10 things to try the next time you can’t get to sleep

Few things are worse than lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and unable to sleep. It’s very frustrating, and that frustration makes sleep even less likely. The next time you are unable to sleep, don’t just lie there watching the sky slowly lighten. Take matters into your own hands and do one of these ten things instead. 

1. Try some breathing and relaxation exercises

Breathing and relaxation exercises can help you sleep in several ways. Firstly, they act as a distraction from whatever thoughts are running around your brain, keeping you awake. Secondly, they release tension from your body so you can relax. Finally, they increase carbon dioxide levels in your blood, and that makes you feel drowsy.

If you are unable to sleep, try inhaling slowly for a count of four and exhaling for a count of four, follow a sleep-specific guided meditation, or do some progressive relaxation exercises.

2. Consume some sleep-inducing foods or drinks

A lot of people avoiding eating too close to bedtime, but there are several foods and drinks that can actually help you sleep. If you are struggling to nod off, try a small serving of any of the flowing:

  • Cottage cheese
  • Warm milk
  • Turkey
  • Banana
  • Chamomile or passionfruit tea
  • Almonds
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Walnuts
  • Oily fish
  • Oatmeal

3. Read a book

Reading is a great way to relax and bring on sleep. Like many of the sleep strategies on this list, reading distracts you so you cannot think stressful or anxiety-ridden thoughts. Avoid reading books on your tablet; the bright screen will trigger your brain to wake up. Instead, read a real book using a dim bedside lamp for illumination.

As you feel your eyes starting to droop, mark your page, roll over, turn off the light, and sink into a deep, restful sleep.

4. Listen to some relaxing music

The right type of music can be very relaxing. Classical music is popular for inducing sleep, as is acoustic music. Music platforms such as Spotify, Deezer, and I-tunes also have playlists populated with music designed specifically to help you sleep.

These platforms offer white noise playlists featuring relaxing sounds like running water, rain falling on a tent awning, and wind chimes. These sounds will not only help you relax but will also drown out the extraneous noises that could be keeping you awake. Audiobooks and podcasts can also be useful.

5. Get up and do some chores

If you really can’t sleep, don’t just lie there getting more and more fed up. Instead, get up and do some chores. This will act as a distraction from your insomnia and will tire you out a little more so that, when you do return to bed, you feel more ready for sleep.

Avoid chores that require bright light. Exposure to bright light decreases the production of serotonin and melatonin and will wake you up. Instead, work in low lighting to promote sleep. Also, avoid noisy activities. Vacuuming at 2 A.M. will not engender good relationships with your family or neighbors.

6. Go for a walk

Walking at night can have a dreamlike quality, which is just what you need if you can’t sleep. Walking is energetic enough to tire you out but not so vigorous that you’ll get hot and sweaty and won’t be able to sleep afterward. Walking at night, when the rest of the world is asleep, can be very relaxing but, for obvious reasons, only walk where you know you’ll be safe. Avoid dangerous neighborhoods. 

7. Do some writing

Writing is an excellent way to engage your brain and reduce tension. It also provides a distraction from worry and anxiety. Don’t use a computer or tablet for your writing. The bright screen light will wake you up. Instead, use a pen and paper and work in low lighting. Good things to write about include your plans for tomorrow, what you have done today, plans for vacations or trips, or you can even write letters to friends and families, which are often more appreciated than text messages or emails.

8. Do a puzzle or try a coloring book

The worse thing about not being able to sleep is lying in bed, thinking about not being able to sleep! The more you think about not sleeping, the less likely you are to drop off. Busying your mind can help turn off these thoughts, and one way to do that is to work on an engaging puzzle. Good options include crosswords, word searches, and sudokus.

If you aren’t into puzzles, try doing some coloring. It’s not quite as cerebral but can still occupy your mind so you can relax and get ready to sleep.

9. Go on a mental journey

Mental journeys are a form of meditation; they force you to take control of your thoughts so that whatever is keeping you awake can no longer exert an influence on your conscious mind. The best mental journeys take you over familiar routes so that you can make them as realistic and detailed as possible.

For example, in your mind, envision yourself walking your old paper delivery route or the route you used to take to go to school. Add an extra element to this practice by also imagining preparing for your journey. Packing your school bag, for example. A lot of people who use this strategy report that they fall asleep before reaching their imaginary destination.

10. Make a to-do list for tomorrow

One of the most common barriers to getting a good night’s sleep is thinking or worrying about what you need to do tomorrow. You may be thinking, “I must remember to do that,” and that’s the thought that keeps rattling around in your brain.

If thinking about tomorrow is making it hard to sleep today, write a list of all the things you need to accomplish. That way, you can relax knowing that you don’t need to remember any of those things; they are all safely written down. Place this list on your kitchen table and then go back to bed, literally and metaphorically leaving your worries in another room.


Insomnia, even if it’s only occasional, is no one’s idea of fun. It can be very upsetting if you are tired but still can’t get to sleep. Don’t just lie there getting more and more annoyed. Instead, use some of these strategies to help you get to sleep. They might not work instantly, and few things that are good for you will, but you should find that, eventually, you will manage to get to sleep. If you regularly find that you are unable to sleep, make an appointment to speak to your doctor, who may refer you to a sleep specialist.

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