4 Practical Things to Do When You Can’t Sleep

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I’ve always had sleep issues. They come in cycles. There are times when I fall asleep earlier than I would want to, but I’d wake up in the middle of the night – same time, every time. There are periods when I just can’t seem to do anything but sleep – day or night. Then there are periods when I can’t sleep till almost dawn.
One thing I have learned is to ride out those periods until my sleeping pattern adjust to a reasonable cycle. I’ve also learned – by trial and error – how to somehow lull myself to sleep during those nights when sleep won’t come; or at least reach a state of semi-relaxation so that I am not totally useless the next day.

Allow me to share with you some practical things that you can do when you can’t sleep. I hope they help you cope.

Do breathing exercises.

Everyone says these exercises work, and there must be a reason they say that. When I first tried doing them to fall asleep, I have to admit that they didn’t work for me. This is where my disclaimer comes in: You need to enter a mindset that you will let go of whatever’s bothering you. At least for that night.

Different people deal with this differently, naturally, but conditioning your mind that you want to sleep and that you are going to do breathing exercises to help you get there is imperative. Sometimes, the breathing and conditioning can go together, actually.

There are many breathing exercises, but a simple one that usually works for me is this. Breathe in as slowly and as long as you can. Breathe out in the same manner. Count breaths from one to eight, and then start over again.

If you find yourself counting beyond eight, that’s fine. Just start over. Before long, your body will settle into that rhythm, and at the very least, you will feel relaxed.

Repeat a mantra in your head.

Difficult nights usually mean that there is something that your mind is latching on to, something that is keeping you from sleeping. The chances are that if you stop mulling over it, you will fall asleep.

This is where repeating a line, a verse, or whatever calms you down over and over again. You can also use positive affirmations, and repeat them as many times and for as long as you have to till you fall asleep.

One of my favorite ones is a verse from the Bible, which goes:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and supplication, present your requests to God. And the peace of God that passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds.


You’ve probably heard this piece of advice so often. You might even have tried it and given up on it. I have found that the trick is to pick up your go-to book, the most worn and used one in your collection. That’s simply because this means that it’s your favorite one, and the object of reading to fall asleep is not to stimulate your brain, but to lull it into a relaxed state. What better way than to read a story you’ve read – and enjoyed – a thousand times before?


Some people say they don’t pray, but at the most difficult times, everyone cries out to someone. When you can’t sleep, maybe it’s best if you let a load off by talking to someone. Anyone. Talk to yourself!

It is important, though, that you do so with the intent of getting things off your chest and then letting them go – at least for the night. If you have this mindset before you pray, your chances of falling asleep will increase.

I have to say that these tips sometimes don’t do the trick, but my success rate depends on my mindset.

Why don’t you share your own “practical things to do when you can’t sleep”?

Image via Alyssa Miller

2 thoughts on “4 Practical Things to Do When You Can’t Sleep

  1. I have some of the same problems you describe and I use some of the same strategies, plus a few more.
    A therapist convinced me that mindful meditation was as good as sleep, which helps me unhook, sometimes. I count backwards by 7 to get off of ruminations. I practice progressive relaxation; tensing the major muscle groups, starting with my feet, and consciously releasing each section of my body. I schedule my life so I can sleep in and catch up. I do a tapping procedure before bedtime, call “EFT.” I journal. I imagine going down some safe incline and relax more every time I take a step. I drink warm milk before going to bed. I turn off the screens …. which is what I need to do now.
    Good night!

  2. I do a chakra meditation – I place my hands on each of six of the chakras — lower belly (just above the pubis); mid belly; upper belly (just below the ribs); heart; throat;and forehead — and focus on relaxing that area for three breaths.

    I carry a lot of tension in my belly.

    I also find it helpful to lie in crocodile pose — face down with hands under your forehead. Normally when doing this pose on the floor your palms are down but in a bed you need a little more breatning room so I put one hand in a fist with the thumb side up and wrap my othe hand around it. This keeps my nose from squashing into the mattress.

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