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Can’t Sleep at Night? Here’s What to Do

Can't Sleep!

photo by Andy G


It’s 3:28am. You’re wide awake. You toss and turn, but you can’t sleep. You want to sleep, but your mind and body are not cooperating. What should you do?

Physical Causes of Sleeplessness

There are a many possible causes for waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to fall back to sleep. It could be physical such as muscle aches, muscles tension, need to go to the bathroom, you left the TV on, your partner is snoring, the dog is snoring, you had too much caffeine or alcohol today, and on and on. For these we can usually figure out the solution:

  • do some light stretches for muscle aches
  • take some aspirin/Tylenol/Advil/etc if pain is keeping you awake
  • move to a different bed
  • turn off the TV
  • get up and do something until you’re tired enough to fall back asleep

Mental Causes of Sleeplessness

When you’re worried about something, that can be a real bugaboo. If you’ve got something on your mind, it can be hard to sleep. Many times you may not even be aware that you’re worried, much less what you’re worried about. But, in most cases, you will need to address the problem or you probably won’t get back to sleep anytime soon. So what should you do? Follow these steps to relieve your mind of worries and get back to sleep. (Yes, even tough guys like my Dad: Get in touch with your feelings and you’ll sleep better!)

1. Signs from our Dreams. If you woke up from a dream, think about it for a moment. What was going on in the dream? What do you think each part represents? Is there something you are afraid of, worried about, or a problem you need to solve?

2. What’s on Your Mind? Whether you had a dream or not, ask yourself,

  • What’s bothering me?
  • What problem do I need to solve?

Maybe you are worried about your health or a loved one’s health. Maybe there is an issue at work that you’ve been avoiding. Maybe you’ve been in an argument with your spouse or a good friend. Or perhaps you’re just feeling scared of dying. (Night time has a pesky way of doing that sometimes.) Or it might just be that your to-do list is so daunting it’s waking you up at night. Whatever it is don’t be afraid to identify it and label it. Thinking about it is not going to make your fears materialize. Not thinking about it is going to keep you from sleeping. Figure it out and you’ll back on your way to some restful zzzz’s.

3. Pen, Paper, & Solutions. You’re awake anyway, so flip on a light and grab a notebook and pen. Write down the issue that is on your mind. And then write down action steps you can take to resolve your issue..

  • For problems, write down the steps you will start to take tomorrow. If you don’t know where to begin, write down that you will enlist someone to help you.
  • For fears, write down the fear. Write down why it is scary. Write down any action steps you can take to alleviate your fears. If it is something that is unavoidable, write down reason why you are strong enough to handle this. If you have to fake it, then do so! Come up with a “strength mantra” that you’ll use to fall back asleep. Some suggestions are “I am strong” or “I am calm” or “I turn it over to God/Universe/Fate.”


4. Stretch and Breathe. Once you have your issue worked out, do some soothing simple stretches either in bed or on the floor. A great one to do is the child’s pose. Sit on your knees and fold forward with arms outstretched. You will feel a wonderful release in your arms, shoulders, and back. After that do any stretches that you sense would feel good. Then lay down and take several long slow breaths in and out. Breathe in for a count of 8, hold for 8, and breathe out for a count of 16. This will help slow down your body and mind.

5. Mantra. Lay down in a comfortable position in your bed, and use your “strength mantra” or some other calming, soothing mantra to help you sleep. Here are some good ones:

  • Mmmmmmm
  • Om
  • Ahhhh
  • So Sleepy

For some people saying a particular prayer, such as “Hail Mary’s” can be very helpful with falling asleep. The idea is to quiet your mind by focusing on a simple word or your breath. Be kind, gentle and patient with yourself. Sleep will come. Let your thoughts be like clouds in the sky. Just watch them go by without attachment. Keep returning to your mantra and your breath.

6. When All Else Fails. If you can’t fall asleep after a long period of time, consider getting up and starting to work on your solutions. If you have too much energy, then it makes sense to get up and do something with your time. Follow your instincts about what you should do. Don’t worry about losing sleep for one night. You can handle this.

7. Consider Self-Hypnosis.  Using positive self-talk and creative visualizations can be a wonderful way to break out of the habit of insomnia or restless sleep. Here are a few resources to try out:

Prevention is the Best Medicine for a Good Night’s Sleep

To ensure a good night’s sleep in the future, consider these tips.

