to keep you watching. The way they arrange the shows, commercial breaks, and show lineup at night are designed to keep viewers awake. Commercials will be loud, shows will be surprisingly interesting, and you'll want to watch whatever is on next. In other words, not so great for going back to sleep. Avoid anything with commercials.

Stress About Sleep

Many people who experience insomnia or simply have trouble sleeping start to stress about not getting to sleep. Worrying that you can't get to sleep or making sleep a performance issue is going to wake you up, not calm you down. Don't think about sleep as something you achieve but rather something you fall into when you manage to fully relax.

The worst thing you can do when you can’t sleep is stare at the clock and admonish yourself for not being asleep. Don't stare at the clock and if the clock itself distracts you, cover it with a cloth before you go to bed so the numbers can't glow at you in the night. Don't dare yourself to sleep or get mad at yourself. Instead, get up and do a few sleepy chores.

Count Sheep

Counting sheep is another mistake people make when they can't drift off. And, of course, we do it because that is what the media has suggested is the cure for insomnia. The problem is that if you make it to 20 sheep, it starts feeling like the clock again. You start to obsess over the number and will stress yourself out rather than relaxing.

Instead, build a peaceful boring mental fantasy. Imagine the perfect golf course, a lake you used to visit as a child, or visualize doing something normal like baking or mowing the lawn step by step. These unexciting visualizations can override worried thoughts while allowing you to relax for sleep.

Pop a Few Sleeping Pills

Many people turn to sleeping pills when they have a chronic problem getting to sleep. While these can be very useful in short and selective situations, over time sleeping pills become an obstacle for sleep. You may begin to be unable to get to sleep without them and their effectiveness may fade.

Most doctors will not recommend sleeping pills for an extended period of time and, overall, you should try to avoid them completely.

Turn Up the Lights

If you really can't get to sleep, sometimes the best answer is to restart your bedtime routine with a workout or round of chores. However, if you wake up in the night or after a light doze, you may want to keep the lights low and the mood sleepy.

Even if you use the bathroom or get yourself a warm cup of cocoa, try turning on as few lights as possible. Leave the house in 'sleep mode' to make it easier for yourself to crawl back into bed in a few minutes. This technique can prevent an occasional wakeup from turning into all-night insomnia.

Ignore Discomforts

Finally, never overlook the possibility that discomfort is your problem. If lying in bed leaves you with an achy back, you may need a new mattress. Or at least a new sleeping position. Dirty sheets and blankets can also keep you up by being subtly itchy or uneven under your skin. Make your bed with clean sheets or, if your sheets are too old to wash smooth, consider a new set of bedding.

If the room is too hot, cool it down. If outside noises keep waking you up, get a white noise generator. The key takeaway here is that you should not simply lie in bed wishing you were asleep. Fix whatever bothers you and give yourself another chance to get sleepy.

Deep, rewarding sleep will happen for you, but only if you let it. Avoid anything that is too distracting or wakeful, treat your body well, and make sure your bed is an absolutely comfortable and welcoming space. In time, your eyes will begin to droop and you will find yourself drifting off to exactly where you want to be. For more tips on the best ways to enjoy sleep, contact us today!

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