What can help me sleep when I’ve tried everything else?

Well by now you’ve probably figured out that this is a trick question. Since there really is a wide range of things that you can do to assist with sleep it’s important that you have a sense of what they are,  and follow through with the most reasonable ones for you until you are successful. You can be sure that anybody you talk to will be full of ideas about what you can do to  sleep better.  Sometimes it’s just better to go with what’s recommended by the experts.  You be the judge.

I’ve worked  with several hundred  clients with sleep problems over the years and have seen that some simple strategies, implemented regularly, results in long lasting improvements in sleep. So going back to the original question “What  can help me sleep when I’ve tried everything else?”  I would say trying all the right things consistently.

So what are the right things? The following is a good start.

What has been shown to help improve sleep

  1. Get up at the same time every day.   You might think to yourself that this  could not possibly make sense particularly if you find yourself waking up exhausted. The tendency is to want to sleep in. In reality our internal clock mechanism is most easily set to our morning wake time. This is why people who find themselves in a new routine, that involves consistently waking up at the same time, often find that their sleep patterns fall into place quite readily. So do yourself a favor and get up at the same time of day, even if initially it results in greater feelings of fatigue.
  2. Do not lie in bed for more than 20 minutes if you are still awake. This one is a hard sell. Why would you want to leave your bed when the point is to actually sleep. Well the reality is that if you are trying to fall asleep,  and you still find that your wake after 20 min,  you’re likely not all that relaxed. It’s really important that the bed be associated with sleep and not stress. So the best thing you can do at this point in time is to actually leave the room, and perform some boring activity,  until you can no longer keep your eyes open. When you’re just at that point when you can hardly keep your eyes open return to your bed and hopefully I’ll have better luck this time.  One really important part of this step is to make sure that you only “estimate” the 20 minutes.  You don’t want to be looking at the clock since that’s potentially another anxiety producing behaviour.
  3. Clear your head.  How many times have you found yourself wanting to fall asleep and realizing that they are a number of things that you forgot to do that day or some issues that  keep replaying in your mind. This really is not going to be helpful if your intention is to have a good night sleep. So sometime, within a couple of hours of bedtime, right down outstanding issues on a piece of paper and a list of actions that you can take to address them the following day or sometime after that.  Many will find that this simple act helps their mind become clear and therefore more likely to be conducive to sleep.
  4. Save your bedroom for sleep and sex. Arguing, watching TV, exercising, ironing, and other activities are best done elsewhere.  If you save your bedroom for sleep and sex then you are establishing a set of cues for the room that will help remind your body that the room has only a couple of purposes.
  5. Set the stage This can involved taking a warm relaxing bath before bed, although many suggest that a cold shower prior to bed can be beneficial.  You might also want to practice relaxation techniques right before bed.  Practiced regularly this can not only help to initiate sleep but improve the quality of sleep.   Setting the stage certainly does not watching something stressful on TV, particularly the news.  Shut the TV down early.

One thing that is worth appreciating is that most people have issues with sleep some of the time. Whether it be as a result of our diets, changes in routine, a particularly stressful series of circumstances in one’s life–most of us are challenged by sleep at times.


  • http://www.maureenchute.com Maureen Chute, MA,RCC

    Hi Jeffrey – really appreciate your note about consistency (and your tips are consistent with the ones I also share with clients) and encouraging people to “be the judge” when it comes to what expert’s say works best for their sleep problems. And I like that you’ve normalized these problems with sleep in general, taking into account the fact that major life changes will impact sleep. As someone who works with people dealing with grief and loss, this is an important point to make,particularly for the bereaved spouse who must adjust to sleeping alone. I’d like to recommend your post/blog in my own blog this month. 

    • Jeffrey Fisher, M.A., RCC

      Hi Maureen – So nice of you to take the time to make the thoughtful comments that you did. Sleep issues definitely affect all of us at one time or another. It’s great to have some tools to address the issue but also to be able to realize that it often takes some time to normalize sleep patterns if they have been out of whack for some time.  I’d be thrilled if you recommend this post.

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