  • Take it easy on the caffeine. Either eliminate it or limit to morning only. The effects of caffeine last for 9 hours, so you do the math.
  • Have a bedtime ritual that is calming. You could read before bed, plan your day for tomorrow, write in your journal, meditate, listen to soothing music, or anything else that helps your mind to slow down.
  • Turn off the TV at least 30 minutes before bedtime. TV is a stimulant so establish a routine that helps you turn it off. You’ll fall asleep better.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel tired, go to bed. Don’t torture your self by not getting enough sleep.
  • Listen to your mind. If there is something on your mind before bed time, write about it in a notebook or talk to someone about it. Come up with solutions that you can work on tomorrow.
  • Build a habit of daily meditation. This will help increase the overall level of calm in your mind allowing you to get to sleep easier and stay asleep. For guidance on meditation, you can try this complete meditation program or you can purchase some binaural beats MP3s from Squareeater. Both of these are excellent and highly recommended.

Please Share!

Do you have any sleeping tips that work for you? We’d love to hear them! All comments big and small are very welcomed!

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261 Responses to Can’t Sleep at Night? Here’s What to Do

  1. elibert January 3, 2013 at 3:34 am #

    i cant sleep because im worried about …what if i cant sleep tonight? what about my activities tomorrow ? etc… then my heart starts to pump fast because im scared and worried that i cant sleep… so my medicine is prayer and going to church… that helps me to be calm and relax…

    • AgentSully January 9, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      @Elibert – you are not alone in feeling that way. Prayer is a wonderful way to approach this challenge. It calms the mind and hopefully brings us the divine help we could all use!! Wishing you all the best.

  2. jr January 3, 2013 at 4:03 am #

    if all things fail!!!i lil prescription of Legal Marijuana wouldn’t hurt…
    if you dont like smoking..some legal dispensaries
    incorporate them to almost any food product
    you can think of..(lollipop,brownies,cupcakes, etc.)
    hope this helps…=)

    • AgentSully January 9, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

      @jr – sounds interesting…..for those where it is legal.

  3. Insomniac January 16, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    I have tried every method here over the course of a few weeks but continue to have difficulties sleeping when I’m supposed to. As a result I don’t generally wake up until the afternoon or when someone else wakes me.

    As a result, I’ve considered turning to pills that may help me sleep or other form of pharmaceutical remedies, at least until my sleep patterns return to normal. What types of medication (I’m an Australian resident) would be recommended for a fifteen year-old.

  4. Yvonne Gray January 29, 2013 at 2:01 am #

    Wear ear plugs!

    Simple thing – BIG impact!

    TRY it for 3 nights and see what a difference it makes.
    If you share a room with someone or your pet, unbeknown to you, they may be disturbing your sleep patterns.

    I didn’t sleep for years, then BINGO! Tried it and had the best nights sleep ever!

    After a few weeks, I started to feel human again. Now I have lots more energy and the satisfaction that I can control my sleep patterns better.

    I hope millions read and try this – spread the word whenever you can and on blogs like this – it could have a GLOBAL impact on human mental and physical health!

    • AgentSully January 31, 2013 at 10:10 am #

      @Yvonne – thanks for that great suggestion! Simple and easy. On that same note, probably an eye mask would help some as well.

  5. ellie April 2, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    i am only a child yet i have many sleeping problems. I find it quite hard at night to sleep as i am always tossing and turning. The child position works est for me as reading a book also. I hate not sleeping at night its even more ennoying than my siblings.This is a fantastic site and i shall recommend it to others. Thanks for the great advice but some nights it does not work. I am always tired yet i cant sleep. I got a new matteress but that didnt help can you recommend something else thanks

    • AgentSully June 20, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

      Ellie- What have you tried so far?

  6. LOL April 5, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    I have been having a really bad nights sleep lately. Thanks for the help! 🙂

    • AgentSully June 16, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      @LOL – Has this been any help?

  7. nicole April 5, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    i have been 2 nights not sleeping and in the morning i would not have time to sleep and i have swimming lessons

  8. Lesley May 12, 2013 at 7:08 pm #
    • AgentSully May 26, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

      @Lesley, Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
      What you’re talking about is a natural unwinding from your day. Instead of running from it, see it as a natural part of the process. Allow it. Embrace it because this is how your body starts to relax.
      By not being upset by it, you will allow yourself to continue to slow down, and you will fall asleep.

      This one magic piece can help you.

      Allow for the first period of time to be about acknowledging how you feel in your body, your mind, your emotions. Acknowledge and then release it.

      Tell yourself that your brain will take care to work on it while you sleep.
      Really important ideas, write them down and then let them go mentally.

