Mental Health 101 Self Help

Do’s And Don’ts For Dealing With Insomnia

What should you do when you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep? Hint: Netflix is not the answer.

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep.

How should you deal with the times where you wake up at 3 a.m. and find yourself unable to go back to sleep?

The first thing you need to do is rule out physical health problems: conditions like frequent urination, pain, sleep apnea, or acid reflux can prevent you from sleeping soundly. But if you’re sure that your insomnia is caused by stress or anxiety, here are some things you can try:

Do: Relaxing exercises

As you lie in bed awake, give your mind something to focus on beside the fact that you can’t fall asleep. You can try meditation coupled with deep breathing exercises; smartphone apps like Headspace and Calm offer guided meditation, but just remember to open the app quickly, plug in your headphones, and put the phone away as soon as the app is running. Another technique is to progressively tense and relax your muscles – starting from your toes, tense each muscle group for five seconds, then relax, then work your way up until you end with the muscles on your forehead. 

Don’t: Watch the clock

Staring at the minutes go by and realizing how much sleep you’re losing out on will only stress you out, activating your nervous system and making you feel more alert instead of sleepy. If you have a bedside clock, turn the clock face away from you or put it someplace where you cannot see it.

Instead of marking off the minutes, use your “mind clock” to estimate how long you have been awake.   

Photo by Thought Catalog on

Do: Leave the room and do something else

If you feel that more than 20 minutes in your mind clock has passed and you’re still wide awake, get up from the bed and move to a chair, couch, or go to another room entirely (but NOT to the kitchen for a midnight snack). You don’t want to associate your bed with sleeplessness. Do a boring, low-key activity using low lamplight, like reading (not an e-book), coloring, knitting, or listening to soft music. Keep yourself occupied until you’re bored enough to fall asleep again.

Don’t: Look at social media or turn on the television

This is not the time to catch up on your favorite TV series, because it will keep you up when you should be looking for ways to wind down. Neither do we recommend doing anything with your smartphone, because the phone emits blue light which can disrupt your circadian rhythm (your body’s sleep-wake cycle) and inhibits melatonin production (the hormone that also regulates the sleep-wake cycle). If you scroll through social media, you might inadvertently come across distressing news or receive work-related messages – all of which can be potential sources of stress and make it more difficult for you to go back to sleep. 

The next time you find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night, don’t panic. Instead, do relaxing activities so you can return to a state of drowsiness. But if you experience insomnia for more than a month, or if the lack of sleep starts interfering with daytime activities, it’s time to seek the help of a medical professional. 

Chronic insomnia affects up to 20% of adults. Many adults don’t seek treatment for it. Seek medical advice if you experience symptoms that last longer than a month or so. Ditto if lack of sleep interferes with your daytime activities.

Written by Jac of MindNation