Learn what to do when you can’t sleep so you can wake up feeling well-rested.
Sleep Health

What To Do When You Can't Sleep: 31 Expert Tips

    Last Updated
    November 16, 2023
    min read

    Key Takeaways:

    1. Convert your bedroom into the ideal sleeping environment

    2. Establish a nightly routine to train your body that it’s time to sleep

    3. Practice good dietary habits and exercise strategically 

    4. Master your body and mind with meditation techniques

    Stress, anxiety, worries, work — the usual suspects that keep you lying awake for hours. If you’re wondering what to do when you can’t sleep, don’t worry —  restful slumber is within reach. 

    The key is crafting a soothing bedtime ritual that sets the stage for a good night’s sleep. Simple activities like taking a warm bath, slipping into comfy pj’s, or journaling about your day can help avoid the negative effects of sleep deprivation

    All of these sleep techniques signal to your body that it's time to hit the hay. If sleepless nights persist despite your best efforts, it may be time to consult a sleep professional. 

    At the end of the day, one of the most impactful changes you can make to avoid sleepless nights is ensuring that you have the right mattress. Modern mattress innovation has led to beds that sleep cooler and provide the adaptive support you need to get proper rest — and you shouldn’t settle for less. Purple mattresses offer unmatched temperature regulation and quality support that’ll help you get the best sleep possible. Read on to learn more tips about how to sleep better

    19 Things To Do When You Can’t Sleep

    When rest seems out of reach, explore these methods. From mindful breathing techniques to consciously letting go of the day’s events, these proven tools can get you through your sleepless challenge.

    Some things to do when you can’t sleep include practicing mindful meditation and freshening up your sleep space.

    1. Wait It Out 

    On average, it takes about 20 minutes for an adult to fall asleep after lying down. However, this number varies from person to person, and when it takes longer, it can cause frustration and anxiety for some. If you're struggling to fall asleep, try to remain patient so that your stress levels don’t start rising. Allow yourself the time to relax — let sleep come naturally.

    2. Power Down Your Devices

    Many people scroll through their favorite websites right up until bedtime, but this late-night browsing may delay sleep and cause low daytime energy. Blue light from mobile devices may inhibit the body’s production of melatonin which regulates our sleep cycles, helping us feel more relaxed before and during sleep.

    By continuing to scroll social media (we’re all guilty of it), you delay the natural production of melatonin, which pushes your sleep cycle back further. Try placing your devices on the other side of the room before bed to further reduce the temptation of endless scrolling, and if you plan to use tech in bed, turn on the blue-light reduction mode. 

    3. Practice Controlled Breathing

    Controlled breathing techniques can be powerful tools to help you fall asleep faster. One exercise is the 4-7-8 technique, where you inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. This pattern helps to regulate your breathing, reduce stress, and calm the mind. 

    You can also try diaphragmatic breathing, where you place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Slowly breathe in through your nose, expanding your abdomen as you fill your lungs with air. Your chest should move very little. Exhale slowly, feeling a gentle contraction of your abdomen. Focus on the rhythm of your breath and the sensation of your hands rising and falling.

    Experiment with these methods to find what works best for you, allowing a peaceful transition into a restful night's sleep.

    4. Try Bed Yoga

    Research has shown that doing light exercise, like stretching or yoga, can promote muscle relaxation, so you fall asleep more quickly. Try experimenting with these exercises on a flat surface before getting into bed:

    • Child's pose: Kneel on the floor with your butt resting on your heels. Stretch your arms forward and place your forehead on the floor. 
    • Cat-Cow: Get on your hands and knees. Inhale and tilt your pelvis so that your tailbone sticks up. Look to the ceiling and bend your lower back so that it’s concave. Exhale as you arch your spine, tilt your pelvis down, and look toward the floor.   
    • Legs-Up-the-Wall: Lie down on the floor with your butt against the wall. Straighten your legs against the wall and rest your arms on the floor. 

    And here are a few stretches you can try in bed:

    • Sleeping butterfly: Lie down on your back with your knees bent. Slowly bring the bottoms of your feet together as your knees lower to opposite sides of your body. 
    • Half-saddle: Sit on the heel of one leg with the other leg extended. Slowly lean back, supporting your body with your hands on the bed. Continue until you’re lying on the bed. Repeat with the other leg. 
    • Corpse pose: Lie down on the bed with legs shoulder-width apart. Place the palms of your hands upward and separate from your torso. Relax your body.  

    These movements increase blood circulation, alleviate muscle tightness, and encourage deep breathing — all contributing to a more peaceful transition into sleep. 

    Three bedtime yoga poses that can help you sleep include sleeping butterfly, half-saddle, and corpse pose.

