9 Little Known Ways to Sleep So It Counts


“If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.”

- Dale Carnegie

Sleep so it countsCan’t sleep? You may have tried medication. You know you have to stay away from bad guys like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. And you’ve probably heard it’s not wise to exercise too vigorously or eat too big a meal a couple of hours before bedtime. Perhaps you’ve even tried to stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule. Still have problems getting a sound sleep? Try these snooze tips you may not have heard before.

1. Let go of your concerns and worries.

Anxieties often seem magnified in the still of the night. Dealing with them can help you sleep. Write down your worries and possible solutions before you go to bed, so you don’t need to ruminate in the middle of the night. A journal or “to do” list may be very helpful in letting you put away these concerns until the next day when you are fresh.

2. Do some deep-breathing exercises.

Find yourself constantly yawning? Some experts believe it may be linked to not getting enough oxygen to the brain. Deep-breathing exercises, in which you focus on taking long, deep abdominal breaths, may help relieve pent-up tension and the yawns.

3. Cut the light at night.

Avoid bright light, which signals the brain to be alert, within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime or if you wake up during the night. Using dimmer switches in living rooms and bathrooms before bed can be helpful. And consider blackout shades or an eye-shade to keep out early morning light.

4. Hide your clock.

A big, illuminated digital clock may cause you to focus on the time and make you feel stressed and anxious. This is very difficult for most of us, so turn the clock away from your eyes so you would have to turn it to see the time. You may decide not to make the effort and go right back to sleep.

5. Follow the 20-minute rule.

If you can’t fall asleep in about 20 minutes, whether at bedtime or after awakening in the night, don’t just lie in bed. Do something else, like reading, watching television, or listening to music, until you feel tired. The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to insomnia.

6. Do some visualization.

Do not torture your mind with troubled thoughts which will not allow you to sleep. Instead focus all your attention on your toes or visualize walking down an endless stairwell. Thinking about repetitive or mindless things will help your brain to shut down and adjust to sleep.

7. Get up and eat some turkey.

Turkey contains tryptophan, a major building block for making serotonin, a neurotransmitter, which sends messages between nerve cells and causes feelings of sleepiness. Note that L-tryptophan doesn’t act on the brain unless you eat it on an empty stomach with no protein present, so keep some turkey in the refrigerator for 3am.

8. Redo your bedroom.

Make your bedroom more sleep-friendly. Make sure it is well ventilated and the temperature consistent. And try to keep it quiet. You could use a fan or a “white noise” machine to help block outside noises. Also replace a sagging mattress and deflated pillows. If you must keep a computer in the bedroom, cover the green light on the monitor with black electrical tape. And eliminate clutter, another possible anxiety inducer.

9. Wake up with the sun.

Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day. So if possible, expose yourself to bright light within an hour of waking up for the day, either by taking a 30-minute walk outside or by lingering in a part of the house that gets a lot of sunlight.

The bottom line is sleep is more important than you may think. So be aware of the critical role sleep plays in your performance, productivity, and health. You’ll be healthier and happier.

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41 Comments

  • Thanks for that handy list!
    It couldn’t come at a better time for me, as I find myself strolling from my bed to the TV almost everyday around 4am.

  • Tantowi says:

    The sleep thieves are
    1.Noise
    2.Light
    3.Temperature
    4.Stimulation
    5.Strange surroundings
    6.Stress
    7.Hormones
    8.Disordered sleep
    9.Fear of not falling asleep
    10.Depression

  • PENIX says:

    “Note that L-tryptophan doesn’t act on the brain unless you eat it on an empty stomach with no protein present”

    Isn’t turkey meat protein?

    Chicken and beef also have equal amounts of tryptophan. If you think that turkey works better than them, it is due completely to the placebo effect.

  • Jared says:

    Correct Penix, Turkey contains around the same amount of tryptophan as beef and chicken. It has not been proven to actually affect the brain unless on an empty stomach and you’d have to eat a lot of it for it to have any noticeable effect.

  • Chris Taylor says:

    I am slowly going mad. It takes me HOURS to fall asleep. “doing” stuff till I am tired does not work for I might “never” get tired enough to fall asleep if I do not stop. I have done it . Stayed till the damned sun came up :-(

    Many times I am SO damned tired I can not watch anymore TV or I “nod off” at the computer or I “drop” the book I am reading. So I take that as my cue and get into bed. 2 hours later STILL FRAKING UP

    It almost always takes me a minimum of 1-1.25 hours to fall asleep sometimes 2-4 hours sometimes “NEVER” until the next night.

