9 tips for better sleep: What to do when insomnia keeps you up at night

Good quality sleep plays an important role in your physical and mental health. It also boosts your immune system and promotes emotional wellness by giving your mind time to rest and recharge. Stress and anxiety can make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep. If you already suffer from insomnia, experiencing stressful situations can make it worse. At the same time, lack of sleep can make you feel anxious and tense. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help you get the sleep you need.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Some who have the condition may wake too early and not be able to get back to sleep, or they may still feel tired when they wake up. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling less energetic and irritable and make it difficult to concentrate when you’re awake. Over time, it can even contribute to serious health problems.

Sleep helps keep you healthy

A good night’s sleep is important for your health. (If you work nights, a good day’s sleep is just as important.) The physical and mental health benefits of sleep may surprise you:

  • Sleep boosts the immune system and strengthens the body’s defenses.
  • Lack of sleep can make some vaccines less effective.
  • Sleep sharpens your decision-making skills and improves your memory.
  • Lack of sleep can make you irritable and less energetic.
  • Sleep can prevent you from gaining weight.

Take steps to reduce anxiety and stress

It’s hard to sleep when current events or life-changing situations keep you up at night. For some, insomnia lasts a few days and goes away on its own. Others suffer from the condition over longer periods of time. Anxiety and stress are among the most common causes of chronic insomnia. Learning how to manage stress and stop worrying takes time and practice.

Here are some ways to relieve anxiety:

Make a to-do list. Sleep is hard to come by when you’re stressed out over everything you need to do. Writing everything down on paper (or keeping a list on your phone) can help your brain relax. Prioritize tasks that are truly important and divide large projects into smaller tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And be willing to say no. You can’t do everything for everybody.

Stay active. Physical activity is good for your body and mind. It can also help reduce stress and improve your mood. But avoid exercising too late in the day.

Listen to music. Soft, relaxing music can calm your mind and relax your body.

Practice yoga. As a mind-body workout that combines stretching poses with deep breathing and relaxation exercises, yoga is particularly effective at reducing anxiety and stress. Find a gym or yoga studio that live-streams free online classes.

Try relaxation techniques. Deep breathing and muscle relaxation can help rejuvenate your mind and body. Deep breathing is simple. Just close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths. Make each breath deeper than the last. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Muscle relaxation is something you can do in bed. Start by making the muscles in your toes as tense as you can. Hold for a count of 10 and relax. Do the same thing with your lower legs and continue with every muscle group in your body, working your way up to the top of your head.

Learn how to meditate. If you’re new to mediation, mobile apps can help guide you. Start by sitting or lying quietly for a few minutes and focus on your breath. As you inhale and exhale, pay attention to the present moment without judgment.

Volunteer in your community. Serving others can contribute to positive mental health by helping to put your own anxiety and stress into perspective.

9 tips for better sleep

Get on a sleep schedule. Establish a regular sleep rhythm that supports your biological clock. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.

Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Give your body and mind time to slow down before you go to bed. Spend a half hour listening to quiet music, taking a bath, or reading a book.

Create a quiet, comfortable sleep environment. Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Noise and light can interfere with sleep, as can a bedroom that’s too hot. Block light with blackout curtains or an eye mask. Block excess noise with a fan, sound machine, or earplugs. Change your sheets often and make your bed every day.

Make sure your mattress and pillows are right for you. You may need a firmer or softer mattress to sleep comfortably. Experiment with different types of pillows and try a foam topper.

Train your body to associate your bed with sleep. Use the bedroom only for sleeping and sex. Don’t watch TV or work in bed.

Pay attention to what you drink and eat before bed. Avoid heavy, rich food and stimulants like caffeine, chocolate, and nicotine. Don’t drink too many liquids, especially alcohol, which can interfere with your sleep cycle.

Limit screen time. Screens emit blue light that can disrupt your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in sleep. Avoid watching TV, working on your computer, or spending time on your phone before bed.

Be careful with naps. Long naps late in the day can make it harder to sleep at night. If you need a nap, limit it to 30 minutes.

If you can’t fall asleep, get out of bed. Forcing yourself to try to sleep only increases your anxiety. Get up and do something relaxing, such as reading. Keep the lights dim and avoid screens. Go back to bed when you’re tried.

When to see a doctor about insomnia

If you still can’t get a good night’s sleep after trying these techniques, ask your doctor about seeing a sleep specialist or therapist. While sleeping pills may be effective in the short-term, all medications have potential side effects. Overtime, sleeping pills can make insomnia worse. A sleep specialist or therapist can offer more effective ways to help address insomnia so you can get the rest you need and be your best during the day.