    5. Meditate

    Meditation is a popular method for clearing your mind of distractions and calming your mood. Start by finding a quiet and comfortable space (like your bed), then close your eyes and focus on your breath. Inhale and exhale deeply, paying attention to the sensation of each breath. If thoughts emerge, recognize them and guide your attention back to your breathing. 

    You can also employ guided meditation apps or recordings designed for relaxation and sleep. These exercises help still the mind, reduce anxiety, and promote a sense of inner peace, allowing you to let go of the day's worries and drift into a restful slumber. Incorporating meditation or mindfulness practices into your nightly routine can greatly improve the quality and duration of your sleep.

    6. Picture a Peaceful Memory

    When you focus on a serene and positive memory, you immerse yourself in the pleasant details, sights, sounds, and feelings associated with it. By mentally reliving these experiences, your mind drifts away from any current stress or racing thoughts, allowing you to gradually wind down. This mental diversion gently tires the mind and sets the stage for a more peaceful and uninterrupted night's rest.

    7. Relax Your Muscles

    To relax your muscles using a mental body scan, find a quiet and comfortable space to sit or lie down. Close your eyes and mentally scan your body, focusing on each muscle group from your toes to your head. As you move through each area, consciously release any tension you encounter. 

    Imagine a warm, relaxing light gently washing over and soothing each muscle group. With each breath, let go of any stress, allowing a sense of deep relaxation to spread throughout your body. 

    Conduct a mental body scan by lying down in bed and focusing on your toes, then work your way up through each muscle group.

    8. Count Sheep

    Yes, really. Counting sheep to fall asleep is one of the more well-known sleep techniques, but you’ve got to do it right. To begin, imagine a serene pasture with a fence and fluffy sheep. As you lay in bed, envision each sheep jumping over the fence, and with every count, visualize the details — their wooly coats, graceful leaps, and the rhythmic pattern of their movement. 

    Counting and picturing these gentle scenes distracts your mind from racing thoughts and anxieties, gradually leading you into a more relaxed and sleep-ready state. The simple, monotonous nature of counting sheep, or any other animal, can help lull your brain into a tranquil state.

    9. Recount the Positives of Your Day

    Recounting the positives of your day before bedtime can be a powerful way to let go of anxiety and lead to quicker sleep. As you reflect on the positive moments, achievements, and joyful experiences, your mind shifts focus from stressful or anxious thoughts. 

    This mental exercise allows you to cultivate gratitude and a sense of contentment, promoting a more peaceful and optimistic mindset. By consciously redirecting your thoughts toward the positive aspects of your day, you release lingering worries and embrace a calming perspective. 

    10. Make a Mental Gratitude List

    Creating a mental gratitude list is another way to shift your focus towards positivity and cultivate a grateful mindset. Start by reflecting on the things you are grateful for in your life, whether big or small. Picture each item in your mind and feel the gratitude associated with it. 

    Easy starting places include thinking about:

    • Your friends and family
    • Your good health
    • An upcoming vacation

    As you mentally list these things, allow the feelings of gratitude to wash over you. Acknowledge the positivity in your life and let it fill your heart and mind, promoting a sense of peace and contentment.

    11. Turn on Ambient Noise

    Some people find that the slightest sounds can disturb their sleep. Ambient noise can drown out these disturbances and quiet your internal thoughts. When surrounded by a gentle and consistent ambient sound, your brain can focus on this continuous auditory input, masking disruptive noises. 

    Test out these common sources of ambient noise to see which works best for you:

    • White noise 
    • Pink noise
    • Brown noise
    • Soft music
    • Nature sounds

    These sounds can also diminish the chatter of racing thoughts. The rhythmic and predictable nature of ambient noise can create a calming environment, allowing your mind to release anxious or intrusive thoughts.

    12. Cover Yourself in a Weighted Blanket

    Deep Touch Pressure (DTP) is a sensory stimulation technique that involves applying gentle pressure to the body. This pressure can trigger the release of serotonin and dopamine, which both promote relaxation. 

    Weighted blankets and weighted eye masks can provide this comforting pressure, mimicking the feeling of a warm hug. The gentle, distributed pressure stimulates sensory receptors, inducing a feeling of security and reducing anxiety. 

    Most importantly, this calming effect can help you fall asleep faster. If you’re interested, check out the Bearaby Weighted Blanket, which has a breathable knit design that helps maintain a comfortable temperature all night long. 

    13. Get Out of Bed

    If you've spent a considerable amount of time in bed trying to fall asleep and haven’t made progress, try getting out of bed and engaging in what one might consider a“boring” activity. The idea here is to shift your focus away from the frustration of being unable to sleep. 

    Engaging in a monotonous or unstimulating activity can help ease anxiety and racing thoughts. Whether it's organizing a drawer, doing laundry, or cleaning, the objective is to distract your mind from the stress of not falling asleep and allow yourself to become naturally tired. Once you start feeling drowsy, you can return to bed and try to sleep again.

