You feel exhausted and you’ve been yawning all day, so it’s no surprise when you fall asleep almost as soon as your head hits the pillow. At last, you’re in the clear for a good night’s sleep…until 2:00 AM rolls around. Suddenly, you’re wide awake and you can’t fall back asleep.
You’ve tossed and turned, but you can’t return to a blissful state of slumber. Nothing has worked — not even the old counting sheep method. What should you do? We consulted a few mental health experts to find the answer. Here are their tips and tricks.
Relax your body.
You can’t fall asleep if your body is tense or anxious. That’s why Sydney Faith Rose, a New York City-based trauma therapist, suggested scanning your body, starting from the top of your head and working your way down. “Focus on relaxing your muscles,” she said. “Squeeze the muscles of your face tight and then release them.” Slowly move down, using the same technique with your shoulders, arms, hands, abs, legs and feet.
If that doesn’t work, Rose also recommended giving yourself a massage or rolling out your neck and shoulders.
Try deep breathing.
This technique can help you calm down and get back to snoozing. Nikki Lacherza-Drew, a licensed psychologist and the owner of Vici Psychological Care, advocated for this exercise: Breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and breathe out for four seconds. Another one of her go-to options is to picture the words “calm and peace” as you breathe in and out. Let the words expand as you inhale and shrink as you exhale.
I can’t even count the number of times I’ve turned to meditation when I have trouble sleeping, and it has always helped. If you’re new to meditation, Rose noted that you can picture “something that will help you feel calm,” whether it’s a loved one, “a soothing, warm, golden light,” or “a place that feels safe for you.”
If you prefer using apps, you could try Calm, Balance, Insight Timer, or a plethora of other options. My personal favorite is Headspace; in fact, my husband and I occasionally use our Alexa to listen to Headspace’s Sleepcasts at night.
When I can’t fall asleep to begin with, I often pick up a book. As much as I love reading — and trust me, I could read all day — eventually I get tired. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Lacherza-Drew advised going for “something neutral that won’t be a page-turner, but nothing that might cause anxiety — like a true crime read.” Make sure it’s a physical book or a magazine, which brings me to another tip…
Don’t reach for your phone.
I know it’s tempting, but grabbing your trusty cell isn’t a good plan. The blue light from your electronic device “suppresses the body’s release of melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel drowsy,” according to the Sleep Foundation. Scrolling through your phone when you can’t sleep can instead make you feel more alert.
That’s why Lacherza-Drew said “[e]lectronics should actually stay out of the bedroom, if possible.” I can attest to the effectiveness of this. After reading Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution in 2016, I’ve kept my phone out of the bedroom. It’s been a game-changer, not to mention a welcome break from having my phone next to me all day.
When insomnia hits and you can’t get back to sleep, I hope these bits of advice come in handy.