What to Do When You Can’t Freaking Sleep

Annie Daly, Women's Health
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What to do when you can't sleep

You’re probably all too familiar with the easy ways to fall asleep naturally. (Make your bed a giant oasis of fluffy delight that looks like it could be featured in an Anthropologie ad, spray your feather pillow with relaxing lavender mist that you probably paid too much for even though it was “totally worth it,” and keep the bedtime wine-time to a minimum.) But what about those beyond-frustrating moments when you’ve done all that and you’re still tossing and turning? What then?

We checked in with two top sleep experts to see what you should do when you’ve been trying to doze off for hours on end and nothing is working. Try these options before you revert to throwing your (fluffy, lavender-scented) pillow at the wall…

Get Out of Bed
It seems counterintuitive, as you are trying to fall asleep in bed. But actually, it’s a smart solution. “Do something quiet, calm, and relaxing in dim light in another separate room—or at least out of your bed if you live in a studio,” explains Shelby Harris, Psy.D., Director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “You can’t force sleep to happen, and staying in bed without sleeping sends an even stronger message to your body that bed is for awake time, not sleep time,” she explains. Her calm-activity suggestion: Read a magazine or a book to pass the time. And when you start feeling genuinely sleepy, climb back under the covers—you’ll be surprised at how well getting out of bed helps you get those much-coveted zzz’s.

Don’t Think Past Tonight
Part of the problem with not being able to sleep is that you start overthinking your current situation. As you’re lying there with your dinner-plate eyes, you start thinking about how terrible tomorrow is going to be since you’ll be running on empty, and then you start thinking about that some more, to the point that it feels like you’ll never get a good rest again, ever, for as long as you and your cat shall live. But relax! “Sometimes repeating a mantra can really help, like, ‘If I don’t sleep tonight, I will sleep better tomorrow or the night after,’” explains Carl Bazil, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Division of Epilepsy and Sleep at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Putting things in perspective can make the task at hand (i.e., you finally scoring some REM) seem less daunting, and, thus, way more manageable.

Turn Your Clock
Time, dear friends, is a blessing and a curse—and in this case, it’s mostly a curse. Just seeing the clock can remind you of the fact that you’re looking at it rather than sleeping, and, in turn, make you stressed about being up. The solution? “Turn the clock away so time itself isn’t even visible from bed,” says Bazil. That way, you don’t have a visual reminder of how terrible you’re doing at the whole shuteye game. And once that internal pressure to snooze is lifted, you’ll likely be better able to get into a sleepy, zenned-out state of mind.

Take Notes
If you can’t stop thinking about tomorrow’s meeting or presentation, sit up, turn on your lamp, and write down your thoughts. (Pro tip: This requires keeping a pen and paper in your bedside table at all times…#foresight.) “Writing it down helps you let it go,” advises Bazil. In turn, you’ll likely stop obsessing over your Worry of the Moment and head into a real and true slumber.

This article was originally published by Women’s Health

MORE on Women’s Health:
How Waking Up in the Middle of the Night Affects the Rest of Your Day
The Real Reason You’re SO Spacey After a Night of Bad Sleep
The Very Real Dangers of Taking Sleeping Pills

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