What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

Can’t sleep? You’re in good company. According to a survey from the American Sleep Apnea Association, 70 percent of U.S. adults struggle with sleep at least one night a month, and 11 percent struggle with sleep every night.

When we can’t fall asleep, we tend to stare at our alarm clocks for hours on end and hope for sleep to come faster. But as it turns out, there are better ways to coax our minds and bodies back into the Land of Nod. The best part? It could be as simple as sleeping with a weighted blanket or doing some light stretches before bed.

Here, we take a deep dive into the common culprits of poor sleep, what to do when you can’t sleep and how to set yourself up for a better night’s snooze.

Get Better Sleep with a Weighted Blanket

What Are Common Causes of Poor Sleep?

There are many numerous potential causes of poor sleep and, in many cases, multiple culprits are involved. 

Here are some common reasons why you may be lying awake at night:

  • Anxiety and stress. More often than not, sleepless nights are the result of a brain that won't turn off at night. Our anxiety tends to be worse at night because we have nothing to distract us from our anxious thoughts. Lack of sleep can also worsen anxiety, causing a destructive cycle that can be hard to break.
  • Caffeine. While caffeine is a natural stimulant that can help jolt you awake in the morning, it can just as easily ruin your sleep. This is especially true if you tend to drink caffeine too close to bedtime. For an optimal snooze, avoid drinking caffeine after 2 p.m. and limit yourself to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is equivalent to about four cups of coffee.
perimenopause women insomnia symptoms
  • Menopause. It’s no secret that menopause can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. In fact, one longitudinal study found that symptoms of insomnia are present in 31 to 42 percent of perimenopause women. Dips in estrogen and progestogen can lead to anxiety, hot flashes and night sweats, which can prevent you from getting an adequate night’s sleep. One thing that may help? A cooling weighted blanket, which can help ease symptoms of anxiety while promoting a sweat-free snooze. 
  • Technology. Do you ever find yourself scrolling mindlessly through your social media feed before bedtime? If so, it could be disrupting your sleep. According to the experts, electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets emit blue light that can block the release of melatonin, which pushes your bedtime back and makes it harder to fall asleep.
  • Underlying medical conditions. If you’ve taken steps to improve your sleep — like reducing light exposure and quitting caffeine after 2 p.m. — to no avail, then your sleepless nights may be the result of an underlying medical condition, such as depression or sleep apnea. Certain medications such as antidepressants and nasal decongestants can also disrupt your slumber.
  • Light exposure at night. Light exposure from street lights and indoor lighting is another sneaky cause of poor sleep. That’s because light exposure in the evening can suppress the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), which keeps you up for longer. Try installing blackout curtains or wearing a weighted eye mask to bed to block out artificial light.

weighted face mask

Browse Our Weighted Eye Masks

What to Do When You Can’t Sleep 

Failing to fall asleep is frustrating and exhausting — not to mention bad for our health. According to a study published in Nature and Science of Sleep, poor sleep can lead to a host of short- and long-term health problems, including:

  • Increased stress
  • Metabolic effects
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Hypertension
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Weight-related issues

So, what should you do when you can’t get to sleep? 

The next time you find yourself lying awake at night, try these science-backed strategies for falling asleep. 

couple in bed preparing to sleep

1. Avoid Checking the Time

Do you ever find yourself checking the time on your phone or alarm clock when you can’t fall asleep? We’ve all done it before. This is known as “clock watching,” and research suggests that it’s enormously detrimental to our sleep. 

Watching the clock can increase your anxiety about potentially losing sleep, thereby making it even harder to get a good night’s rest. Checking the time on your smartphone is particularly bad for your slumber because it emits blue light, which tells your brain that it’s time to wake up.

For a better night’s snooze, cover your alarm clock with a towel or turn it around so that it’s facing away from your face. It’s also a good idea to keep your phone in a different room, so you’re not tempted to check the time in the wee hours of the morning.

2. Lower the Temperature

Another way to encourage your body to fall asleep is to turn down the thermostat. Although it may seem simple, lowering the temperature — even by only a few degrees — can make a huge difference in your sleep quality. That’s because your core body temperature naturally declines before bedtime, which helps lull your mind and body into a dreamland. 

You can speed up these temperature changes by taking a warm bath before bedtime. The warm water will temporarily increase your body temperature, leading to a more significant drop in body temperature that can help you fall asleep. 

3. Listen to Calming Music

Many people find that listening to calming music helps them relax and fall asleep more easily. That’s because listening to music can decrease cortisol, the stress hormone that stimulates wakefulness. 

According to one randomized control study, music resulted in significantly better sleep quality in older adults compared to the control group. Results of the study also showed that listening to music appears to have a cumulative effect, with study participants reporting better sleep quality the more they listened to music before bed.

When designing your sleep playlist, pay attention to the tempo (meaning, the speed at which the music is played). Slower music may be more likely to encourage a slower heart rate, so try picking songs with a slower tempo.

4. Try a Breathing Exercise

Are worries and concerns about the future keeping you up at night? Breathing exercises are a great way to invoke your body’s relaxation response so you can stop ruminating on your anxious thoughts and get to sleep faster.

the 4-7-8 technique

One popular breathing exercise is the 4-7-8 technique. First developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, this technique has been shown to be beneficial for stress reduction and relaxation before bed.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound throughout. 
  • Inhale silently through your nose for four seconds. 
  • Hold your breath for a full seven seconds and breathe out for eight seconds. 
  • Repeat this technique four times.

