Be honest with yourself: Was the 45 minutes you spent on TikTok or trolling to find the perfect holiday gift really worth it? “Looking at your phone ties you back to today’s reality, which isn’t very helpful,” says Dr. Navab. “Instead, keep a novel handy to transport you to another place that allows you to think about someone else’s dilemma, not your anxious sleep.”
4. Create a bedtime routine.
If you can’t calm down before bed, a good bedtime routine might help. “It’s not possible to go from our energetic, productivity-focused days to sleep in the blink of an eye,” says Dr. Robbins. “Sleep takes time.” She recommends setting aside at least 30 minutes to relax.
“My favorite way to unwind is to take a shower, do my skincare routine, meditate for 10 minutes, then read a book until I’m ready to sleep,” says Kelly Smith, yoga and meditation teacher and animator of the Aware in minutes podcast.
Admittedly, meditation is not for everyone. If you’re into it, or at least thinking about trying to be into it, sleep meditations are remarkably effective. “With regular meditation practice — about 10 minutes a day for at least eight weeks — the amygdala, which is the center of pain, stress, and worry in the brain, begins to shrink,” Smith explains. This means that your response to stressors and anxiety triggers also decreases. “At the same time, meditation helps strengthen the hypothalamus, which is one of the brain’s key centers for sleep,” Smith explains.
Smith suggests starting with a guided sleep meditation. “Listening to a meditation can give you something to focus on other than your anxiety and can put you to sleep,” she says. There are dozens of great meditation apps to get you started.
6. Try a breathing exercise.
Breathing exercises are also surprisingly effective in transporting you to dreamland. “If you wake up in the middle of the night, the 4-7-8 breathing method is a fantastic way to get your body out of fight-or-flight mode because it will elicit a relaxed parasympathetic response,” says Dr. Navab. To do this: Inhale for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and exhale slowly for eight seconds.
7. Practice muscle relaxation.
Another powerful technique: progressive muscle relaxation. “Definitely one of my favorites,” says Dr. Breus. “It’s good because it teaches people the difference between when they’re tense and when they’re relaxed.”
The principle is simple. Starting at the top of your head and moving toward the tips of your toes, gradually tense and relax your muscles as you lie in bed. “It’s very relaxing and tends to put people to sleep,” says Dr. Breus.
8. Go for a walk.
If all that Zen stuff isn’t working for you, consider exercising. “There’s almost no better way to reduce stress levels than exercise,” says Dr. Breus. It doesn’t have to be strenuous – a 25-minute walk an hour before bedtime can help calm those anxious thoughts.
9. Stick to a schedule.
There’s a reason sleep experts recommend sticking to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time to maintain good sleep hygiene. Not only does this keep your internal clock from getting confused, “having a habit that you have control over will create stability and willpower that can alleviate anxiety,” Dr. Navab says. “Anxiety is often linked to a sense of control, so creating a routine of waking up at the same time every morning will reinforce that command.”
10. Don’t look at the clock.
If you find yourself awake at night, avoid the temptation to look at the clock. It can’t do any good. How long have I been awake? I have to get up so early? “If you can avoid looking at the clock, you’ll avoid the added anxiety,” says Dr. Breus. Seeing the clock may make you panic and try harder to fall asleep. “No one in the history of time has ever thought about going back to sleep — trying really hard is the opposite of what we want your brain to do,” Dr. Breus points out.
11. Stay in bed.
It’s completely normal to wake up in the middle of the night (usually between 1 and 3 a.m. when your body’s core temperature starts to rise after dropping all night). Most people go back to sleep within moments. If you don’t, don’t panic. Unless you’re dying to go to the bathroom, stay in bed, advises Dr. Breus. “In order to get you back into an unconscious state, your heart rate needs to be at 60 or less,” he explains. Going from lying to standing to walking will increase your heart rate, so avoid it if you can.