    This is NEW and it is REALLY pissing me off (last 6-8 months or so) ONCE I am asleep I do not have a problem I usually sleep trouble free and even can usually go back to sleep if I wake in the night withing 30 minutes. BUT if I wake within 2 hours of needing to be up I can almost never get back to sleep again. It seems that once I get past 4-5 hours of sleep I will usually not be able to get back to sleep again if I wake up to use the bathroom or for any other reason.

    I have been reading and found that the NORMAL time to “fall asleep” is 7 minutes. I would be in freaking heaven if I could fall asleep in 7 minutes or even 30 minutes!!!

    What the hell can I do about this. Each week sleep gives me less and less rejuvenation and I stay up later and later against my will.

    Some said it was pain even if I did not feel it so take some advil or tylonol before bed. No joy. Tried some Tylonol PM – no joy – some over the counter sleep aids. No joy no effect at all.

    My Room is dark and comfortable. I have a VERY dim alarm clock just because a normal bright one does bug me replaced that years ago though. My bed is comfortable. I have tried sticking to fixed hours (yeah right what a disaster) and I have tried tiring myself out No joy.

    One night when I ended up staying up all night I decided to force myself to STAY awake all the next day and try to goto bed at a normal hour hoping the extreme exhaustion would zonk me to sleep quickly

    No joy tired as I was over 2 hours to fall asleep. I “dosed” for 5-8 minutes earlier in the day in a chair without realizing it. I guess that was enough to ruin my plans :-(

    Grrrrrr

  • Ivan Minic says:

    Thanks for the tips. Need them lately :(

  • Insomniac says:

    I’m somewhat of an insomniac. Some of the tips I’ve developed over the years are this:

    1. Only use your bed for sleeping at night. Don’t take naps in your sleeping bed.
    2. If you take naps during the day, try to keep it as short as possible, but never longer than 30 minutes.
    3. Develop a routine before you go to sleep and stick with it as much as possible: fluff the pillows, set the alarm clock, brush your teeth, etc. Try to do the *exact* same routine every night before sleep.
    4. Take care of as much as possible for the next day before you go to sleep: Lay out your clothes for the next day, prepare some of your breakfast, locate everything like cars keys and such. This will help you to worry less when falling asleep.
    5. Use a white noise device. I use one of those little electric heaters, but don’t turn-on the heat and point the small fan in the other direction. This helps A LOT, however, you’ll become addicted to the white noise and won’t be able to sleep with out it.

  • smtwngrl says:

    10. Drink a couple of glasses of water. (This is from the book “Your Body’s Many Cries For Water”. The M.D. who wrote it gives the physiological explanation for why this works. But after all of the other similar explanations in the book, and returning it to the library, I’ve forgotten what it is….until I buy the book.

  • Andrew says:

    Great article, I am fortunate that I don’t have a problem sleeping most nights, but every now and again this advise will come in handy.

  • James says:

    Actually, the turkey bit is entirely an old wives’ tale. As Penix pointed out, tryptophan is an amino acid that is found at roughly equal frequencies in most animal protein, not just turkey. The bit about “eating it on an empty stomach” has nothing to do with tryptophan. When your stomach is empty and then you begin to eat, you begin to divert blood to your enteric system. This alone will help make you sleepy (postprandial sedation).

  • evo says:

    Why is booze a no-no, when I’m finding it hard to catch some Zzz’s, I find a nightcap to do quite the trick, especially if I’m nervous because of an important meeting or the like.

    Everything in moderation, of course – no funneling malt liquor.

  • john Q. Public says:

    @Chris Taylor:
    Uhhhh, look back 6-8 months ago… What happened in your life? Did your food input change significantly? Did you start a new job? A baby?
    Basically, figure out what triggered the insomnia and you’re half way to the finish line.
    My mother can’t sleep for more than 2 hrs or so at a time at night, and I’m convinced it’s because she’s always worrying about stuff. My rule is: Worry about the stuff you can actually change without killing yourself, and leave the rest up to God/your fellow man. Also, don’t agonize over past decisions. They’re done and gone with, learn and live.

    My $0.02,
    John

  • art says:

    ive heart quite the opposite with water. avoid eating or drinking up to 3 hours before hitting the sack. also, avoid purchasing alarm clocks with green LEDs, choose red where you can.

  • loquita says:

    Staying fit is a key to a good night’s sleep. Your heart has to be strong enough to pump all that blood around your body all night. If you aren’t fit enough, you will worry that your heart will suddenly stop!

