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3 Tricks To Try When You Can't Fall Asleep, From A Psychologist + Sleep Expert

Woman Asleep In Bed
Image by iStock
November 24, 2022

If you've ever reached to the point of searching "tricks to fall asleep" on your phone or laptop in the middle of the night, you know how frustrating it can be to catch some Zzz's when you really need them. Whether caused by nervous jitters, too much caffeine, or another underrated factor, having a hard time falling asleep is never fun.

Luckily, clinical psychologist and sleep expert Aric Prather, Ph.D., recently shared his go-to tricks on the mindbodygreen podcast—here's a quick overview:

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1.

Implement separate spaces in your home. 

First up: Prather recommends looking closely at your relationship with your bed. If you tend to work in your bed, your brain will automatically associate your bed with work, not sleep. This is a conditioned response, Prather says—but luckily, you can change it.

Be sure to reserve your bed for sleep or other relaxing activities. If you work from home, try to work in a different space. Even if it's in the same room, opt for a desk and chair rather than sitting in your bed.

And if you begin to feel restless in bed when you're trying to fall asleep, get up and do something else, Prather says. "Maybe it's reading, maybe it's watching television, whatever it is," he notes. (For light-emitting activities, consider these blue light shades.) "Find things that facilitate relaxation for you." This change of scenery may be just what you need.

During your daily wind-down routine, you may also find it helpful to take a sleep supplement. Look for a product that's melatonin-free, especially if you plan on taking it regularly. This is because there is limited evidence1 that melatonin improves sleep quality on an ongoing basis, and it's not marketed as a nightly supplement in most countries outside the U.S. and Canada.

Instead, look for ingredients like magnesium, an essential mineral that promotes relaxation, the jujube botanical used in traditional Chinese medicine for its calming effects, and PharmaGABA®, a widely studied amino acid neurotransmitter that is clinically shown to support sleep quality.* Here's a list of nine A+ options, if you're in the market for a new natural sleep aid.

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2.

Try paradoxical intention. 

"There's this concept called paradoxical intention, where you actually just try to stay awake and kind of take the pressure off getting to sleep," Prather says. Research has shown that people who "trick" themselves to stay awake are actually more likely to fall asleep faster2 than those who continue trying to fall asleep.

So if you feel overwhelmed trying to put together a game plan to fall asleep, abandoning that idea for a little while might actually help—especially if you pair this mentality with a relaxing activity, like reading or watching television (wearing blue-light-blockers), as Prather mentioned above.

3.

Just lie in bed. 

This one tip might be just what you needed to hear: "It's absolutely fine to just lay in bed," Prather says. So whether you can't fall asleep quickly enough or keep going in and out of sleep, remember that resting in bed still constitutes as, well, rest, and it's still good for you.

What's more, relieving that pressure to fall asleep may help you shake some of the jitters that come with being awake longer than you planned. This, in turn, may just help you fall asleep faster, too.

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The takeaway. 

So if you find yourself having trouble with sleep, try to keep your work and stress out of the bedroom when you can and maybe try incorporating a sleep supplement into your routine.* In the moment of restlessness, give paradoxical intention a try. And if that doesn't work, remember that simply lying in bed is not bad, either. For more tips from sleep experts, check out our full guide to falling asleep, or tune into the full episode below.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.
Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.