Breathe, Sleep, Repeat: 11 Things to Do When You Can’t Sleep

things to do when you can't sleep
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Sleep troubles can stem from a multitude of reasons, and it’s not always easy to shake them off. Even while I was in high school, I struggled with getting up early, because I could never get myself to sleep on time (and not for a lack of trying). These troubles have crossed over into my adulthood, and as I refuse to take potentially harmful and addictive medication — I needed to find an alternative way.

Lack of sleep can cause a lot of problems in your daily life, and I for one am not going to take this lying down. For all of my fellow insomniacs, I have composed a list of 11 things to do when you can’t sleep, so you can have the sleep routine you deserve.

The Best 11 Things to Do When You Can’t Sleep

#1. Don’t freak out

When you have a hard time falling asleep, it’s usually caused by all of the stress you experience during the day. Problems can also arise when you’re trying to prepare yourself for a stressful event, and not allowing your body to relax. However, there’s an easy way to turn this negative into a positive.

Think about it, you’re in a dark, comfortable room alone with your thoughts, without any external distractions. Nobody’s calling you, or asking you questions; you don’t have to do anything. You can try distracting yourself by counting sheep or flooding your mind with other thoughts — just keep calm and carry on.

#2. Think positive

You probably get that antsy, anxious feeling when you’re having trouble falling asleep. Looking at your phone or clock every five minutes and counting down the hours of sleep you have left isn’t helpful, and will keep you up even longer. You can help yourself by you realizing your mind is spiraling out of control and that you’re not helping yourself.

Negative thoughts are never helpful, and there are many positives you can think about when you can’t fall asleep. You can try thinking about upcoming vacations or other events you’re looking forward to in order to cheer yourself up. Putting your mind at ease is one of the best things to do when you can’t sleep.

#3. Keep your eyes on the prize

When you start over-thinking things or situations that have happened during the day, your mind goes into overdrive. The surge of mixed feelings confuses your body even further and makes your brain think that it’s not time for you to go to sleep yet. Be honest with yourself — you’re not going to solve anything late at night.

The best thing you can do is keep a pad of paper next to you if you’re afraid of forgetting something important. Other than that, pick one thought to focus on, and prevent your mind from going all over the place. If counting sheep doesn’t help, you can try focusing on something more specific, like organizing your library or filling a treasure chest.

#4. Pretend you’re tired

With everything that’s going on in your life, there’s not enough time for a good night’s sleep, right? Wrong. Getting enough sleep at night is the best thing you can do for yourself. However, your brain likes to play tricks with you, and make you feel like you’re not tired enough to go to bed yet.

By consciously thinking you’re exhausted, you can trick your brain into feeling the same way. Do the things you would ordinarily do when you are tired, like yawning or slowly closing your eyes. This method works like a placebo, and even if you don’t actually feel like you’re about to drift off; you can make your body believe that you are.

#5. Create your ideal sleeping environment

Even if you can’t control your mind, you can control your surroundings. You don’t need any external stimulants keeping you up, on top of your busy brain. Thus, it’s extremely important to create the best sleeping conditions for your body and mind to feel at ease.

If you’re too hot or too cold, try adjusting the temperature in your room, or covering yourself with a blanket. If there’s some outside noise bothering you every night, consider investing in headphones specially designed for sleeping.

Another thing I’ve found quite helpful is a sleep mask, as it helps my brain realize that it’s time to go to sleep. Getting a comfortable mattress is another way many people are kept from getting a good night’s rest. Check out this guide from SleepStandards to choose a right mattress for you.

#6. Read until you feel sleepy

I remember back in high school when I was trying to study for an important test, the letters would lull me to sleep; and I’d be rudely woken up by my parents a couple of hours later. Reading typically isn’t a stimulating activity (unless you’re on the last couple of chapters of The Kite Runner). Reading also helps distract you from your problems by making you follow a specific storyline.

Also, try to avoid using your phone or Kindle, and buy a paper book instead. Dim the lights or use a lamp so you can read comfortably, and not have to get up to turn it off when you want to sleep. Lastly, don’t worry about finishing a chapter, or remembering where you left off — stop reading when you start feeling sleepy.

#7. Good beats for a good night sleep

According to a study by Tabitha Trahan from the University of Sheffield, UK — music helps you sleep better. Classical music, in particular, can help you fall asleep with more ease. However, if you prefer heavy metal, feel free to listen to it, just don’t turn the volume all the way up.

Even though it’s commonly thought that music without lyrics is better for you to fall asleep, this might not be the case for everyone. For example, I prefer a song that I can sing along to in my mind. You can also imagine you’re a popular singer at one of your shows, and immerse yourself in the experience to help fall asleep quickly.

#8. Listen to an audiobook or podcast

Remember when you were a kid and your parents would read you bed-time stories? Audiobooks and podcasts are the modern-day versions of this relaxing activity. You can immerse yourself in the different voices and characters and listen to a story about almost anything.

If you opt for an audiobook, you can listen to some of the classics like The Sleeping Beauty; or one of the current favorites such as Game Of Thrones. However, if you decide on a podcast, you can take your pick from a number of different topics and styles. Remember, it’s not about retaining the information — it’s about listening to a soothing voice that helps you fall asleep.

#9. Take deep breaths with the 4-7-8 exercise

Breathing is by far one of the simplest things to do when you can’t sleep. Mastering a breathing technique can help slow down your brain when it’s going a mile a minute, by keeping you focused on breathing. Just follow these 4 simple steps, and you will be sleeping like a baby in no time.

  • Inhale for 4 seconds
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds
  • Exhale for 8 seconds
  • Repeat

By repeating this simple technique, your brain will get all of the oxygen it needs, and you will be able to fall asleep.

#10. Modern solutions for an old problem

Even though most people will tell you to keep the electronics out of your bedroom, sometimes they’re a necessary evil. There is a plethora of apps designed to help with this exact problem. For example, you can download a meditation app that will guide you through breathing exercises and other meditation techniques.

If this isn’t your cup of tea, you can also find Sleep Sound apps that will play relaxing music created specifically for sleeping. Alternatively, some apps include rain and thunder sounds to help relax your mind to a state of bliss. However, always remember to use them on night mode, so the light coming from your screen doesn’t bother you.

#11. Get out of bed

After you’ve gone to bed, and you’re still awake after 20–30 minutes, there’s no point in lying around any longer. There is a great number of things to do when you can’t sleep, which will make you feel tired enough to fall asleep. For example, your body will look forward to getting some rest after half an hour of folding laundry or reading an old college textbook.

So, next time you’re tossing and turning, try to find a reason to get up and be active. It can be anything from doing a few push-ups to reading a magazine. Once you feel your eyes starting to shut down, get back to bed and you will drift off immediately.


Not being able to fall asleep when you want or need to can be a living nightmare. Lack of sleep causes a lot of frustration, which in turn stops you from sleeping again.

To stop this vicious cycle, there are at least 11 things to do when you can’t sleep, and most of them are easy and painless. With these tricks, you can help yourself out and sleep and dream better. Finally, the best advice I can give you is to free your mind, and the rest will follow.

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Naomi Kizhner

Naomi Kizhner

On, I want to share tips, tricks, and quotes that will hopefully inspire someone who might be struggling. Also, I wish to help others find their true passion in life and cut out any negativity.
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