  • Damon says:

    The only reason turkey makes you feel sleepy on Thanksgiving is because you’re eating a lot of food and presumably drinking a lot of alcohol. It has nothing to do with what you eat, but how much! Stop spreading the tryptophan lie!

  • Wally says:

    I agree that the main factor that affects our sleep is concerns and worries. Even if we are sleepy but keep on worrying, we will certainly not fall asleep. As long as we keep our minds relaxed and stay away from distractions, it would be easy to fall asleep.

  • Neel says:

    Great list! Counting sheep never helps!

  • Anonymous Cow says:

    “If you must keep a computer in the bedroom, cover the green light on the monitor with black electrical tape.”

    EH – or you could just TURN OFF YOUR DAMNED MONITOR and even help fight global warming in the process. Duh.

    We’ve put curtains around our bed that reach from ceiling to the floor and can be opened or closed as they are rail-mounted. It’s really helpful if the bedroom/office is a bit messy since I find that to be a stress-inducing factor that makes it difficult for my mind to just let go and relax. It also helps against my girlfriend’s hyper-sensitivity to the early light from summer mornings in Scandinavia.

  • Bob Cuddy says:

    At the risk of sounding like a spammer there is an alternative aid for sleeping that can improve sleep quality and relieve muscle tension. I invented the SquidFace and ComfyRest pillows to relieve pain from my herniated neck disk. Additional benefits give me better sound sleep on my back and side. It works well on a desk for a quick power nap. The many additional pain relief benefits are on my website. Hopefully it may help you. http://www.SquidFace.com

  • Sun-life says:

    I think that anxiety is a major factor in the problem to fall asleep. I usually try to clear my head of any worries(f.x. that I’ve only got 4 hours until I have to get up again).
    I don’t know about your accessibility to fresh fish, but it is actually a good sleep inducer, maybe the fish oil that it contains contributes to it.

  • Andrew says:

    Thinking about repetitive or mindless things will help your brain to shut down and adjust to sleep.

    I’ve heard that mindless visualizations are not distracting enough. Instead, you should visualize something relaxing, but that requires a degree of concentration. The example that was given in one article was designing the dream golf course. I try to remember FPS levels in detail, or to put myself into movie scenes. Those seem to work to distract me from endless worrying.

  • Voice of Reason says:

    Why would you eat turkey for tryptophan when tryptophan doesn’t work in the presence of protein and TURKEY CONTAINS PROTEIN.
    Tryptophan won’t make you sleepy if you have protein from turkey in your stomache, so getting tryptophan by eating turkey is pointless.

  • mjc says:

    I read that the amount of tryptophan in turkey is not enough to produce the effect. To get enough tryptophan to feel drowsy you would have to eat hundreds of pounds of turkey.

  • Terri says:

    Nice list. I agree with each and every one of them, especially the clock. I think it’s a common experience we all have that looking at the clock makes us more worried that we’ve been in the bed for a long time and still not asleep.

  • cajuntechie says:

    You should never eat before bed, it’s not worth it even if you can’t sleep. It can really screw with your metabolism. It puts your body in the wrong “mode” … basically it’ll be working in disgestion instead of what is should be doing… (forgive me for not remembering what it should be doing, it’s early, i think it should be working on restoration and repair, stuff like that) I just know it shouldn’t be working on digestion while you sleep.

  • Sara says:

    On Tip 7 – peanut butter and hardboiled eggs are good, as well.

    Ear plugs, eye masks and removing all electronics are also nice fixes.

    Great list, Ririan! :)

  • Slex says:

    @Chris Taylor

    I am also in somewhat of a similar position, however lately I’ve shifted to another phase of non-sleeping. I usually have no troubles falling asleep now, but when I do, I wake up 4-5 hours after that. It is true that it may be something related to anxiety, however it is also a body cycle problem. Two months ago, when my sleeping troubles started (I haven’t slept for more than six hours ever since), my dog died, the girl I liked dumped me and I had to sit for a very important and stressful exam.

    I think that I came out of all of these, I mean, I don’t think about any of that during the day or before falling asleep, but I think that it was enough to put me on the non-sleeping track back then and to change the schedule of my body. I’ve tried everything – I exercise a lot, so I am usually phisically tired, but it is of no help whatsoever – it can even make stuff worse, because when you don’t sleep any physical effort is a f******g pain to the body. I’ve tried pills – 6 hours of sleep max and I don’t feel any better with them anyway, so I dropped them.

