Can’t sleep? Try these tips
What you can do
Some people have trouble falling asleep. Others wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep. You can change your habits and your home to make sleep less fleeting.
Stick to a sleep schedule:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time. Going to sleep at the same time every night trains your body and brain to wind down and get ready for slumber.
- Get up if you cannot sleep. If you lay awake for 15 minutes, get out of bed and go to another part of the house. This way your bed is less likely to become a place of stress.
- Do something quiet and relaxing like read a book. This can also help take your mind off the fact that you are not sleeping. When you feel drowsy, return to bed.
Make your bedroom comfortable:
- Get a comfortable mattress. If your mattress is lumpy, too soft, or too hard, it will be hard to get comfortable enough for sleep.
- Keep it cool. Your body temperature goes down when you sleep. Make sure your bedroom is cool enough but not so cool that you wake up cold. Experiment with the thermostat and blankets to find what temperature works for you.
- Control the light. Light from the street, a TV, or the next room can make it hard to stay asleep. Use curtains and doors to make your room dark so you can sleep. You can also try using a sleep mask.
- Control sounds. Make your room as quiet as you can. You might use a fan, soft music, or sound machine to create white noise you can sleep to.
- Hide the clock. Watching the hours tick by can stress you out. Turn the clock so you cannot see it from your pillow.
- Put away electronics. Silence any device that reminds you of emails you need to send or things you need to do. You will be better off doing those things after a good night's sleep.
Try different ways to relax. Find what works for you. Such as:
- Drink something warm and non-caffeinated like warm milk or herbal tea.
- Take a warm shower or bath.
- Read a book or magazine.
- Listen to soft music or an audiobook.
- Count backward from 300 by 3.
- Starting at your feet and working your way up to your head, tense each group of muscles for a second or two and then relax them.
- Do belly breathing. Put 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 5, release for a count of 5. Repeat.
Live for Good Sleep
Things you do during the day can affect how well you sleep at night. You should:
- Limit evening activities. When you are on the run, your day may not end until late evening. Try to limit evening plans to a few nights a week. Give yourself time for a soothing bedtime ritual to help prepare you for sleep, such as a warm bath or reading in bed.
- Exercise. Regular exercise will help you sleep better. Just be sure you plan your workout right. Overtraining or exercising less than 3 hours before bedtime can make you toss and turn.
- Limit naps. If you are having trouble sleeping, cut out the catnaps. You will sleep better at night.
- Limit caffeine. It might be a helpful pick-up in the morning, but you may go to bed wired if you drink coffee, tea, or caffeinated sodas in the afternoon or evening.
- Limit alcohol. It may help you get to sleep at first, but alcohol keeps you from deep, restoring sleep later at night.
- Kick the habit. Need another reason to quit smoking? The nicotine in cigarettes can disrupt sleep.
- Eat smart. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime. Try to eat 2 or 3 hours before bedtime. If you feel hungry right before you go to bed, have a small, healthy snack like a small bowl of yogurt or low sugar cereal.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your health care provider if lack of sleep is interfering with your daily activities.
Berry RB, Wagner MH. Behavioral treatment of insomnia. In: Berry RB, Wagner MH, eds. Sleep Medicine Pearls. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 38.
Morin CM, Davidson JR, Beaulieu-Bonneau S. Cognitive behavior therapies for insomnia I: approaches and efficacy. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 85.
National Sleep Foundation website. 10 tips for a better night's sleep.
National Sleep Foundation website. 2014 Sleep in America Poll: Sleep in the modern family.
Vaughn BV, Basner RC. Sleep disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 377.
Last reviewed on: 8/13/2020
Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 05/04/2021.