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  • Hartley

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU CAN'T SLEEP

Updated: May 5


a woman lying in bed with an alarm clock hovering on a starry background and the text "5 things to do when you can't sleep"

If you lay in bed for hours and can’t sleep, believe me, I know the feeling. Before my many visits with a sleep doctor, I would lie in bed (usually on my phone) and wait for sleep to just ‘hit me.’


That was, apparently, THE worst thing I could do.

It’s a bit counterintuitive but when you can’t sleep, you should actually get OUT of bed. This is because you want to keep a strong mental link between catching ZZZ’s and being in your sheets.


A little something called ‘sleep hygiene’–behavioral and environmental practices for insomnia—comes into play here.


It’s all about avoiding stimulation and engaging in activities that might make you feel drowsy. This is why screens are your worst option: not only does the light trick your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up, but anything that ‘activates’ you will work against you in the wee hours. Afterall, you’re probably unable to sleep or jolting awake because something is on your mind.


Following my doctor’s orders, first, I keep the lights LOW and only think about going back to bed after 20-30 minutes (or sooner if I’m miraculously feeling sleepy). In that window of time, I choose an activity that’s going to relax me.

As a lifelong insomniac, I’ve compiled a list of the night owl activities that have successfully gotten me back to sleep.

woman in comfy clothes reading a book
via pinterest

Find what works for you:

Writing a ‘thought dump of all the things I will deal with tomorrow. Putting it on a piece of paper makes me feel like it’s ‘somewhere’ and I can let go of it.


Lying on a yoga mat, gently stretching and listening to a sleep story

Listening to ambient noise or quiet music

Reading (not War and Peace…something low-stress)

Engaging in the tedious: I’m talking folding laundering, organizing a junk drawer or wiping out my spice cabinet

Belly breathing: place your hand on your belly. Take a breath in, letting it push your hand out as your belly rises. Your chest should not move. Hold it for a count of five, release for a count of five. Repeat.

Taking a warm bath. Did you know the drop in your body’s temperature after immersing in warm water mimics what happens internally when you’re falling asleep? It’s thought that a warm bath mimics the signals to your body that it’s time to sleep. I throw in some pure magnesium flakes for good measure.

Then I make sure to adjust my sleep ‘settings’: is the room cool enough? Dark enough? Should I put on white noise to cut any sounds from the street? These micro-stressors add up!



But THE most important thing I've done to avoid nights like this is to get an evening routine in place.


I've put together a free checklist of 40 relaxing evening activitites and an hourly planner to help you get better habits in place (and blissfully drift off). Check it out.


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