You’re so exhausted your eyelids feel like lead, but you can’t actually get yourself to drift off to dreamland. Instead, your mind is racing with everything that went wrong during the day—or that could go wrong tomorrow. Or maybe you’re worrying about how to pay the bills this month or how your child is going to do on his math test, or even about a sick relative. No matter how serious or trivial your concerns may seem, one thing’s for sure: If you’re stressed out about them, they’re keeping you awake. These 11 expert tips should help you clear your mind so you can get the rest you need.
1. Take time to wind down. “I suggest patients set aside at least 30 to 45 minutes—an hour is even better—to wind down before bed,” says Shelby Freedman Harris, PsyD, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center and an assistant professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. During that window of time, you should ban yourself from anything that might be stimulating, including texting and computer work, she explains. “Keep a general schedule or ritual for that wind-down hour so your body and mind start to know that each step is one step closer to bed.”
2. Tune in if it helps you tune out. You may have heard that you shouldn’t watch TV before bed, and admittedly some sleep experts aren’t big fans, but many say a little TV before bed is a good thing—as long as you don’t watch anything too stimulating or stressful. That means skipping the nightly news and tuning in to something lighter. “Try watching reruns of old sitcoms you used to love, like The Golden Girls,” says Joyce Walsleben, RN, PhD, diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and coauthor of A Woman’s Guide to Sleep.
3. Tap into a higher power. If you’re a religious person, or even a spiritual one, try prayer, spiritual reflection or
4. Do some deep breathing. Not into prayer or formal meditation? Simply take 10 minutes to sit still and breathe, says M.J. Ryan, one of the creators of The New York Times bestselling Random Acts of Kindness series and the author of The Happiness Makeover. “The practice is really easy: All you do is notice your breath, and every time you are aware your mind went elsewhere, bring it back to your breath. When 10 minutes is up, stop. That's all it takes.”
5. Take a hot bath. It’s a cliché—but it works. “A hot bath will not only relax your muscles, but it will also raise your core body temperature, which acts as a trigger to help people fall asleep,” says Michael Breus, PhD, author of Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep.
6. Brew some tea. In particular, a cup of passionflower and chamomile tea can be very relaxing, says Ronald Stram, MD, founder of the Center for Integrated Health and Healing in Delmar, New York. If you’re a fan of herbs, Dr. Stram also recommends Rescue Sleep, a homeopathic spray that he says can help calm a racing mind.
7. Take a mental vacation. “Picture your favorite, most relaxing place to be,” writes Dr. Breus on The Insomnia Blog. “The place may be on a sunny beach with the warm ocean breezes caressing you, swinging in a hammock in the mountains or on a desert island. Visualize yourself in that peaceful setting. See and feel your surroundings, hear the peaceful sounds, smell the flowers or the salty air.” Another option: “Imagine being an astronaut on a space walk. You’re floating around the world, watching the earth rotate as you weightlessly move around it. Or, imagine floating on a cloud or out at sea on a wave.”
8. Exercise. There’s no doubt that it’s a great stress reliever—just make sure to do it at least three hours before bedtime, says Dr. Ojile. Otherwise it could actually rev you up and make it harder to sleep.
9. Get intimate. “If you’re in a committed relationship, engage in intimate conversation or activity with your partner,” suggests Dr. Ojile. This may help take your mind off your worries and, if you have sex, also physically release some of the tension you’ve been feeling.
10. Blow bubbles. Not literally, but in your mind. One relaxation technique that Dr. Walsleben recommends is to imagine that you’re outside with a jar of soap bubbles. Watch yourself slowly blowing each one until the soap jar is empty.
11. Take a whiff. A growing body of research shows that aromatherapy really is effective, says Kamyar Hedayat, MD, medical director of Full Spectrum Health Integrative Medical Center in San Diego. For people having sleep trouble, he recommends taking medical-grade essential