What To Do When You Can’t Fall Asleep
“I have to fall back asleep, or tomorrow is ruined!”
Many of us know this feeling all too well.
While it’s normal to feel “doomed” in the moment, your negative thoughts about the situation only make things worse.
In fact, they can turn one bad night into a pattern of bad nights.
When you worry, your body becomes alert and vigilant.
This state of physiological arousal interferes with sleep, and—if it continues over time—you may even begin to define yourself as “a bad sleeper.”
Often, the best approach isn’t medication, supplements, or even some otherwise great sleep hygiene.
Rather, it’s addressing the underlying thoughts and emotions.
So what can you do?
Try this reframing exercise.
Write down the thoughts or beliefs that come up when you don’t sleep well.
▶ I’ll never sleep well again.
▶ I can’t work out / think clearly / be in a good mood because I’m so tired.
▶ My bad sleep is going to cause me to get some terrible illness, like cancer or heart disease.
Notice how worried thoughts tend to…
✘ Predict the future (even though you’re not psychic)
✘ See things as “all-or-nothing” (“If I don’t sleep well, I can’t do ANYTHING”)
✘ Use absolutes (like “always” or “never”)
Now, reframe those beliefs using a nuanced perspective.
✅ I might lose sleep occasionally, but other nights will probably be okay.
✅ I’m not feeling my best, but I can find a few moments of joy in my day.
✅ Sleep is just one aspect of good health. If I don’t sleep well, I can still make sure I eat nutritious foods, drink enough water, and maybe get outside for a few deep breaths.
Compassion in particular can activate your calming nervous system.
Think of all those people, just like you, staring at the ceiling. Send them some imaginary kindness for their suffering, and mentally reassure them that they’ll be okay too.
Knowing a bit about sleep physiology can also be comforting.
► You probably get light sleep without realizing it.
Ever feel like you’ve been awake every minute of the night but when you really think about it, you know time couldn’t have passed that fast? You very likely did get some sleep.
► Your brain will eventually make you sleep.
It’s a physiological necessity. Although some nights you may sleep less, over time, your body will generally fall into a pattern of sleeping at least 5-6 hours a night.
The upshot: With a little trust in your body, and some intentional reframing of your thoughts, you can train yourself to believe you can handle less-than-ideal sleep.
So instead of feeling like crappy sleep is an all-out disaster, it starts to seem about as devastating as finding a small hole in your underwear.
It’s not ideal, but you’ll be just fine.
Dedicated to your success!