      Be kind and patient with yourself and you will see a great positive change.
      Please let me know how this works out for you!

  9. Angela July 18, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    my name is angela at night time I,ll cannot sleep I,ve have been taking pm medicines 2 at night my pm is not working I,m worried of something my hair when I,ll take a bath a lot of my hair fell off and depression and panic mold I,m am writing a book all about how I,ll got abuse a true story

    angela phillips

    • AgentSully August 10, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

      Angela- the more you can talk about your worries with someone you trust the better your sleep will become.

  10. michael September 22, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    I don’t know whats wrong with me. if I do to much in the day, which for most people is a normal days work I cant sleep at all. not even five minutes. up till now io have taken sleeping pills, but the dose is now getting very high and they don’t fully work. my problem is so bad it is stopping me from getting a regular job. my doc says I will sleep eventually, but you know what. going without sleep is like torture and so far I have used sleeping pills. any suggestions as to what I should do next?

    • AgentSully January 14, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

      @Michael – I have a radical suggestion for you, but I think it could really work.
      When people start having sleeping issues, thinking about sleep becomes stressful. This is the opposite to what you need to be able to sleep.
      So my suggestion is to adopt this mindset for a little while and see if it helps:
      “No matter what amount of sleep I get, everything will be fine. I will take it slow if I need to, but I won’t be upset about it. I will be calm because I know everything will be ok.”
      Then each night when you go to sleep, release your desire for sleep, release your anxiety about whether you will sleep or not. Do this knowing that tomorrow will be fine.
      Try this for a week and I think you will see positive changes.
      Please also make sure that you eliminate caffeine, alcohol, drugs, msg and any other brain/body stimulants from your diet.
      It will be a losing battle with those in your system.
      If anything take 1 aspirin at bedtime or an ibuprofen as they will relax your muscles. But don’t take anything else.
      Please let me know how that goes.

  11. ricky January 7, 2014 at 4:29 am #

    try singing a slow song in your head, just focus on it only. i sing rock a bye baby in my head and shut out EVERYTHING else.. sometimes it don;t work, but i just refocus and just keep repeating.. it works!

  12. Michael Dunlop May 11, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    i have so much to overcome. i started a new job 6 weeks ago and since then my sleeping problems have got even worse. i am taking so many sleeping pills or drinking alcohol to get to sleep. my tolerance to the pills is so great that they are practically useless. so iam setting myself a plan. iam going to at first stop taking the 20mg of ambien but continue with the 7.5mg of zopoclone. if i dont sleep i dont sleep, then the next night if needed will take the ambien as well. but i work on every other night not every night and gradually hopefully i will be able to come down to just the zopoclone. i will live on the premise that if i dont sleep one night i will the next. obviously my long term goal is to completely get off the sleeping meds. iam so anxious about sleep and not sleeping at all has been areally stressful thing for me. also i drink alcohol sometimes as well. it knocks me out, but i know its very bad for me and sleep. so i need to cut right down on that one.

    • AgentSully May 17, 2014 at 8:36 am #

      Michael, I think you are on the right path getting off the meds and alcohol. May I also recommend finding a counselor or friend who can help you learn to release your anxiety over time. I just wrote a post on anxiety. Check it out. I think it could help you. Wishing you all the best.

  13. Michelle October 6, 2014 at 3:13 am #

    Hey I have ADHD and I have been diagnosed with it ever since I was in elementary school well I had it in elementary school but they never diagnosed me until high school after that no one really helped me really learn my ADHD I kind of had to teach myself in before I was diagnosed kids would make fun of me and call me stupid. I need help,i also need help sleeping the night so I don’t think I can get sleep I start hitman and stuff because it’s happened so much in the past I am on three valarian andeven though I am 18my mom and her boyfriend made a rule saying I have to be up and ready with my shoes on every morning by 8 o’clock!;if my shoes are not on 8 o’clock there will be consequences!! So if I go to bed really late I just figure I stay up till morning!!!!
    Any help with ADHD or sleeping ADHD would be very appreciated! Thank you very much!; and also how do you know so much about all of the stuff you are like a pro I wish I was like you!!!!
    Also if you want to send me anything about ADHD that would be appreciated to you thank you and I hope to hear back!!!!!!!!!!

    • AgentSully May 29, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

      Hi Michelle,
      I don’t know anything specifically about ADHD and sleep. Please try the suggestions in the article and in the comments. I think they will help. Let me know!

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