What To Do (and Not Do) When You Can't Sleep

sleep sleep tips May 30, 2022
Man not able to sleep

It happens once or twice a week.

Either I fall asleep just fine only to wake up a few hours later and cannot fall right back asleep, or I can't fall asleep despite being tired.

This post was created because of the latter. Yes, I literally sketched out an outline before the idea vaporized!

To put things into context, here's my bedtime routine (something I believe would serve everyone):

  • If I have caffeine, I cease consuming it at least 6 hours before bedtime. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours. But notice I wrote IF. Many days, I don't have any caffeine.
  • I take a magnesium supplement. Two capsules at midday and another capsule 2 hours before bedtime.
  • Around 8:30 pm, I stop looking at screens, including the television and my iPhone. I do this because the blue light emitted and the stimulation from whatever I'm watching tends to keep me awake.
  • I take a warm/hot shower in the hour before my head hits the pillow.
  • I keep my room at 69°F and very dark. I also have a couple of fans going (I need air moving around to ensure a good night's sleep).
  • I write my goals. I don't think about or read them. I write them out in my planner.
  • I read a print book that is not too thought-provoking or exciting. The point is to fade into sleep, not stay awake! 

However, this routine failed me recently.

I tossed and turned for an hour, but sleep evaded me.

Before I went down a bad rabbit trail, I remembered what didn't work from past experiences when I couldn't sleep:

  • I looked at my Apple Watch. I already knew I wasn't sleeping. What possible good could be looking at my Apple Watch do for me to get back to sleep?
  • I let myself get anxious. Anxiety is a peculiar animal that can quickly spin out of control. I began to get worried about not being able to fall asleep, which then caused me to become more anxious as I continued to look at my Apple Watch! Oh, my goodness!
  • I kept tossing and turning. Switching from trying to sleep on my back, then my right side, then my left, then my stomach is an exercise in futility.

I did this when I caught myself before spinning out of control. 

I sat up in bed, turned on the 40-watt, yellow light bulb on my nightstand (do not get a light bulb that is daylight!), and began reading a print book until I got tired.

Remarkably, it didn't take long before I was asleep.

I know part of this was because I didn't allow myself to go down the anxiety rabbit trail.

While you can't "catch up on your sleep," one night of suboptimal sleep is not going to kill you.

Tracking your sleep is essential. 

There are many apps and devices you can use to track your sleep.

While I've used a few over the years, I am currently using SleepWatch (iOS only). They have a free and a paid version, and I am on the paid version because I like the additional features. Plus, the app is automatic. I don't have to do anything for it to track my sleep. It's an excellent app and works with my Apple Watch (not required). The average rating, with over 3123K reviews, is 4.7.

Other options I have used include AutoSleep (iOS only, requires an Apple Watch, but the app is not updated often) and Sleep Cycle (iOS and Android, however, it is not automatic).

The takeaway 

When you struggle either falling asleep or falling back to sleep, don't toss and turn, or get angry, which leads to anxiety (I get it, you have to get up early tomorrow for an important meeting, but getting mad about not being able to sleep is not going to cause you to fall asleep). Instead, grab a book and read it until you get tired. You can also meditate, pray, or journal.

Sleep is too important to lose sleep over struggling to sleep! 🤣

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