6 things you definitely shouldn’t do when you can’t sleep

When it comes to nodding off, there are things you should do and things you absolutely shouldn’t

There’s nothing quite like a good night’s sleep. But with around a third of people suffering some degree of insomnia, it’s important to know the things you shouldn’t be doing when you’re finding it hard to drift off.

Getting out of bed

Some people say you should get up and do something if you can’t sleep, instead of just lying in bed trying to nod off. But this point needs to be qualified.

The time you spend trying to get to sleep is an important of your rest cycle. A short period of time in bed allowing your body to unwind is healthy and beneficial to your body. Brain activity, body temperature, breathing and the cardiovascular system all change as sleep approaches and so getting out of bed can often undo important work being done under the skin. As long as you’re not worrying about not being sleep, lying awake in bed still helps your body and mind unwind and destress.

Getting out of bed and going to the toilet or stretching off can seem like a good idea. But it is important not to use it as an opportunity to carry out a daily chore or browse social media.

However, it is worth pointing out that this advice changes for those who suffer from serious sleep problems or stress that is causing them to experience insomnia. If you are unable to get to sleep for a prolonged period of time (perhaps 45 minutes or so) then breaking a bad cycle by getting up may indeed help.

Having a nightcap

Some people use an evening drink or two to nod off, claiming it helps them fall asleep. While it’s true that alcohol can make us fall asleep faster, the effects it has on the quality of our sleep are not so good.

Alcohol affects your circadian rhythm, and can disrupt the progression through the various stages of sleep. This means that even if you have a good length of sleep after drinking, it’s unlikely to be a good quality rest. It also increases your need to urinate, making you more likely to have to get up through the night, and prevents your body from healing, repairing and growing as effectively as it should during sleep.

Popping a sleeping tablet

That’s right, the very medication marketed towards helping you sleep better could actually be having the opposite effect. That’s because the quality of the sleep you’re getting is much more important than the quantity, and sleeping tablets do very little to boost how well you sleep.

Studies have also shown that some sleeping tablets do just as little to help you sleep more, only increasing your sleeping time by a few minutes. When you take possible side effects like sleepwalking and grogginess into account, it is worth being cautious about sleeping tablets.

If you are unsure about whether medication is the right solution for your insomnia or sleep problems, your first port of call should always be your GP.

Only going to bed when you’re exhausted

Going to bed when you’re tired might sound like logical, even obvious advice — but it’s not necessarily a good tip. You probably aren’t going to feel tired at the same time every day, so living by these rules means you’re not providing your body with any set sleep pattern, and our bodies love structure.

Getting into the habit of going to bed and waking up at similar times every day is one of the most effective ways of improving your sleep pattern, because over time your body learns when it’s time to start winding down and preparing for sleep and when it’s time to wake up.

Altering your melatonin levels

Melatonin is your body’s natural sleep chemical. It responds to a lack of light, being released by your brain to tell your body it’s nearly time for bed. A lot of people think that taking melatonin supplements is therefore a great way to get better sleep, but it can actually do the opposite.

Studies have shown that taking supplements over time can mess with your natural release of the hormone, making you dependent.

Counting sheep

It might be a classic tip, but counting sheep is unlikely to help you on your way to the land of nod. For many people, counting sheep does nothing more than help them to quantify the time that they’ve spent awake in bed. Over time this can actually increase your anxiety, making you feel even more awake. If you reach a high number of sheep, you’ll start worrying about how far you’ve counted without nodding off.

Sleep experts suggest visualising an activity you enjoy instead, taking your time to think about every single aspect.

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