What to do When You Can’t Sleep, According to Sleep Experts

What to do When You Can’t Sleep, According to Sleep Experts

If you’re having difficulty getting shuteye, don’t resort to counting sheep or staring into your smartphone.

Just follow these tips from leading sleep experts that’ll put you to sleep faster than watching the first 30 minutes of The Postman.

Don’t panic!

“When I have trouble falling asleep, it’s usually because I have something on my mind about work or my kids. Most importantly, I avoid getting upset about being awake—usually what’s on my mind is important. One advantage of being a ‘sleep expert’ is that I know I will eventually get sleepy enough to fall asleep, so I don’t get too worked up about being awake at night on occasion.”

—Jennifer L. Martin, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UCLA

“It is rare for me to struggle to fall asleep, but when I do, I’ve grown to love it. What’s not to love? I’m in a really comfortable place, it’s quiet, nobody is texting or calling me, no arguing children, no list of home repairs to deal with, just relaxing in the dark with my thoughts. If sleep seems to be a little elusive, I use the time to figure out fun places to go on vacation or plan something to do for my wife’s birthday. In short, when it comes to not being able to fall asleep, despite my profession, I honestly don’t give a damn, and that is precisely why I never have an issue sleeping. People fear not sleeping, but it’s really an irrational fear, since everyone sleeps.”

W. Chris Winter, MD, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of The Sleep Solution


Relaxing thoughts

“I rarely have trouble falling asleep. However, on occasion, particularly if I have something on my mind, I will get into bed and not fall asleep because my mind is in overdrive. Once I recognize this, I will start by trying to distract myself with relaxing thoughts and images—a favorite vacation with my family is a good one!”

—Ilene M. Rosen, MD, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and program director of the University of Pennsylvania Sleep Fellowship

Employ breathing exercises

“If there are nights where I have difficulty falling asleep, I will do a very simple relaxation technique called diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing can be used when the brain is going a mile a minute and you feel distracted from falling asleep. I typically do this lying down. I breathe in slowly and deeply counting 1, 2, 3, 4, and then exhale slowly counting 5, 6, 7, 8. With practice, this can help you relax and prevent the pesky racing thoughts from interfering with your sleep.”

Mark Muehlbach, PhD, staff clinician and director at the Clayton Sleep Institute Clinics and Insomnia Center and co-director of the CSI Research Center

Related: Which Sleeping Position is Best for a Good Night’s Sleep?

Don’t rule out an underlying issue

“If I can’t fall asleep and it’s been more than 30 minutes or so, then I get up and figure out what is the problem. Is it my restless legs syndrome acting up? If so, I will put a blanket and pair of fluffy, loose, fleecy socks in the clothes dryer for five to 10 minutes to help me warm up so I can calm my legs and feet down.”

—Shalini Paruthi, MD

Photo Credit: namtipStudio/Shutterstock.com; Twin Design/Shutterstock.com

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