Can't Sleep? Read This To Fall Asleep Now

Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
By Laura Newcomer
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It’s oh, I don’t know, 3 o’clock in the freaking morning, and I’m lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, and wanting to cry with frustration. I'm trying to stay hopeful about my ability to catch a few hours of shut-eye before work the next morning, but I’ve been up until 6 a.m. (not by choice) enough times in my life to know the beast of insomnia can’t always be tamed.
I'm certainly not alone. Insomnia is incredibly common in the U.S., with 30 to 40% of American adults experiencing some symptoms of insomnia each year. So, for all those seasoned insomniacs out there — and for anyone who occasionally can’t fall or stay asleep — we’ve rounded up some short- and long-term strategies for getting a good night’s rest. And, if you’re reading this at 3 a.m. because your mind won’t stop running, don’t worry; we have tips for what you can do right now to improve the chances of getting (at least, some) sleep.
Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Sleep Gap: The Need-To-Know
Insomnia is defined as the inability to fall asleep, remain asleep, or get the amount of sleep an individual needs to wake up feeling rested. Its symptoms include difficulty falling asleep, frequent wake-ups during the night, waking up too early in the morning, daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. Insomnia can be acute (lasting one to several nights) or chronic (lasting from a month to years). It’s also the most common sleep complaint among Americans (especially women).
Trouble sleeping is often a symptom of another disease or condition, such as depression, chronic pain, medication, or stress, which might explain why it’s so common. Most often, insomnia stems from a combination of factors, including medical and psychological issues, scheduling issues, relationships conflicts, and behavioral factors (poor bedtime routines, physical hyperactivity, watching TV right before bed, etc.).
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Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Beyond Counting Sheep: Your Action Plan
Long-Term Sleep Solutions
Keep Track
Record how much and when you sleep, fatigue levels throughout the day, and any other symptoms. This serves two purposes: It can identify activities that help or hurt the chances of a good night’s rest, and it’s a useful tool for a doctor or therapist, should you decide to see one. Digital programs like Zeo, YawnLog, and a variety of apps can all make snooze-tracking easier.
Try Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy for Insomnia is a pretty common technique. Also called CBT-I, the therapy typically involves self-monitoring, mental strategies (like developing positive thoughts about sleep), and creating an environment that promotes sleep — and it’s been shown to improve sleep quality. Learn these strategies with the help of a therapist or with online guidance or books — both are equally effective ways of implementing CBT-I. Not into seeing a therapist? Check out Sleepio, a digital program that helps users learn about and implement CBT practices from the comfort of their own homes.
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Use The Bed Appropriately
Beds should be reserved for sleep and sex — and nothing else. Bringing work into the bedroom is a sure-fire way to discourage sleep quality.
Don’t Smoke
Need another reason to quit? Smokers commonly exhibit symptoms of insomnia — possibly because their bodies go into nicotine withdrawal during the night.
Short-Term Sleep Solutions During The Day
Exercise Early In The Day
Studies find moderate aerobic activity can improve insomniacs’ sleep quality. For best results, exercise at least three hours before bedtime so the body has sufficient time to wind down before hitting the sack.
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Schedule “Worry Time” During The Day
Spend 15 minutes addressing problems (journaling is a good way to start) so they don’t sneak up when your head hits the pillow. If a particular event or stressor is keeping you up at night — and it has a clear end date — the problem may resolve itself naturally.
Limit Caffeine
It’s tempting to reach for coffee when we’re tired after a poor night’s sleep, but drinking caffeine can make it harder for us to fall asleep at night, creating a vicious cycle. Can’t quit cold turkey? Try limiting caffeine intake to earlier in the day so it’s out of your system by bedtime.
Illustrated by Shawna Huang.
Short-Term Sleep Solutions In The Evening
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Avoid Large Meals Late In The Evening
Jumbo meals pre-bedtime have been linked to trouble falling asleep.
Don’t Drink Alcohol Right Before Bed
Booze might seem like an obvious choice for calming down pre-bedtime, but it can actually disrupt sleep cycles later in the night. You don’t have to give up the good stuff completely; just drink it with dinner (around 6 o’clock) and skip the nightcap.
Have Sex Or Masturbate Before Bed
Hey, anything for a good night’s rest. Getting our “O” face on pre-bedtime can help us fall asleep.
Fall Asleep Right Now
Brew Some Chamomile Tea
Studies find the humble herb can reduce anxieties, getting us into a better head space for sleep.
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Try A Hot Bath Or Shower
Stepping from warm water into that pre-cooled bedroom will cause body temperatures to drop slightly, which can trigger sleepy feelings by slowing down metabolic activity.
Sip Some Hot Milk
Science doesn’t necessarily back the idea that milk facilitates snoozing, but conventional wisdom might be strong enough that our minds still believe moo milk lulls us to sleep.
Do Some Leg Exercises
We know: We told you not to exercise before bed. But, apparently some easy leg lifts, squats, or your leg exercise of choice can help divert blood flow to the legs and away from the brain. This can help quiet the mind, making it easier to slip into dreamland.
Accept Insomnia For What It Is
Judgments (“I should be asleep”), comparisons (“my BF/GF/roommate is sleeping; why can’t I?”), and catastrophic thinking (“If I don’t get eight hours’ sleep tonight, I’ll mess up that presentation tomorrow, lose my job, and die tired and alone”) don’t do us any good. Make the night easier by accepting it for what it is, letting go of judgments, and being gentle with yourself. The silver lining? You just might get to see a glorious sunrise.
For the rest of Greatist's amazing tips on falling asleep, click here .
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