Sleep Experts Share What They Do When They Can't Doze Off

Sleeplessness is a total drag, but luckily there are tricks you can try to avoid the whole insomnia spiral.
Sleep Experts Share What They Do When They Can't Doze Off
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When it comes to catching more Zzz's, you know the drill: Nix late-night caffeine, turn your bedroom into an oasis, and ban all electronics at least an hour before bed. Yet instead of snoozing, here you are once again, counting your ceiling tiles (there are 37). So try these handy go-to moves from sleep experts who've been there.


Relax your muscles
Use progressive muscle relaxation to nix the physical tension that's preventing you from getting your Zen on, says neurologist Sandra Block. Focus on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group in five-second intervals, starting from your toes and gradually working your way up to your head. Finish off by visualising yourself in a relaxing scenario. "I always go for the tried-and-true beach scene, with sun glittering on the waves, the heat of the towel, and the smell of coconut suntan lotion," says Block. "I'm feeling sleepy just thinking about it."


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Think about staying awake
"It sounds counterintuitive, but when I find it difficult to sleep because I'm worrying about not falling asleep, I do the opposite," says Dr Sujay Kansagra, author of My Child Won't Sleep. "Instead of worrying about falling asleep, think about staying awake. This often lessens anxiety and gives your mind a chance to relax enough to fall asleep. It's a technique known as 'paradoxical intent.' "


Make a sleepy-time smoothie
Try swapping out your usual bedtime snack for a smoothie, suggests sleep medicine specialist Robert S. Rosenberg. "I use a small amount of non-fat Greek yogurt and almond milk, both of which contain sleep-promoting nutrients like tryptophan, calcium, and magnesium," says Rosenberg. "Then I add frozen tart cherries, which have recently been shown to increase sleep by as much as one hour. I add a little cinnamon for taste, and voila!" You're ready to catch a few winks.


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Schedule "me time"
Clear your head of any pre-sleep drama by going solo. "I try to grab some 'me time' during the last hour before bed," says behavioral sleep medicine specialist Lisa Medalie. "It helps minimize the potential for distressing thought content while trying for sleep. Solo relaxing activities help clear my head from interpersonal problems and get me into the optimal de-aroused state for sleep transition."


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Keep a notebook handy
Cut back on the mental clutter that's likely to keep you awake by writing it down. "It's a technique called 'constructive worrying,'" says Rosenberg. "At least three hours before bed, write down your concerns and your solutions. Then put them in a desk drawer and leave them there for the night. My wife and I do this together." Physically setting your thoughts aside will likely keep the tossing and turning to a minimum.


Do a breathing exercise
"What I do for better sleep is focus on my breathing," says Dr Jose Colon, author of The Sleep Diet: A Novel Approach to Insomnia. "I try to breathe a little more silent, a little more slowly, and count my breathing backward from 100. When I forget what number I'm on, it's a sign that I'm drifting in and out of consciousness, and I just start over again from 100." As you count backward, try paced breathing: According to the Mayo Clinic, we take about 12 to 14 breaths a minute. With paced breathing, your number of breaths is cut in half—and word is the long, smooth breaths help to reduce stress and trigger a relaxation response.


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Make your bedroom a pet-free zone
They may make comfy bed buddies, but your kitty or pup can make it harder to drift off and stay asleep. "I don't allow my pets to sleep with me," says Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute. "They have a different circadian rhythm, which will reduce one's sleep as they move around." (Sorry, Fluffy.)