How to Help Yourself Fall Back Asleep


sleep insomnia fall asleep

I’m not a very good sleeper. I’m a night person by nature, so it’s easy for me to miss my window of tiredness, catch a second wind, and stay up too late. I’m also a restless sleeper. I can’t seem to shut off my mind for an entire night, so even if I fall asleep quickly, I wake up at night thinking about anything and everything. Grand life plans or items to add to my grocery list carry equal weight in the dark of the night and have the power to keep me up. 

I used to be able to blame my children for my lack of sleep, but let’s face it, they’ve been (mostly) sleeping through the night for a while now, but I’m still up. Since I have relatively good sleep habits and am physically exhausted by bedtime, the problem lies squarely in my mind. It just won’t turn off.

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I know I’m not the only woman out there burning the midnight oil. We are responsible for remembering All The Things, and then we worry about All The Things, or we feel guilty for not being great at All The Things. When we tack those mental gymnastics on to The Doing of Many (All?) Things, it’s no wonder that our minds can’t take a break for sleep. It’s finally their chance to catch up.

Let’s Fall Asleep 

Figuring out how to lighten our mental loads is a worthwhile effort, though it’s not easy. Start with this helpful advice to work on balancing household responsibilities more evenly between you and your partner (if that’s an option). In the meantime, here are three techniques I use to calm my racing mind. They all take practice to be effective, and—judging by the dark circles under my eyes—I still have some work to do, but when I put in the effort to do them, they help unstick my brain from whatever thought is on repeat and get me on track to doze off to dreamland. 

Write it down.

Sometimes I can’t fall asleep or stay asleep because I’m afraid I’ll forget about the tasks I’m tallying in my head. Buy my niece a birthday present. Follow up on that email. Edit those articles. Bring snacks for school. Call the repairman. Find out the deadline for camp sign up. I end up lying there, my mind turning with an ever-expanding To Do list. 

The solution for this is easy: write it down so I don’t forget. But when I’m cozy in bed and oh-so-tired it seems nearly impossible to make this happen. When I do, though, it helps tremendously. I clear my mental clutter by physically documenting it on paper, and I’m able to rest. 

And I’m serious about the paper part. Keep a notepad and pen near your bed so you don’t have to rely on typing notes in your phone. The bright screen and the lure of emails and social media will only distract you more and keep you up longer. I know this from experience (and because there’s loads of research on the harmful effects of screen time before bed). 

Set a worry timer.

When I have something bigger weighing on my mind that won’t go away by writing it down, I set a worry timer. I give myself a certain amount of time to mull it over and then I envision packing it away like I do when I put my laptop in my bag after work.

This is hard. Giving yourself permission to let go of a worry and actually doing it takes discipline. I have spent enough time dwelling on this, and it’s time to stop. I can do no more tonight to solve this. 

Using a physical timer (on vibrate if it’s the middle of the night and you’re sleeping next to someone) is really helpful. There’s something final and authoritative about an official alarm that helps release you from the worry.

Breathe in 4,6,8.

When I feel physically anxious—an increased heart rate and tighter feeling in my chest—I focus on my breathing. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often to me, but when it does, it’s hard to make the uneasy feeling go away. The 4,6,8 breathing technique helps. 

4 – Count to four as you breathe in through your nose.

6 – Hold your breath for six seconds.

8 – Release your breath slowly for a count of eight.

Repeat until your body is relaxed again.

Breathing like this requires my full concentration and forces me to stop dwelling on whatever it is that’s bothering me. It calms me back down, and once I’m relaxed I have an easier time getting back to sleep.

How about you? Do you feel like you sleep well at night or is it a struggle? Share what works for you in the comments!


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