Can’t Sleep Chronicles: The Absolute Worst Solutions to a Sleepless Night

Can’t Sleep Chronicles: The Absolute Worst Solutions to a Sleepless Night

As you may know if you’re familiar with our blog, I have insomnia. My body’s inability to fall asleep is often caused by nothing other than my own body, but, on occasion, it is my actions throughout the day that cause a sleepless night.

I sat in front of my laptop screen for 14 hours yesterday. I finished a couple projects, started a few more, took on a new freelance client, and had one of my grad school classes at night. I was, what you’d call, in the zone. Even after my class ended at 8, I couldn’t stop working. I was on a roll with a new project and wanted to get as much done for my client as possible. 9 turned to 10 turned to 11, and I decided to turn in for the night. My poor brain had other ideas (that I’d inadvertently given it). The Blue Light Effect messing with my internal clock coupled with leaving my brain on “go mode,” I had a full sleepless night ahead of me.

I laid awake all night, my mind refusing to try any solutions good for me. Instead, I reached for the easy stuff–the comforting habits that give me an immediate and satisfying dopamine surge. None of them worked, and I’m exhausted. Here’s what I did and why you shouldn’t try it.

A midnight scroll

Smartphones are designed to stimulate us and they do a really, really good job at it. A myriad of studies associate overuse of our smartphones with depression, anxiety, decreased sleep quality. Despite this growing pool of knowledge, our addictions to smartphones are so real, it’s hard not to reach for them when we feel the need to pacify ourselves.

First of all, blue light in a dark room is not what our brains or eyes need. Blue light suppresses the brain’s secretion of melatonin, making it much harder to fall asleep. On top of its harmful effects on the brain, exposure to blue light in an otherwise dark room can potentially lead to blindness, according to researchers from the University of Toledo.

What scrolling in bed does for me can be summed up best by Catherine Price, author of How to Break Up With Your Phone. In it, Price writes, “I reached for my phone to soothe myself, but I often crossed the line from feeling soothed to going numb.”

Often, I’ll scroll so long I’ll get to a place of total indifference; I’m no longer responding or responsive to what’s happening on the screen. Once I come to, I put the phone down and am more anxious and awake than I was when I reached for my phone to begin with.

What to do instead

Read a book. You still have something to focus on, but aren’t mindlessly engaging in an endless activity. Plus, reading makes your brain work, which is likely to induce tiredness.

Netflix and chill

After my phone failure, I tend to turn to an even bigger screen. I’ll go downstairs, turn on a familiar show or movie, sit back, and hope for the best.

Enter the blue light effect again, but this time bigger and accompanied with sound. In come the excitement, anxiety, and suspense shows and movies are designed to make us feel. In comes the production of dopamine, which isn’t conducive to falling asleep at all. So instead of drifting off to the comfort of familiar sights and sounds, I always end up binge watching my favorite show until dawn.

What to do instead

Listen to a story-telling podcast! We love LeVar Burton Reads and Myths and Legends. Story-telling podcasts give you something to pay attention to, but are soothing and there’s no imagery associated. You have to use your imagination, which, again, makes your brain work, and can thus induce tiredness.

A light snack

This one always kills me. If I’m up and walking around aimlessly in the night, I head to the kitchen. It’s the heart of the home, after all! And while not as bad for us as the Blue Light Effect, eating at night isn’t the best way to put yourself to sleep.

In a conversation with Bustle, Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg says, “Eating at night can set a ‘stomach alarm clock’ and then your stomach might start expecting or waking you up to ask, ‘Isn’t it time for peanut butter on toast now?’”

What to do instead

Drink sleepytime tea! You still get the relaxation of making something, but it’ll help you fall asleep rather than send “it’s morning!” signals to your brain.

Count the seconds

Ever since childhood, I’ve been a clock-starer. As a kid, I had a digital alarm clock on my bedside table, and when I couldn’t sleep, I’d try to keep time with the clock, counting the seconds in a minute. It was a game of sorts, and I’ve brought that strange habit with me to adulthood.

Now, I have an analog alarm clock next to my bed, and I’ll catch myself following the seconds-hand around and around and around. And while I find this familiar activity soothing, it doesn’t help me to doze off.

In a not-so-shocking twist, staring at the clock actually does the opposite! Watching the clock creates anxiety around sleep, specifically about how much time you have before you have to get up. “Those that watch the time while trying to facilitate sleep only increase their inability to fall asleep,” writes Sharon M. O-Brien, MPAS, PA-C for Clinical Advisor. “Patients who wake during the night, look at the clock and start calculating, might develop a routine and start doing this every night.”

What to do instead

Go to another room, lie down, and close your eyes. Whatever you do, don’t check the time!