6 Tips to Help You Fall Asleep

It happened again last night. I lay in the dark, with my cat sleeping peacefully at the end of the bed and pitter-patter of rain outside my bedroom window. It should have been the perfect setting to fall into a peaceful sleep, but instead I found that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t turn my brain off. I was thinking about everything, from my plans for tomorrow, to how big the universe is, to why I couldn’t just fall asleep! It happens to me more frequently than I care to admit, and it is terrible. I just want to sleep, but I can’t!

This isn’t an uncommon problem, especially with students, and especially during midterms or exams! You may just find yourself, as I was, lying in bed and totally unable to fall asleep. The worst part is, the more you think about how much you HAVE to fall asleep (you know you’re going to be so tired tomorrow!) the more stressed you are, and the less you are able to fall asleep. So I’ve compiled a list of my tips and tricks for falling asleep when you just can’t.

1. Don’t clock-watch.

Eyes off the clock!

The more you watch the clock and think about how much more time you have before you have to wake up in the morning, the more stressed out you will be.

I try and not look at the time at all — it helps that I wear glasses and I can’t even see the clock when I’m not wearing them.

One strategy I use is to check the time once, close my eyes, and try to convince myself that next time I look at the clock it will be morning. That way I’m not thinking something like “If I fall asleep right now, I’ll get exactly 6 hours, 22 minutes, and 43 seconds of sleep.”

2. No screens!

There are many studies that show that using your phone, computer, or tablet can keep you from falling asleep.

Most experts recommend that you put away your screens at least one hour before bedtime. I started doing this recently, and boy has it made a difference! Instead, I read a book and listen to soft music on the radio.

Instead of using my phone as an alarm, I actually bought a real-life alarm clock. It works!

3. Try to turn off your thoughts.

I’m not talking about practicing Occlumency from Harry Potter — we all know how well that turned out. I mean trying to direct your thoughts in a certain useful direction.

I often find myself thinking about problems I can’t possibly solve while trying to sleep, or the many many things I have to do. Instead, try focusing on the moment.

Count your breaths. Think about the things around you — what are you touching? Is there pressure on one part of your body? What can you hear? This is called mindfulness, and I use it every day.

One of my favourite ways to practice mindfulness is a game called 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Count five things you see, then five things you feel, then five things you hear. Believe it or not, it really can help you sleep!

4. Avoid caffeine.

Most people will tell you not to have caffeine after dinner time, but I try to avoid it from noon onwards. Now, everyone is different – take my sister and I. I have one cup of coffee and I’m bouncing off the walls, while my sister can drink coffee at 9pm and fall asleep at 10 no problem! Figure out what works for you, and stick with it.

5. Have a bedtime routine.

Napping could be counter-productive

Mine involves stretching, having one cup of herbal tea, and reading about two chapters of a book with my cat on my lap.

The routine puts my brain into “bedtime mode”, and it makes falling asleep easier.

6. Don’t nap!

Every time I nap during the day, I end up lying awake at night. When I am really tired during the day, I push off napping and instead go to bed earlier in the evening. If I’m totally exhausted, and I really need a nap, I limit it to 30 minutes.

Now remember, everyone is different. And even with these ideas, I certainly still have those nights where I just can’t sleep at all! But some of these ideas may work for you, and you can always think of some of your own.

Remember, whatever you do, try not to freak out about not being able to fall asleep – that will just make things worse! But also remember, this happens to most people at one time or another, and it’s not the end of the world. Do your best in the morning to drag yourself out of bed and get to class, and start each day afresh.

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