I’m sure we’ve all been through it before.
You get into bed. You feel tired. So you know you’re going to have a wonderful night’s sleep.
However, for whatever reason you simply cannot seem to drop off and no matter how hard you try to sleep you seem to become more-and-more awake as the night wears on.
Don’t worry I’ve been there too and that’s why today I’d like to discuss what to do when you can’t sleep.
I know from my own experiences I would typically squeeze my eyes tightly shut and literally try to will myself to sleep.
But, as it turns out this is probably one of the worst things to do – a type of “hit and hope” strategy is never going to help you if you can’t sleep.
Therefore, I’d like to introduce you to 4 simple techniques to help you get to sleep at night.
1. Try Blinking
I must admit when I first heard about the “blinking” method I thought it seemed a little absurd. Additionally, the simplicity of itall had me doubting this technique.
Now don’t get me wrong, simply blinking non-stop as you get into bed isn’t going to make you fall asleep instantly every single time (hence why I am introducing you to 4 sleep hacks), but there is a certain method to the madness.
The technique is as simple as it sounds – simply blink your eyes continuously for 60-120 seconds. By blinking rapidly you will actually tire the eye muscles, which in turn can help to fall asleep.
As I say, I was a little skeptical myself when I first heard about rapid blinking, and it does sound (and make you feel) extremely silly.
Nevertheless, for some unknown reason – it works.
But, you won’t know until you’ve tried it, will you?
2. The 4 7 8 Breathing Exercise For Sleep
I’ve previously written an article about the 4 7 8 Breathing Exercise For Sleep.
This is a technique first introduced by Dr. Andrew Thomas Weil and is a breathing exercise that was originally created to help combat stressful situations.
Well, if I’m being honest, not being able to sleep is a pretty stressful situation to find yourself in.
What I like about this breathing exercise is that it helps to take your mind off whatever is stressing you out and makes you concentrate on your breathing.
In a way it reminds me of the old adage that if ever you’re about to blow your top then you should take a step back and count to 10.
All you’re really doing here is concentrating your mind on something else for a few moments, which in turn can help you to steer your mind away from whatever situation or circumstance that is making you anxious.
In its simplest the breathing exercise requires you inhale for a count of 4. Then hold your breath for a count of 7, before exhaling for a count of 8.
You repeat this sequence over for a few minutes.
What this does (as I say) is it forces your mind to concentrate on your breathing, thus diverting your attention from whatever happens to be stressing you out.
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I guess it’s very much the same principle that is involved in mindfulness and meditation. Your mind will typically wander while performing this breathing exercise, so the trick is to just “catch” whatever your mind has moved onto, accept it, and then return to focusing on your breathing again.
I don’t claim to be an expert, and I have really only been practicing mindfulness meditation and breathing techniques for just over two years, but I am really beginning to understand the calming influence it can have on the mind.
3. The Full-Body Scan
I guess you could say the full-body scan is yet another mindfulness motivation technique.
You are once again diverting your mind away from whatever is worrying you and focusing on something else completely.
The full-body scan is a shortened version of a method I learned from the 7 Minute Mindfulness Program.
The version within the program lasts for over 15 minutes and is really a daytime mindfulness practice, but I have adapted it as a way to help me to calm the mind and body to help me to sleep.
I basically focus on different parts of my body, starting from my toes and working all the way through to the top of my head. I like to tense and then relax each body part before moving on.
So, I would start by tensing my toes and then relaxing. Moving onto my feet, my calves, working up to my thighs, my backside, my pelvis area, my stomach, chest, arms, fingers, shoulders, neck, jaw, cheeks, ears, nose, eyes, forehead, and finally the top of my head.
Admittedly, you can’t actually tense and relax every body part (I know I’ve tried with my ears, but it just doesn’t work, although I do know someone who can move their ears independently from the rest of their body – weird!) but the point is to spend some time concentrating on each separate body part.
As I’ve mentioned, this gives the mind something else to focus on (rather than worrying about the fact you can’t sleep).
With that said, just squeezing and relaxing certain parts of the body is very relaxing in itself and is a great way to release tension from the body as a whole.
You release tension, you’ll feel more relaxed, and the more relaxed you are the more likely you’ll be able to nod off.
