You’re tired, you’ve been thinking about going to bed since dinner, and you can’t wait to wrap yourself in some blankets and start snoozing. Yet, the moment your head hits the pillow, you just can’t seem to sleep. Does this sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone: between 50-70 million U.S. adults have some sort of sleep disorder.
Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Any less, and you’ll likely see the negative impacts of sleep deprivation: things like a weakened immune system, irritability, and lack of motivation. Let’s explore a few options to assure you’re getting the rest you deserve.
What to Do if You Can’t Sleep
It’s easy to feel discouraged after many restless nights, you might even start to think that your sleep is totally out of your control. However, there are small, simple things you can do to try to improve your sleep quality. Read on for some tips that you can start implementing tonight.
Create a sleep hygiene routine
You might consider “bedtime” to be the moment your head hits the pillow, but it actually starts before that — or at least it should. The actions we do before trying to fall asleep can signal to our bodies that it’s time to start winding down.
Everyone’s sleep routine will look a little different. You can try turning off all screens at least 30 minutes before you plan to sleep, and doing a quiet activity, like reading or coloring. Maybe you’d like to savor a cup of tea, or pamper yourself with some skincare.
Whatever you decide to do before bed, being consistent is the most important part. Over time, we can condition our bodies to expect and prepare for sleep by repeating the same behaviors in the same order each night.
Fix your sleep environment
Creating an ideal sleep environment is crucial for restful nights. By being intentional about your space, you can set yourself up for success when it comes to falling (and staying) asleep.
Make sure the room is at a pleasant temperature — cooler is usually better for sleeping. And pay attention to your body for clues on how you could be more comfortable (i.e. do you need a firmer pillow or heavier blanket?)
Next, focus on lighting and sound. Understandably, dark rooms are the most conducive for sleep, so it might be worth getting some blackout curtains if light from outside is leaking in. As for sound, some people prefer total silence while others like to drift off to a white noise machine or some relaxing music. Experiment and figure out what works best for you.
Focus on your breathing
Once you’ve set your alarm and turned out the lights, you might feel like your mind is the most active it’s been all day. Replaying the day’s events or thinking forward to what you have to do tomorrow are common thought loops many people experience around bedtime. Others think about the fact that they can’t sleep, or do mental math every 5 minutes to figure out how many hours of rest they’ll get, stressing themselves out even more.
When you can’t seem to quiet your mind, turn your attention towards your breath. Observe the sensation of your belly rising with each inhale and falling with each exhale. Every time you start thinking about something else, notice that it’s happened and gently bring your awareness back to your breath.
You can also silently count your breaths, going up to 10 and then starting over. This gives your mind something simple and repetitive to focus on, and ideally will eventually lull you to sleep.
How Therapy Can Help
If you’ve already tried some of the physical adjustments above and still find that you can’t sleep, you may be facing a bigger issue. All aspects of our wellness are interconnected, and while it might not be obvious on the surface, something that seems completely unrelated to sleep could be the reason you’re having trouble getting rest.
Your insomnia could be a symptom of something physical, so it’s a good idea to consult your doctor. If you’ve done that and are still struggling, seeing a therapist can help you identify the root causes of your sleep problems. If you’re constantly thinking about a stressor in your life as you try to fall asleep, therapy can give you an outlet to talk about this stressor and brainstorm ways to handle it. Whether it be family issues, a demanding job, or a new relationship, working to improve your waking life will likely have a positive impact on your sleep patterns as well.
Maybe it’s not a particular stressor that’s keeping you up at night — maybe it’s more general ruminations about the past, which can be a sign of depression, or worries about the future, which can be a sign of anxiety. Talking with a therapist will give you an outlet for these thoughts, and can help you start to figure out how to manage them better.
If you’re at a total loss as to why you can’t sleep, that’s okay. Sometimes our own introspection can only get us so far, and therapy is a great place to explore these questions with the help of a trained mental health professional.
Consider the Talkspace Insomnia Program
Finding a therapist is not always easy, and finding one who specializes in insomnia can be even harder. The Talkspace Insomnia Program simplifies the process and can help you start your journey to better sleep today.
The program is developed by experts in CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia), and includes 8 weeks of guidance and exercises to improve your sleep. After taking a brief assessment, you’ll be matched with a CBT-I trained therapist that meets your preferences. You can message your therapist at any time, so you won’t have to worry about scheduling hassles.
As the program progresses through the 8 weeks, you’ll work with your therapist to create a personalized sleep plan. You’ll also learn cognitive exercises to help control intrusive thought patterns. By the end of the program, you’ll have a plan for the future so you can continue to get high-quality sleep.
You deserve to get a good night’s rest, so see if the Talkspace Insomnia Program is right for you — getting started today is quick and easy
Commonly Asked Questions
Having trouble falling asleep doesn’t automatically mean you have a sleeping disorder, but it is most likely related to stress or poor sleep hygiene. If you can’t fall asleep because your mind is racing with rumination, you should work to identify the stressor to get relief. If the stressor is more general, then you might be dealing with either anxiety or depression. Nonetheless, poor sleep habits can disrupt your sleep too. Stick to a regular sleep schedule, cement an evening routine, and avoid screens before going to bed. Remember that struggling to sleep is a common problem that can be treated.