What to do when you can’t fall asleep?

Heather Campbell
 min read

What to do when you can’t fall asleep? Does your brain go into overdrive as soon as you hit the sheets? Unable to relax, only replaying your worries?

What to do when you can't fall asleep?The sleep tips in this article include avoiding an unhealthy lifestyle, auditive and visual triggers, and stimulants before going to bed.

We also touch on the importance of light eating and exercise, listening to your body, creating a bedtime routine, waking up with natural light, and creating the right environment for a good night’s sleep.

The most reported causes of sleep issues are work-related and psychological problems. During the day, your activities helped you to push back your worries.

But when you’re trying to fall asleep, you’re no longer distracted. As a result, all those worries and thoughts hit you twice as hard.

You relive those suppressed emotions and stress when all you want to do is relax…

What to do when you can’t fall asleep? Introduction

Sleep only comes to a body and mind at rest, so your body and mind must be prepared for it.

Therefore, slowing down physical and intellectual activities before bedtime allows your mind to relax and body temperature to lower gradually.

It’s necessary to have a relaxing moment before bed. Fill this moment with a distracting activity that isn’t very stimulating, for example, reading. In order to learn to relax, you can also do relaxation exercises.

If you have trouble falling asleep:

  • don’t use hypnotics as a first-line treatment
  • don’t use alcohol as a sleeping aid
  • avoid screen activities (smartphone, tablet, computer, game console) at least 1 hour before bedtime
  • take a warm or cold shower instead of a hot bath in the evening to calm yourself and prepare for sleep

Your body is programmed to sleep, and when it’s about to, the body lowers its temperature.

What to do when you can’t fall asleep? Avoid a lifestyle that disrupts sleep

Sleep disruption’s first and main cause is most often related to inadequate sleep conditioning.

Irregular rhythms

Any disorganized rhythm blocks the balance in your body’s systems, which reflects on your nights.

To evolve and grow, we need anchor points: a well-defined day/night cycle, regular meals, toileting times, naps, bedtime, walks, and time for exchanges that stably take place.

Random variations in rhythms disturb sleep. Rituals help maintain our biological rhythms and allow us to transition from wakefulness to sleep.

Tobacco use

Most smokers try their first cigarette during their teenage years, mainly when they start college.

Nicotine is a stimulant of the central nervous system. It produces many of the same effects as caffeine. Also, regular smoking leads to difficulty falling asleep, awakenings craving nicotine, and morning sleepiness.

Daily stress

Stress strongly affects the waking systems. When we’re repeatedly put under pressure, it becomes harmful to the body, like some kind of nervous system breakdown.

Cannabis use

The use of cannabis (which is not a stimulant) is part of many people’s experimental phase. Since it’s a psychotropic drug, cannabis modifies the rhythms of sleep.

It often gives the feeling of falling asleep quickly and produces an anxiolytic effect, but when taken regularly, this benefit fades very quickly.

Cannabis affects melatonin, meaning it destructures the sleep/wake rhythm and reduces REM sleep time.

I go to bed very early, yet sleep doesn’t come

Before the time, it is not the time. This is especially true for bedtime.

The time we fall asleep is determined by our need for sleep, but primarily by our internal clock.

No need to seek sleep before you feel the need.

On the other hand, you should not miss the right moment to fall asleep.

Since sleep is organized in cycles of about 90 minutes, you’ll have to wait for the next one if you miss your sleep gate. You may find yourself tossing and turning in bed without being able to get off the phone.

So, don’t stay in bed if you can’t fall asleep after 30 minutes. Instead, leave the room and do some relaxing activities like reading, drinking herbal tea, or walking in dim light. Only get back to bed when you feel sleepy.

If you’re awake in bed and feel like you’ve been up for more than 30 minutes, get out and go through the routine described above. A very short night results in an acute sleep debt, which is repaid by a sleep rebound the following night.

The amount of sleep needed to recover is less than the amount lost, so 2 nights of average sleep time is often enough to fully recover.

What to do when you can’t fall asleep? Follow these tips for sleeping well

Eat light

Avoid heavy dinners, too much protein, fatty foods with sauce, or spicy food.

What to do when you can’t fall asleep? Avoid auditory and visual stimuli

Avoid computer screens, smartphones, televisions, tablets, or LED lamps. Instead, dim your lights to lower the exposure to light in the evening. Try to create a completely dark and calm environment to sleep in.

Listen to your sleep signals

Go to bed as soon as you notice sleep signals like:

  • yawning
  • itchy eyes
  • heavy eyelids

Don’t resist the exhaustion but go to bed.

What to do when you can’t fall asleep? Avoid stimulants in the evening

Avoid things that will wake or keep you up in the evening, such as coffee, tea, Coke, or nicotine.

Wake up with natural light

Expose yourself to natural sunlight, especially in the morning, to adjust the internal clock. Turn on bright lights if natural sunlight isn’t an option.

Build a relaxing bedtime routine

Create a bedtime routine (shower or a warm bath, reading, walking…) and encourage relaxing rituals.

By repeating these new habits daily, you prepare yourself to sleep and shorten your time to fall asleep.

Once in bed, you shouldn’t be up for longer than 30 minutes.

Create the right conditions for quality sleep

Make sure your bedroom is prepared for a restful night:

Use the room only for sleeping: not for working, watching TV, or eating.

Don’t lie down to look at your phone, tablet, or computer.

Don’t spend an hour looking at your messages or social networks.

Don’t even get your phone to send an email or text message right before bed.

For more factors that are not good for your sleep, read our other post What negatively impacts sleep? Insights

Regulate your bedtime

Get up and go to bed at a fixed time as often as possible, even on Sundays and vacations! This way, you’ll avoid desynchronization and reinforce the sleep-wake cycle.

It is better to have a set time for getting up than going to bed.

Be active!

Be physically active at least 2 to 3 times a week. For example, go out for a brisk walk of 30 to 45 minutes, 3 times a week.

But avoid exercising the 2 hours before bedtime, since these activities give you energy. This is the complete opposite of what you want before bedtime.

What to do when you can’t fall asleep? Conclusion

Respecting our sleep-wake rhythm and our physiological need for sleep (quantity and quality!) is essential for maintaining our performance, especially for our health.

As you know, changes in our sleep-wake rhythm result in a significant decrease in our physical, cognitive, and psychological capacities.

Whether these changes are caused by our family and/or work, they will keep you up at night!

The tips presented in this blog post will help you preserve your physical and mental capacities during the day.

So learn how to protect your sleep, maintain it, and optimize it throughout your life!

Related: Best sleep position to lose weight: Analysis

About Heather Campbell

As a dietitian, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More