When I was a kid, I went through an “I can’t sleep” stage—I’d lie awake until three in the morning before hysterical crying for my parents to comfort me. This happened every night for probably several months. Let me just say, it’s my least favorite memory (and my parents’).
But one of the things that stuck out from that time was a trick my mom taught me to help calm me down. She’d tell me to close my eyes and picture a treasure chest. Then, she’d tell me to take all of my thoughts, one by one, and put them in that chest—and when I was done, lock it up.
I’m not saying this is the ultimate solution to falling asleep (although I’ll admit I occasionally still use it when I’m homesick). But I know how hard it can be to struggle with rest when you’re stressed, anxious, or worried what tomorrow will bring for you.
So, when you just can’t seem to turn off, it’s always best to have a back-up strategy—and I’ve got 19 options for you to try right now (unless you’re reading this at the office, in that case, do not try to fall asleep).
1. Think Positive
It’s that easy—science says ridding your mind of those negative thoughts (“It’s so late, I’ll never get to sleep at this rate,” “I’m going to be so tired tomorrow at work,” “This stinks”) calms you down and makes you more likely to fall asleep.
2. Pick One Thing to Focus On
You know how they always say to try counting sheep? Well, focusing on something specific (like filling a treasure chest) could be just what you need to get sleepy. Choose to focus on your breath, or repeat a calming mantra over in your head—as long as it’s not “I can’t sleep,” because see above.
3. Pretend to Be Tired
Trick your brain into thinking you’re exhausted by, well, pretending you are. Concentrate on the kinds of things you would feel if you were tired, like drooping eyes, the room darkening, or the sensation of sinking into your bed—and before you know it, you just might experience them!
4. Adjust Your Temperature
What’s your ideal sleeping environment? Even if you can’t completely control the heating and cooling system in your home, you can control your body. So, put the fan closer to your face when you’re too hot or bundle up when you’re too cold. Science proves that the ideal sleeping temperature is 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, so best to shoot for that!
No, not on your Kindle or phone, but with a solid, made-of-paper book—to help you out, here are 21 books that career coaches recommend. Dim the lights in your room (or use a lamp) just enough so you can see comfortably, and read—don’t worry about remembering the story or getting to a certain page, just take it in until you feel yourself getting sleepy.
6. Listen to Music
Now, I’m not suggesting you go blasting an intense album (unless that works for you), but some simple, acoustic, minimal percussion music might be perfect for getting your eyes to droop.
7. Or Try a Podcast or Audiobook
Choose your favorite podcast or a non-action-packed audiobook, preferably one that’s dense, and let the soothing voices quiet your mind. It’s not about retaining the information—it’s about giving yourself some comforting background noise.
Bonus tip: Try out the Sleep With Me podcast that’s literally meant to bore you to bed (you’ll be surprised how well it works).
8. Or White Noise
Sometimes the unbearable silence is what’s keeping you up—so, try a white noise app to fill the space with subtle sounds.
9. Or a Meditation App
(For more apps, try out these eight free ambience apps!)
Yes, you can try this sleep hack without getting out of bed. Put your legs up against the wall to calm your central nervous system, or try happy baby pose or child’s pose to relax your body. Alternatively, do some light leg and arm movements and exercises on your back to release any excess tension.
11. Relax From Head to Toe
A colleague swore by this: Concentrate on each muscle, starting from your toes, and tell yourself “My feet are getting sleepy,” “My right leg is getting very sleepy,” “My stomach is asleep,” while you relax each body part. She says she never makes it past her hips!
12. Try the 4-7-8 Exercise
According to science, focusing on your breathing decreases your heartrate and blood pressure, which is prime for sleepiness.
So, try this sleep technique:
- Inhale for four seconds
- Hold your breath for seven seconds
- Exhale for eight seconds
If your mind’s racing, grab a notebook and jot down every thought you have—don’t make it linear or pretty, just get everything out until you’re out of ideas and start to tire.
14. Work on the Thing That’s Keeping You Up
If you find that there’s something really nagging you and keeping you awake, don’t just pretend it’ll go away. Whether it’s responding quickly to an email (or writing it and saving it for the morning when you can properly spellcheck it), jotting down some ideas for your upcoming presentation, or even taking out the trash before you forget, getting it over and done with will make sleep a heck of a lot easier. Just don’t spend all night working on it!
15. Do Your Least Favorite Task
As Muse writer Varci Vartanian says in an article about simple sleep solutions, “‘If it’s after bedtime, do something that you enjoy a lot less than sleep!’ [says Dr. Stein] If it’s been 20 minutes and you still haven’t drifted off, get out of bed and attack the most boring, least stimulating task imaginable. Sleep might seem more welcoming after spending a lively half-hour with a dusty college textbook on literary theory.”
Or, even just thinking about the task might be enough to make you fall asleep.
16. Drink Something Hot
Making yourself a glass of hot milk with honey (I swear it’s delicious) or decaffeinated tea could warm your body up for rest. Want more options? Here are 10 drinks that’ll help you get to sleep, backed by science!
17. Stick Your Feet Out
Yup—research says that keeping your toes cool makes you more likely to fall asleep. So pop them out of the covers and get snoozing!
18. Cover Your Eyes
Even if your room’s pretty dark, there’s probably some light that makes its way in. So, if you don’t have an eye mask, grab a warm washcloth (soak and microwave for a few seconds) or a t-shirt and cover your eyes so that all you can see is sleep.
19. Watch a Good Movie or Browse the Web
I don’t want to be the one who says browse through social media or watch Netflix, because glaring screens are probably not the best idea—but I’m also not going to say they don’t work. Because sometimes, you just need a comforting movie or TV show or an endless scroll on Imgur to distract you from insomnia.
That being said, try everything else above first, because it could also backfire and turn into a long, unproductive night of technology.
What’s your trick to falling asleep fast? Do you have a childhood memory like mine? Tweet me!
Photo of person awake at night courtesy of Lianne Williams/EyeEm/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author