    I personally think that computers, especially internet and the way the information is presented there is also to blame. Hypertext is very anti-concentration inducing, in my opinion. Even if you have nothing to worry about, if you are used to surfing the web a lot, it may adapt your mind to the same pattern of quickly jumping from one thing to the other, to gloss the surface of many texts, instdead of to go in depth in just one of them, as opposed to the linear approach of book reading. Another example that things are not going well in this respect is if you check your e-mail several times a day or the websites you frequent at a rate that is faster that they are updated or just catches up with every update. Drop it, it’s not only useless, it’s harmful. It’s a sign of habitual lack of concentration and anxiety, IMO.

    The sleeping problem’s only solution in the medium term to me seems to go somewhere to a mountainous resort for several days – the more secluded, the better. Or hire a challet or something. I don’t know if your job allows it, but if you can do it – just go. I intend to do it after the end of the semester and I can’t wait it to come. Don’t take anything with you – computer, mp3 player, etc. Maybe a book or two just if it gets too boring. Take walks all day and if possible find something to work on – if there is something for tweaking on the challet or garden work. When it gets dark, don’t hit the electric lights on. Just go to bed. Adapt your body cycle to the cycle of the earth.

  • James says:

    Hi, the science behind Tryptophan is solid, just the method here is a wee bit flawed as Meat is Protein.

    Tryptophan becomes l-tryptophan in the body throu a process of conversion, one of these steps is 5-htp.

    A natural source of 5-htp (taken with carbs, so the science says as it can’t compete with protein) will give the precurser to seratonin, the carb helps it pass the blood brain barrier (citation needed) and be used to make seratoning which in turn is used to make melatonin.

    I find that 3mg of slow release Melatonin suppliments knocks me out for at least 6 hours (the standard one, because melatoning is used up fast in the body, only does me for 3 hours)

  • Sebastien says:

    As other said does not have a proven effect on sleep. Snopes has debunked it.

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  • I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well.

  • Weil says:

    # 13 art on May 15th, 2007 said:

    “ive heart quite the opposite with water. avoid eating or drinking up to 3 hours before hitting the sack. also, avoid purchasing alarm clocks with green LEDs, choose red where you can.”

    ————————————

    Eating within 3 hours of sleeping is bad for you, as correctly described by cajuntechie. This is because your blood flow concentrates on your digestive system close to when you eat. When you sleep, your blood is meant to flow to all areas of your body to supply oxygen and nutrients where it would otherwise be unable to do when you are active and awake.

    However, drinking water is actually GOOD for you before you go to bed. Your body is deprived of water when you sleep. You wont be consuming water while you sleep so you are missing out for 6-9 hours (or however long you sleep). Your brain and body need water at all times to function properly, including when you sleep. This is why it is important to drink a glass of water before you go to bed and a glass when you get up.

  • marc says:

    a good way to sleep if you are still awake at like four am is come on to this web page and read as many comments as possible. thats what i did and i got that bored i fell straight asleep

  • Bob Tasler says:

    My wife likes to sleep with our siding glass door open,not a problem I’ve blocked it to only open 2 inches. I feel the problem is that it is only a foot to 2 feet from her head. This means that air temp is not consistent and direct air flow to her head. I believe these factor into her consistent colds and nasal,lung issues and energy loss. Please provide any info that will give her some guidance in this matter. Thank You Bob

  • Bob Tasler says:

    My wife likes to sleep with an open widow a foot from her head. She has colds, sinus problems and low energy issues. The room temp drops significantly . Please give me some info on how she can improve her health. Like how far to sleep from drafts, and if 40% of heat loss is through your head does this exposure drain her energy?

  • Robin says:

    I have finally found help for my daughter’s sleep problems. It is a CD called SpeedSleep and it really works for her.

  • sam steele says:

    if its a placebo effect you shouldnt ruin it for the people its having that effect on dickhead

  • tibia gold says:

    I am glad to talk with you and you give me great help! Thanks for that,I am wonderring if I can contact you via email when I meet problems.

  • justin says:

    i cant get to sleep when i do i wake up but can go back quickly i just need something that will let me fall asleep drug free its 3:53am and im still awake on the good old laptop

  • Casper says:

    take melatonin its very cheap and works great!

  • anon says:

    “If you must keep a computer in the bedroom, cover the green light on the monitor with black electrical tape.”

    just turn it off at the plug! you’re saving electricity that way too.

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