Difficulty sleeping

Why can’t you sleep?

You went to bed exhausted, anticipating the beautiful slumber you were going to fall into and now… you just can’t sleep. Your brain has decided that now is a good time to remind you of all those little things you forgot to do, and ask you about whether you are making the right life decisions. How did you forget to return that package again? Why are you being lazy and not sending CVs out? What does that say about you as a person?

As your brain brings up more to-do lists and existential questions, you become more annoyed and stressed about how tired you will be the next day, and then what if you can’t sleep again tomorrow night? Are you going to be exhausted forever? And so the cycle continues and you find yourself wide awake 3 hours later, no closer to falling asleep…

We’ve all been there, some of us nearly every night and others only once in a while. Regardless, it’s infuriating and exhausting and it feels like you can’t do anything to stop it from spiralling out of control.

The good news is that you can! Like with worrying, sleeplessness might be triggered by external events (ranging from the loss of a loved one to a bad day at work and everything in between) but it is your internal dialogue that keeps it running. Avoiding engaging with that internal dialogue is the key to many nights of blissful sleep!


What can you do about it?

Even though it feels like there is nothing you can do to get to sleep, there actually is. Try these easy tips next time you’re lying wide awake!

Understand how sleeplessness works

Do this when you can’t sleep

  • It’s hard to realise this when you’re lying in bed with your eyes wide open, but the thoughts keeping you awake are being fuelled by your internal dialogue.
  • Try not to get carried away with the catastrophic scenarios that your mind conjures and instead just step away from them.


Do this when you can’t sleep

Yep, again… We say this every time, but it breathing really does work for most things because it calms you down. Try one or more of these:

  • Breathe in and out in equal counts and just focus on breathing
  • Breathe in for 4, hold for 6, exhale for 6 – focus on your breathing
  • Visualise your breath coming in and out of your lower tummy
  • Breathe normally and just focus on the sensation in your body (I usually feel my rib cage expanding and collapsing)


Do this when you can’t sleep

Think of a place or situation that makes you really happy and relaxed. And really visualise it, can you feel the sensation against your skin and smell the air? Feel the emotions and the calm that it brings over you and indulge in them.

Do a body scan

Do this when you can’t sleep

This sounds weird but it really helps to bring you away from your inner dialogue of worry and instead bring your attention to your physical sensations.

Breathing normally, turn your attention to your toes. How do they feel against the sheets? Do this in turn for each toe, then each foot and then work your way up your body all the way to the top of your head. This should leave you feeling relaxed – who knows, you may even fall asleep half way through!!

Don’t stress about being awake

Do this when you can’t sleep

This sounds obvious, but in reality one of the main things that keeps us up is the worry that we will be tired the day after. Ask yourself: “What’s the worst that can happen?” – you’ll find that the answer is not as scary as you think. Just accept that at one point you will fall asleep, and that you will deal with how tired you are tomorrow morning.

Don’t check your phone

Do this when you can’t sleep

It is so tempting to try to kill time by scrolling through social media or catching up on emails (“I’ll just send out a few emails now to put my mind at rest”) but try to resist this temptation.

Studies have shown that backlit screens suppress melatonin (the hormone that helps you get to sleep), so you are actually keeping yourself further away from sleep by checking your phone. Not only that, but social media and emails contain many triggers that could set off another spiral of worry.

Keep a worry diary on your bedside table

Do this when you can’t sleep

When worries, things to do or questions crop up, write them in your worry diary and tell yourself that you will think about them in the morning.

This helps you to see that most of what is going through your head are worries that you can’t address there and then.

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