What to Do When You Should be Sleeping

Here we go again. It’s the middle of the night and I’m awake. The cat is staring at me. The dog is snoring. Coyotes are yipping outside (yes, I live where there are coyotes – big ones) and the rest of my family is blissfully in dreamland. Whatever sleep-promoting techniques I employed today (see my other blog on sleep hygiene) have failed me and I just don’t know… will I be up until I hear the coffeemaker start to automatically percolate? Or will this be a just a blip in an otherwise peaceful night? The answer could depend on what I do next.

Sleep experts recommend the following middle-of-the-night insomnia tactics. Watch out, the first one is the hardest (for me at least.)

1. Resist the urge to check email, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. and the news on your phone or tablet. Science is showing that the blue light emitted by screens can keep you up. If you must Tweet at 3 a.m. at least put your device into night mode or “night shift” to help reduce your blue light exposure. There are no studies yet to prove that these “night” features on devices improve sleep, but I can’t see a way they can hurt. But really, stay off your phone. No one ever sleeps better after reading the headlines.

2. Keep your room soothing and dark. Don’t turn on your lights and start folding laundry or go and unpack the dishwasher. I know, I always want to use my “extra” waking hours to get ahead, too, but while the result might be a clean kitchen, you don’t enjoy it when the morning finds you groggy.

3. Ok, so I’ve told you not to get online, not to do chores, and to stay in the dark. But don’t just lie there stressing either. Do something… calming… Listen to soothing music, try relaxation techniques, use a meditation app (yes, I’m contradicting my first recommendation to stay off your phone), or employ visualization. We’ve all heard of the old “counting sheep” technique but there’s actually something to it. Repetition can help bore your brain to sleep. Count anything, practice multiplication tables, sing a (tedious) song in your head over and over; whatever occupies your brain but is non-stimulating at the same time.

I hope these ideas help you get through the night with at least a little bit more rest. But of course beyond sleep hygiene and nighttime to-do’s (and no-no’s), many of us may need treatment for chronic insomnia.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) is recommended by leading health institutions (including the American College of Physicians and the American Psychological Association) as first-line therapy for insomnia that’s more effective than medications. Indeed, health experts are saying that CBT-i should be the treatment for chronic insomnia disorder.

If you haven’t heard of CBT-i yet, I encourage you to talk to your doctor about it (and, obviously, about all your sleep and other health concerns.) Widespread access to qualified CBT-i practitioners has been an issue in the past but new technology is helping to overcome such obstacles.  For example, soon Circady will offer CBT-i through a combination of mobile apps, wearable devices and video chat, meaning you’ll be able to access the most highly recommended sleep care from wherever you are. Get on the mailing list and you’ll be notified as soon as Circady becomes available in your state. As always, thanks for reading! Stay in touch and send your best sleep tips so we can all benefit.