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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. Kayleigh June 13, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    I have really bad eczema and at the moment i really can not sleep due to this, i get like half an hours sleep some nights and then have to get up for work and am literally falling to sleep on the way to work and at work.

    I will be tired down stairs and drfiting off but as soon as i get up and go to bed i am wide awake again and can not settle. My eyes will be heavy and i will feel really tired but i can not seem to just fall asleep!

    It is really getting me down at the moment with my skin being so bad as well i just want to sleep during the week as i find that now on a weekend, all i do is spend it in bed catching up on sleep iv missed!

    I take antihistermines but these dont seem to work…..some one help me please

    • AgentSully June 20, 2012 at 11:47 am #

      Hi Kayleigh- I’m sorry to hear of your difficulties. Have you been to a dermatologist? They can probably help you. I have a cousin who has been able to control her very bad eczema by changing her diet. She experimented with deleting foods over time and found what triggers the eczema so she can avoid it.
      Also, my son has had mild eczema and what I found works well for him is topical A&D ointment. The skin heals up in a few days.
      Let me know if that helps.
      Wishing you all the best.

  2. KitKat rocks July 1, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    U guys know those stormy nights where
    ya can’t sleep right? Well I am in the
    middle of those and I can’t sleep. Ugh.
    My eyes will close but I CAN’T go to sleep! This information definetly works. It helped me a lot!

    • AgentSully August 22, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

      @KitKat – I hope that was just a one time thing for you. How’s your sleep now. Which suggestions helped the most for you?

  3. Celina July 10, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    I am having trouble with sleeping. I go to bed at 12 or sometime i try to be earlier. But however i cant sleep my mind. I keep awake all night. I also get up late in the morning because of it. I feel tired all day. I am a teenager.

    • AgentSully August 22, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

      Celina – Please let me know which of the suggestions you have tried so far so I can try to help you.

  4. Lillylolol DDR July 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    I find it easy to sleep is by dreaming I’m an animal or a famouse person or somebody of telly or count sheep

    • AgentSully August 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

      Lilly – what a cool and original idea! Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. anonymos August 9, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    i cant sleep and its 11:18 i alaways freak out at night thinking there will be burgulers that will break in and kill me 🙁 i try not to think about it but i have a realy crazy imagination so i think anythings scary im 11 and im wrecked i the mornings too HELP!!
    xx anonymos

    • AgentSully August 22, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

      @Anonymous – The solution for you comes from the Dale Carnegie course I took many years ago:

      If you have a problem, instead of worrying about it, take all the action you can to solve it.

      So in your case you should talk to your parents or your caretakers about your concerns. You should ask them what is in place in your home to keep your family safe such as :
      -alarms
      -dogs who will bark at intruders
      – windows and doors locked
      – outside lights on at night

      You might want to see if your parents will join a neighborhood watch program.
      Talk it out with someone who cares about you, whether that is a teacher, friend, parent, grandparent, etc and ask them for ideas on how you can feel safer at night.

      Once you have taken action to ensure your safety then you can begin to work on strengthening your mind not to worry. You can do this by writing down your thoughts and by talking things over with someone who is wise and cares about you. And then over time, at night talk yourself down from the scary ledge in your mind. Practice will strengthen this habit and before you know it, you can conquer your fears with logic and strength of mind.

      Please let me know if this helps!

  6. Ray August 20, 2012 at 1:05 am #

    I also suffer from stress,so i find it difficult to sleep and wake up every couple of hours,i find saying hail
    Marys and our father prayers help me get back to sleep.

    • AgentSully August 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

      Ray – that’s a great suggestion. I used to use that method. It always worked for me. These days, my sleep is very easy from building the relaxation habit.
      Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. Georgia Mc August 24, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    I’ve had sleeplessness for ages I can’t sleep what so ever i’m to young to book a doctors appointment by myself, I’ve tried all the techniques and its not helping, 4 days ago I was given a tablet that makes me drowsy, that worked but I tried them again and they stopped working and now I haven’t slept for 3 nights and days. I need some more advice please. :'( if this helps in any way i’m 15 years old, and have just moved home. -0-

  8. Georgia Mc August 31, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    its now the 01st of September and haven’t slept any more than 3 hours sleep a night. i wrote a message on the 24th of august, please,i need some one to write a comment or some thing. its doing my head in. i talked to the school nurse and she said i’ll soon get so tired that i’ll fall asleep, what help she was. so please, i need some advice, i’ll take anything. :'(

    • AgentSully September 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

      @Georgia – did you check out all the ideas in the comments?

  9. Rose September 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    I can’t sleep i am going to be mad i did every stuff but still i can’t sleep :'(

    • AgentSully September 10, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

      @Rose – some of these suggestions take time. Please read through the comments too because I’ve given more advice there too. Wishing you good sleep soon.

  10. Tristan September 22, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    What if your worried about falling asleep, do you
    Jot it down ? And the what do you put on the paper
    For a solution? Pills?

