It can be a vicious cycle: Your body and its inner clock are set up for sleep, but youre so fixated on the items you forgot to tick off your to-do list that your brain races you right past that golden opportunity to doze off. Then, once you realize how long youve been lying there, you start to worry about not being able to sleepand the anxiety escalates. Sound familiar? Relax. If its only a once-in-a-while problem, you can distract your brain and lull your body back to sleep mode. Heres your course of action:
First: Count backwards from 300 The trick: Do it by multiples of three (300, 297, 294, and so on). I know it sounds crazy, but it works really wellI promise, says Michael Breus, PhD, author of The Sleep Doctors Diet Plan. Its mathematically so complicated that you cant think of anything else, and its so doggone boring that youre out like a light.
If that doesnt work: Get out of bed Most sleep docs say you shouldnt stay in bed for more than 20 minutes, but Lisa Shives, MD, a Chicago-based sleep specialist at Northshore Sleep Medicine and medical expert for sleepbetter.org, has her own rule. If youre getting annoyed or anxious, dont keep lying there, she says. Hop out and break the cycle. She advises that you leave the room without flipping on the lights (keep a mini flashlight on your nightstand), then sit quietly in a comfy chair and distract yourself with something soothing, like soft music or an audiobook. And avoid things like paperwork, dishes or folding laundry, adds Susie Esther, MD, a Charlotte-based sleep specialist and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. That rewards you for not sleeping, because work is getting done. Sit there until you finally feel sleepy, then go back to bed.
Your last resort: Use a sleep aid If drowsiness never sets in, try a sleep aid (dont look at a clockjust use your judgment). Valerian root is a natural supplement that prompts your brain to produce neurotransmitters that make you sleepy, says Dr. Breus. Be careful, thoughit makes you very tired. Never take the recommended dose (500 milligrams) less than 4 hours before your alarm goes off. You can also try an over-the-counter sleep aid, like ZzzQuil, or Benadryl (the active ingredientan antihistamine called Diphenhydramine HCLis the same, says Dr. Esther, and these bring on sleep without the added pain relievers and cough medicines in other nighttime meds, like Nyquil or Tylenol PM). Just beware that these OTC meds often cause dry mouth and next-day grogginessthats why theyre a last resort and should only be used occasionally, she adds.