How To Cope When You Can’t Sleep

By ena ganguly

There are those nights where no matter what we do, we just cannot seem to fall asleep. Trust me, I’ve been there. Some things I try to do before I fall asleep is to not look at any bright screens an hour before I sleep, not drink water, journal or free write, adjust the room temperature to be cooler, and make sure the pillow case is clean and fresh. However, I am not always willing to create that kind of pre-sleep routine or, even if I do, I’m kept awake by my thoughts. 

Something I heard a while back from a healer was that the key to sleep is to not try to sleep. The more we force ourselves to sleep, the more elusive sleep becomes. Though this may not be true for everyone, it resonated with me. Since then, on nights when I’m struggling, I’ve tried to not force sleep, or think too much about it, instead letting my thoughts do their thing, while trying to release stress in my body and my mind. Releasing the stress in my body may look like breathing in and out deeply, moving in different sleeping positions and even doing light stretching. These activities have oftentimes been pivotal for me when trying to fall asleep.

However, for those rare times when it looks like I’m not going to fall asleep any time soon, I make it a point to just get out of bed and do something else, as a way to ease my frustration and hopefully, bring on sleep in other ways. 

How Do I Know When To Get Up From Bed?

For me, I realize that I cannot fall asleep any time soon when it’s been two or three hours of laying in bed, tossing and turning, and I still feel super energized or wired. Another indication is when I sense that I’m getting really frustrated to the point where I’m entering into some negative thinking and feeling angry about the lack of sleep I’m experiencing. 

Instead of ruminating in my anger or frustration with my body and the current circumstance, I would much rather just get up and allow my body to move, feel and shift some of that energy so I can feel something else, or at least feel those intense emotions and release them in a way that I want to. 

What Do I Do Once I Am Up?

Some of the suggestions I am about to offer go against the pre-sleep routine that I mentioned I created for myself, because honestly, at the point when I’m up after trying to sleep for the past few hours, I’m willing to try anything to get to a state of sleepiness. 

First, try to do activities that are calming, like reading some romantic poetry, or a favorite childhood book. Something that won’t get your heart rate up, so avoid scary stories and thriller novels (and of course social media and news outlets). After that, try to journal. It can be about what you just read, why you can’t fall asleep (e.g. any especially nagging thoughts, or a to-do list that keeps popping up when you close your eyes), or anything else that you may want to see on paper. You can even forego writing altogether, and focus on drawing, coloring or doodling, if that calms you down and makes you feel good. 

If that doesn’t really resonate with you, try listening to music or a podcast. Again, try not to listen to anything that may be too stimulating, but definitely give audio engagement a try. My favorite thing to listen to at night is nature sounds especially sounds of the rain or ocean waves. Those sounds make me feel warm and safe. Though I’m not someone who listens to podcasts, I imagine it may be soothing to hear others discuss various topics, and even informative! 

The last thing I’d recommend is watching television or just having the television on for the sake of a light or sound. It’s not the best thing to do because I find the television to be pretty stimulating, but if that’s really something you’re pulled towards, go for it! Put on a comforting television show and watch a few episodes. I know some of my friends like to watch television as they drift to sleep, and it always works for them! 

What If I Never Fall Back Asleep?

In the matters of falling asleep, we may feel many feelings, but the one we must hold onto is patience. We must be patient with ourselves, because our bodies, both mentally and physically, may be undergoing all kinds of stress, and getting frustrated or angry with our bodies, only causes further harm. If you find yourself wide awake till the wee hour of the night, just let yourself be awake. Do things that make you feel safe, comforted, tended to. Tuck yourself in. Do some self massage with your favorite oil. Stretch, meditate and breathe. Dance, sing, or cry. Let it out. 

If you never sleep one or two nights, it’s not the end of the world. You can try to take a nap during the day, and set yourself up with a doable routine the next night to get you in the mood to sleep. Take some time to recognize some possible reasons as to why you aren’t falling asleep, and if the issue persists, consider seeing your healthcare provider, a therapist, or your local community herbalist. 

Remember that you are dealing with a lot, and it’s normal for your body to process in its own way. Give yourself some time and space, and let yourself rest when you feel like you can. Your wellness is yours and no one else’s. 

Here is to wishing you good sleep and sleeping habits! And if not, then self-compassion, patience and kindness. 

What are some ways you cope when you can’t sleep? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@allgoqpoc)!

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