    • AgentSully October 3, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

      @Tristan – jotting down your thoughts is a good idea if you simply can’t let go of your thoughts. Best to do this before going to sleep. If you wake in the middle of the night only write down important things, otherwise try to “not think” by not allowing your brain to hook into thoughts as they enter your brain. Instead just focus on your breathing and a sense of relaxing each part of your body. Let me know if that helps. Stay away from pills if you can. But if you can’t try an over the counter sleep aid or antihistamine. (They are usually the same ingredients). And then only use them to break a cycle of worry, but not for more than a few days. Put more focus on strengthening your mind and new habits (“not thinking” upon waking in the middle of the night). Please let me know how that goes!

  11. Jen September 23, 2012 at 5:19 am #

    It’s 514 am and I’m awake. I have tried all your suggestions and still can’t manage to get a good nights rest. I think my problem is being such a light sleeper. I wish I didn’t hear every creak in the house or every car passing through our block, but unfortunately I do and once I’m awake, I’m up for hours. I try to stay herbal, but I think I’m gonna have to get some meds to help me sleep. Any ideas!!

  12. JAWAID IQBAL October 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    I am feeling better now, i think its because my worries are temporarily sidelined.i sleep well now.

    • AgentSully May 17, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      Jawaid, glad to hear that. I recommend checking out my recent article on anxiety. I think you might like it. Let me know how that goes.

  13. EK October 7, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    I tried all of these but still can’t go to sleep! The thing I always worry about is death and if someone’s going to break into my house, etc. What should I do? And if all else fails?

    • AgentSully May 17, 2014 at 8:48 am #

      EK I recommend checking out my recent article on anxiety. I think it could help you. Let me know how that goes.

  14. muthu October 12, 2012 at 2:43 am #

    Hi
    I had pains like needle and pins 1 year back and i went to doctor and she gave Tryptomer, anti depressant medicine, I used to take that for 2 months and i discontinued that after 2nd month, But after withdrawal i didnt get sleep , I am having sleep problems for the past 6 months and it is horrible.When i tried to sleep i can sleep for 2 houurs but in that 2 hours horror dreams and i feel very fearful and it seems i am going mad in my sleep.So many thoughts are coming as traffic jam.I am not in medicine for these 6 months.Before taking the Tryptomer medicine, i am sure that i didnt have any sleep problems at that time.I dont want to take sleeping pills again.What to do? I dont know why i am not getting proper sleep.Because of this i worried a lot

    Thanks
    Muthu

  15. colin November 4, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    its 03.21 another night tossing and turning and cant sleep yet feel tired and itchy eyes and headache

    this has been with me for years and i only seem to be able to sleep during the day

  16. colin November 4, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    for some reason as soon as lights out and i put head down then its like my mind gors into overdrive and replays hundreds of memories from my youth and through my army days and so on and on and im now 31 yet find myself awake at 3am wondering why i argued with someone when i was 14 at school

    i seem unable to stop replaying past events when i try to sleep at night and am normally awake until 11 or 12 the next afternoon where i become so tired i virtually pass out or im awake for 2 to 3 days in a row then sleep for a whole day

    im just so tired of this now constantly slipping into micro sleeps and things always feeling tired it affects my worklife now as struggle to keep jobs

    its annoying me so much i think i have an over reactive brain at night for some reason

    • AgentSully May 10, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

      Colin,
      Have you tried any of the suggestions here?
      Give it some time for the changes to take effect. If you still have trouble, check with your primary care doctor for further assistance.
      Let me know how it’s going.
      Wishing you all the best.

  17. Michael Dunlop November 10, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    if i do to much in the day, and it doesnt need to be much, when i go to bed my head feels like it is tying itself into knots and i cant sleep at all. not even five minutes. it doesnt matter how tired iam i cant sleep. up till now my solution has been sleeping pills or alchol. now the sleeping pills dont work and im left with the alchol option. not a very good solution. im thinking of buying the sleeping solution meditation cd, but it is $125.

    • AgentSully February 2, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

      @Michael Dunlop – skip the alcohol. It’s very bad for sleeping. Please try the tips listed here and in the comments. Please let me know how that goes for you. Be patient with yourself.

  18. Matt November 14, 2012 at 2:53 am #

    For the last two months I’ve been living with this reoccurring problem where I can’t fall asleep until 2 or 3am and always wake up in less than 3 hours. I wake up and cannot go back to sleep. I have been living on roughly 3 1/2-
    – 4 hours of sleep a night. I get tired during the day but cannot sleep when I try to nap. My body has been feeling more and more exhausted. I have always had a sleep problem the last year but it has gotten 1000% worse. I don’t know what to do. . .

    • AgentSully February 2, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

      Matt,
      Please read through my comment responses and try some of this advice. Let me know if anything helps.

  19. Maryam Nardo January 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    Really helpful. I’m feeling sleepy right now! 🙂

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  1. What To Do When You Are Tired | Life Learning Today - August 21, 2012

    […] Sleep 7-9 hours a night. You can figure out how much is right for you by allowing yourself to wake up naturally. If you feel awake, then you’ve slept the right amount of time. Becoming an early riser can help with getting your sleep onto a regular schedule. If you have trouble sleeping, click here. […]

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  1. […] Sleep 7-9 hours a night. You can figure out how much is right for you by allowing yourself to wake up naturally. If you feel awake, then you’ve slept the right amount of time. Becoming an early riser can help with getting your sleep onto a regular schedule. If you have trouble sleeping, click here. […]

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