4. Get Out Of Bed
The final method probably seems somewhat counterintuitive if you find that you can’t sleep.
I mean, you’re struggling to fall asleep and you’re trying your hardest to simply let go and get yourself into dreamland, and here I am telling you to basically wake yourself up completely and get out of bed.
Okay, the thought process behind this is fairly simple – I’ve always said that we should associate the bed with sleeping. However, the mind is a powerful thing and the more often you struggle to fall asleep at night, the more likely that you’ll start associating your bed with not being able to sleep. And this is how insomnia typically starts.
Many people simply try to “force” themselves to sleep when they’re struggling to nod off.
However, this rarely, if ever works.
So, if you’ve been through all the above techniques and you still find yourself awake then just get up.
I know at first you may be thinking that this means you’re going to be getting less sleep and then the mind usually starts taking over and will make you feel extremely anxious about the lack of sleep you’re going to get.
“If I don’t fall asleep within the next 10 minutes I’m going to be getting less than 5 hours sleep tonight.”
“I’ve got to be up early tomorrow, so I’ve got to fall asleep as soon as possible”.
“I can’t possibly get out of bed now because I’ve been lying here for hours unable to sleep and therefore I can’t wake myself up completely by going downstairs”.
I’m sure there are many other things the mind says when you can’t sleep.
Quite often people associate getting out of bed with “totally waking up” and therefore assume that lying in bed with your eyes squeezed shut is much better.
Feeling alert and refreshed the following day has very little to do with how long you spend in bed, but more to do with the quality of sleep you are getting.
I would much rather have 5 hours of “quality” sleep than spend 9 hours tossing and turning all night in bed.
Okay, I should say that the optimum amount of sleep is 7-9 hours a night for adults and this is what we should all be aiming for.
However, even for those of you who typically sleep very well most nights, you’ll still have the odd-occasion where you just can’t fall asleep.
So stop fighting it.
By getting out of bed and doing something relaxing you are far more likely to start feeling tired and drowsy much sooner than by simply lying in bed and worrying over-and-over in mind about how much sleep you’re NOT getting.
I would suggest that you stick to the basic rules of good sleep hygiene when you get out of bed – so this means you should avoid all electronics (including the TV), and drinking a stimulant such as tea or coffee or a depressant such as alcohol is not recommended.
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You should also avoid bright lights where possible. So, I don’t suggest that you turn on every single light in the house.
.For me, I would typically go downstairs into my front room, sit in a comfortable chair and just practice a breathing technique or even the full-body scan.
If I felt I was very much awake, I may seek solace in a physical book (not on your tablet or e-reader) or listen to some calming music.
More-often-than-not I can feel my eyes starting to get very heavy within about 10-15 minutes and then I’d return to bed and literally crash out within a matter of seconds.
Now if I compare this to staying in bed and trying to “force” myself to sleep, well there’s no contest.
I can recall many a night where I have lay in bed totally stressing myself out because the amount of sleep I was potentially going to get before I had to be up was becoming less and less. In fact, I’ve probably just laid in bed getting extremely anxious for more than a couple of hours on quite a few occasions.
So, don’t fight it. Get out of bed and do something relaxing and you’ll usually find that you’ll start to feel very sleepy quicker than you think.
In a way I look at it almost as reverse psychology.
Lying in bed trying to force yourself to sleep you seem to feel more awake as each minute passes.
However, by going against convention and getting up to go and listen to some music, or reading a book, your mind almost wants to go to sleep within a few short minutes.
So, these are my 4 “go-to” strategies of what to do when you can’t sleep.
There is actually a lot more to getting a good night’s sleep than just focusing on what you should do the second your head hits the pillow and I discuss various daytime and evening techniques in many other articles.
However, if sleep is a struggle, then try the above methods, and in the exact order in which I have listed them.
For many of you sleep may come within a couple of minutes of just blinking for a few moments, but for others you may have to try a little harder.
As I’ve said, if the basic techniques fail while you’re lying in bed, then there’s nothing for it, just get up and out of bed and try to calm and relax the mind.
More often than not this does the trick and you’ll literally be fighting to keep your eyes open.