5. Do a Quick Body Scan Meditation  

Another relaxation technique that can be helpful for sleep is body scan meditation. This technique is a blend of two deep relaxation techniques: breath focus and progressive muscle relaxation. 

To practice body scan meditation:

  • Start by taking deep breaths. 
  • After a few minutes of deep breathing, focus on one part of your body, such as your head or a group of muscles. 
  • Pay attention to any tension or sensations you may feel there. 
  • If you feel any tension, focus on gently releasing it.

If you need additional help, try a guided body scan meditation on YouTube. You can also find free guided meditations on UCLA’s website.

6. Visualize Yourself to Sleep

The more you try to “force” sleep, the more elusive it will be. So, instead of stressing about losing sleep, consider using visualization techniques to help distract you from your anxious thoughts. Visualization involves focusing on calming images in your mind that help you feel calm. For example, if you find the beach relaxing, you might visualize yourself vacationing at the ocean with your feet in the sand and the warm sun on your back. By focusing on the soothing sensations and imagery, you can relieve stress and fall asleep faster.

7. Stretch Before Bed

Are aches and pains disturbing your slumber? Try doing a quick stretch routine before you hit the sack. Gentle stretching, such as tai chi and yoga, has been demonstrated to ease anxiety, pain and muscle tension, making it easier to fall asleep at night.

For optimal sleep and pain relief, stick to static stretching. Unlike dynamic stretches that prepare the body for movement, static stretches relax the muscles and help you cool down from a workout.

quick stretch routine before bed

Melt away stress and tension before bedtime with these popular moves:

  • Child’s pose
  • Knee-to-chest stretch
  • Supine twist 

8. Consider a Bedtime Snack

Are hunger pains keeping you awake at night? Eating the right snack before bedtime may help you fall and stay asleep. According to researchers, certain snacks — like cheese on whole grain crackers and cherries with a small handful of walnuts — can help satiate your hunger and help you sleep at night. 

However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. Eating too much can make you uncomfortable and disrupt your slumber, so be sure to keep your portions on the smaller side. 

Along with sticking to lighter snacks, you’ll also want to limit your protein and reach for carbohydrate-rich foods instead. According to WebMd, carbohydrate-rich foods digest slowly and are more likely to increase tryptophan, the sleep-inducing hormone that boosts melatonin production.

9. Make a To-Do List

Have you ever felt so anxious or overwhelmed about all the things you need to do the next day that you couldn’t get to sleep? Maybe you were coming back to work after a long weekend or needed to complete a big project with a sensitive timeline. 

When we have a lot on our plate, it can start to interfere with our ability to fall asleep. Luckily, there’s a potentially easy fix for your late-night tossing and turning: making a to-do list before bed. 

In a study from Baylor University, researchers split 57 students into two groups. They asked one group to write about the tasks they had completed during the day and the other group to write about tomorrow’s to-do list. The results showed that students who wrote down their to-dos fell asleep “significantly faster” than those who wrote about their accomplishments during the day.

10. Get Out of Bed

If you’ve tried all of the tips and techniques and still can’t get to sleep, the best thing to do may be to get out of bed and move to the living room or another cozy spot. According to some sleep experts, staying in bed when you don’t feel sleepy can backfire because it convinces your brain that being awake in bed is normal. Instead, you should get up and do something relaxing — like reading a book while snuggling under a weighted blanket. Just remember to avoid turning on bright lights, which can increase alertness and make it difficult to fall asleep.

walking down stairs

Tips to Avoid Insomnia and Promote Good Sleep

Ever heard the saying, “a good night’s sleep starts in the morning?” As it turns out, there’s a lot of truth to this phrase. 

Here are a few tips to help you avoid counting sheep at 2 a.m. in the morning.

  • Make time for physical activity. There is solid evidence that exercise — and aerobic exercise in particular — can help you fall asleep faster and improve the overall quality of your snooze.
  • Wake up at the same time every day (even on the weekends).
  • Establish a soothing bedtime routine. Calming activities — whether it’s reading, taking a bath or cozying up to a Gravity Weighted Blanket — can help you relax and wind down for bed.
  • Make your bedroom environment conducive to sleep. Keep the lights dim, block out unwanted noise with a noise machine and invest in cozy bedding that helps usher in a good night’s sleep. 
  • Avoid daytime napping.
  • Eat lighter meals and less spicy foods in the evening.
  • Reduce your alcohol consumption. Having a glass of wine may make you feel sleepy initially, but it can sabotage your nightly snooze in the long-term.

Drift Off into Dreamland with Gravity Blankets

Sleepless nights can be mentally and physically exhausting, but you don’t have to put up with the tossing and turning on a regular basis. With the help of our Gravity Weighted Blanket, you can finally get the snooze you need without the harmful side effects of prescription sleep aids. Our high-quality weighted blankets use the power of weight to help you sink into a state of relaxation, making it easier for you to fall and stay asleep. 

Ready to give one a try? Shop our collection of weighted blankets today and start getting the rest you need!

 

Image Credits

Yuttana Jaowattana/Shutterstock.com

fizkes/Shutterstock.com

ARTHA DESIGN STUDIO/Shutterstock.com