Things that will keep you awake at night: loud noises, bright lights, children crying and bad television.
Also, being very still and very quiet in bed staring at the ceiling. Yes, really.
Ok, it won’t actually cause you to stay awake, but just lying still won’t help if you have trouble falling sleep. Some suggest that if you’re not out within 20 minutes of getting into bed, give up, get up, and do something. Your sleepiness comes in waves, so if you miss that wave, you’ve got to wait for the next one. Plus, the anxiety of not being able to fall asleep makes you . . . not able to fall asleep. Instead, experts say, admit to yourself that you’re awake and engage in some relaxing activity, like reading or listening to music until you have a strong desire to sleep.
Once you’re up at 3 am and tracing the patterns on the ceiling, it’s too late to question how you got there. But if you’re having trouble falling asleep, consider some of the following strategies that can soothe you into slumber:
Warm up, then cool down. If you’re eyeing the alarm clock in the middle of the night, one solution could be to cool down by bringing down your body temperature. The warm water can help ease muscle tension and thus relax you, but it’s also the cooling afterwards that can signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. As your body cools, it often slows down your metabolic functions (things like digestion and heart rate) and that helps initiate drowsiness. Related, be sure that your bedroom is cool (some experts say 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal), so that you maintain that lower temp.
Dip into some chamomile tea. The smell of chamomile is soothing and reduces anxiety, so if you’re fretting in the middle of the night, the tea might help. You can also try warm milk – there are fewer studies that this is as effective, but the myth is so strong that the psychological effect might be powerful enough. (Hey, you’re up anyway.)
Read – something relaxing. This doesn’t mean reviewing tomorrow’s PowerPoint presentation. Think fiction, or a biography, or poetry or . . . you get the idea. The goal is to narrow your focus from the demands of the day to one non-stressful activity. And if at all possible, do it the old-fashioned way – looking at words on real paper, not an electronic reader or laptop. The lights emitting from those devices signal your body to get going, not get quiet.
Meditate. Like reading, this focuses your mind on one activity that is not stressful or stimulating. Meditation is a helpful way to eliminate all the day-to-day issues that keep your mind racing. By focusing on deep breathing instead of your investment portfolio, you calm down and can ease into a slumber-ready state.
It’s a common myth, but the truth is, lying still won’t help you sleep. If you’re still awake after 20 minutes or so, stop torturing yourself. And know that you’re not alone. Surveys show that 50-60 million of Americans suffer some sort of sleep disorder. That might not help you at three in the morning, but you can be certain that you’re not the only one studying the ceiling.