How long have you been lying here?
You roll onto your left side – your right side – your stomach.
You just can’t seem to get comfortable!
You look at the clock – it’s some ungodly hour of the morning.
If you get to sleep right now, you’ll be able to get in a good four hours… but the thing is, you said that an hour ago, and you still haven’t gotten to sleep.
How long is this going to take?
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
Restless nights happen to the best of us, sometimes for what seems like no reason.
Here are some of our top tips to get past that tossing and turning and get yourself the sleep you need.
Stop Trying to Force It
Sleeplessness can be a seriously frustrating experience, and if you’ve been lying in bed trying to sleep for an hour or more, it’s very easy to get into a spiral of negative, stressful thoughts.
It’s only natural to get restless when you’ve been lying still for such a long period of time, and that antsy-ness you might be feeling right now is completely normal.
Once you miss your “sleep gate” – the period of the night during which you’re most likely to fall asleep without a hitch – it can feel almost impossible to ever get yourself into the state of tiredness you know you should be feeling right now.
Alternatively, you might feel exhausted, but you just can’t get your mind to stop.
It’s late, and you haven’t gotten to sleep yet, so you start worrying about how tired you’re going to be tomorrow – which, of course, only makes it more difficult to get to sleep!
It’s easy to start blaming yourself when you fall into these kinds of vicious cycles, but here’s the thing.
You can’t force yourself to sleep.
That’s just not how this works.
The more you try to force it, the harder it will be.
Get Out of Bed
By this point, it’s probably time to just give yourself a break and get out of bed.
You weren’t really sleeping in there anyway, and hanging out for another hour doing nothing is only going to make you more stressed.
Most actually recommend getting out of bed after about 20 minutes of lying there sleepless.
So while it might seem counterintuitive, just get up.
It doesn’t matter what time of night it is – you’re going to need to go somewhere that’s not your bedroom until the tiredness can creep in on its own.
DO NOT Look at Your Phone
Now, once you’re out of bed, you’re going to need to find something to do.
While your first urge might be to look at one of your many electronic devices, this is actually one of the worst things you can do for your sleep.
Although many people commonly turn to their phones, tablets or laptops to help them relax for bed, this actually messes with your biochemistry in really harmful ways.
You see, one of the most important sleep hormones is a chemical called melatonin.
Your brain produces this stuff specifically in response to darkness, starting sometime shortly after sundown and increasing until sometime in the middle of the night.
When you expose yourself to any kind of bright light while you’re trying to get to sleep, you run the risk of disrupting the release of melatonin, thus physically preventing yourself from feeling as tired as you should.
What’s more, the blue light produced by the LEDs of most modern electronics has been found to hurt melatonin production more than any other wavelength.
While researchers are still trying to figure out exactly why this is the case, your best bet is to simply steer clear of electronics altogether.
These sift out all wavelengths except for those in the red spectrum, which has been found to have the least impact on melatonin production.
Do Something Relaxing for a While
But now, apart from looking at electronics, you are going to want to find something relaxing to take your mind off of things for a while.
Make yourself some hot cocoa or herbal tea (though unless you’re really, really hungry, keep away from food).
Or, find a nice book – preferably something boring, so you won’t get your mind too worked up – and curl up in some nice, dimly-lit corner somewhere to read.
It doesn’t matter what, specifically, you end up doing – it just needs to be relaxing enough to calm you down and involving enough to let your mind think about things other than getting to sleep.
How Meditation Can Help
One of the most effective tools for getting to sleep actually involves a truly ancient technique: meditation.
Even if you’ve had no experience meditating in the past, some of its basic techniques can work wonders when it comes to soothing a restless mind.
Concentration meditation in particular is a fantastic beginner’s method.
All it involves is focusing on your breathing.
Set a timer for a doable amount for time – say, two to five minutes – then a quiet corner to sit down in and shut your eyes.
Feel yourself breathing – in, out, in, out.
Feel the way your lungs contract and expand.
Feel the air as it flows through your throat, then passes back out.
In. Out. In. Out.
Don’t try to do anything special with your breaths.
Just concentrate on them.
Feel yourself breathing.
Let your muscles relax, one by one.
Let the tension pass out of your body.
In. Out. In. Out.
Focus on nothing but your breath.
Sometimes, your thoughts will try to drift away from your breathing.
When that happens, just gently nudge yourself back.
In. Out. In. Out.
How Journaling Can Help
If meditation doesn’t seem to be doing it for you, that’s OK.
Another technique many have found helpful is simply allowing yourself to express all the negative thoughts you’ve been keeping bottled up inside.
Racing thoughts are one of the leading causes of sleeplessness, and like meditation, journaling offers a way to move past your stressing and into the calm necessary for sleep.
All this method requires is a pen and paper.
Sit down somewhere, and just allow yourself to vent.
Write out all the worries you’ve had in the back of your mind.
Don’t bother with how you sound or what your thoughts look like when they’re out on paper.
Just allow yourself to free write until you’ve run out things to say.
Many find this experience very cathartic, and are able to go to sleep shortly after they finish.
How to Use the 4-7-8 Technique
Another helpful trick for getting quality sleep is known as the 4-7-8 technique.
This takes the least amount of time out of all these methods, since all it’s trying to do is slow down your breathing.
To start off, completely exhale through your mouth.
Then, inhale through your nose for four seconds.
Next, hold your breath for seven seconds, lightly pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your teeth.
Finally, take a full eight seconds to exhale through your mouth until there’s nothing left.
Repeat this technique three more times, or as long as it takes for your body to fully relax.
The idea is that when your breathing slows down, everything else in your body does, too.
And since all of your attention is devoted to the flow of air, you’re not psyching yourself out with any of those nasty negative thoughts.
Consider Visualization Techniques
Finally, another helpful sleep technique involves visualization.
You’ve probably stumbled across some of these guided imagery tracks before at some point or another.
While they’re certainly not for everyone, some may find the soothing landscapes they ask you to imagine extremely calming.
You can actually put these on while you’re in bed, and just listen to them while you fall asleep.
If you don’t particularly like listening to those tracks, however, you can also try simply conjuring up the images yourself.
All it really involves is picturing a still, peaceful place where you can let all your troubles slip away.
Focus on the details.
Allow the image to become more and more vivid in your imagination, until the imaging finally slips away and you’ve fully arrived in dream land.
Sleepless nights can be stressful, but with the help of the right techniques, you really have nothing to fear.
Just give yourself the space you need to breathe and relax.
Remember it’s not possible to simply force yourself to get to sleep – and because of this, you really are free to just sit back and let your mind wander.
Also keep in mind that there are some thing you can’t control, and never try to blame yourself for not being able to get to sleep.
Good luck, and pleasant dreams.