    14. Drink Chamomile Tea or Warm Milk

    Drinking chamomile tea or warm milk before bedtime can be an effective natural remedy to help you fall asleep. Chamomile tea contains compounds like apigenin that have mild sedative properties. Preparing and drinking warm tea can also signal to your brain that it's time to wind down. If chamomile isn’t your preferred cup of tea, you can test the effectiveness of other noted sleep foods

    Similarly, warm milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that supports the production of serotonin and melatonin, essential for inducing sleep. The soothing and comforting nature of a warm beverage can create a sense of calm, easing the transition into a restful night's sleep. 

    Yogurt, oatmeal, almonds, chamomile tea, and warm milk are some of the best foods and drinks that promote sleep.

    15. Read or Journal

    Reading or journaling before bedtime can be a delightful way to wind down. Reading a calming book transports your mind to a different world, diverting it from daily stresses. 

    On the other hand, journaling allows you to jot down your thoughts, worries, or reflections from the day, acting as a form of mental decluttering. Putting pen to paper helps you release any thoughts or concerns that might be lingering, promoting a sense of closure and tranquility. 

    16. Write a Letter

    Composing a heartfelt letter to yourself or expressing gratitude to someone else before bedtime can create a sense of emotional ease and peace. Writing down reasons for self-appreciation or expressing gratitude towards others can evoke positive emotions and encourage a more optimistic perspective. 

    By focusing on the good in oneself or appreciating someone dear, you shift your mental focus away from negative or stressful thoughts that might hinder falling asleep. Pull ideas from your mental gratitude list if you don’t know where to start.  

    17. Jot Down Tomorrow’s To-Do List

    When thinking about your responsibilities keeps you up at night, jotting them down on paper helps externalize those thoughts and put things into perspective. By organizing your tasks and planning for the next day, you can reassure yourself that you won’t forget to do anything. This structured approach instills a sense of control and order, allowing you to prepare for the following day mentally.

    18. Change Your Sheets

    Switching to fresh, crisp sheets creates an inviting and comforting ambiance that significantly impacts your overall sleep experience. Slipping into clean bedding can be both physically and psychologically rewarding, signaling the end of the day and the beginning of a restful night's sleep. 

    Conversely, dirty or unkempt sheets can cause discomfort and disrupt your ability to relax. Accumulated sweat, oils, and debris on unwashed sheets can lead to an unclean feeling and potential skin irritation, making it difficult to settle down and get comfortable. If a laundry cycle isn’t enough to improve your old, rough sheets, consider upgrading to a set of silky-smooth SoftStretch® Sheets for added comfort. 

    19. Lay Down in a Different Room 

    Laying down in a different room, especially if you're dealing with distractions like a disruptive partner or pet, can be a game-changer for improving sleep. A change in environment can remove the source of disruptions, allowing you to create a tranquil and dedicated sleep space. 

    A separate room can offer solitude, minimizing disturbances that might interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Whether it's a partner snoring or a restless pet, relocating to a peaceful room provides a chance to escape these disturbances that prevent a restorative night's sleep.

    12 Pre-Bedtime Tips To Fall Asleep

    One of the best tactics for getting to sleep quickly is to start preparing well before you get into bed. Incorporate these tips into your nightly routine to fix your sleep schedule and quiet racing thoughts at night. 

    20. Perfect Your Sleeping Environment

    Perfect your sleep environment by maximizing its level of coziness. Some go-to items to add to your sleep sanctuary include:

    • Blackout curtains to block out street lights or a sun that just won’t set. 
    • A humidifier to prevent dryness and promote a comfortable breathing environment. 
    • An essential oils diffuser to fill the room with a soothing scent.
    • High-quality bedding for optimal physical comfort.
    • A supportive mattress and pillow that fits your sleeping position and body type.

    Each of these components should optimize your overall sleep quality to ensure you wake up refreshed and rejuvenated, especially your mattress. 

    That’s why Purple mattresses are designed to provide optimal temperature regulation and support in addition to motion isolation, which can help you fall asleep more easily if you share a bed with someone who tosses and turns.

    Six ways to create an ideal sleep environment.

    21. Prep Your Body for Sleep

    Properly preparing your body for sleep involves establishing a relaxing pre-sleep routine. Taking a warm bath can be incredibly soothing, relaxing your muscles and promoting a sense of tranquility. Avoid heavy meals within a couple of hours of bedtime to prevent discomfort or indigestion during the night. Instead, opt for a light, balanced snack if needed.

    22. Stick to a Sleep Schedule

    Follow a regular sleep schedule, making it a point to wake up and prepare for sleep at consistent times. This can reset your body clock and gradually train it to feel sleepier or more awake at certain times. Check out our article on how to fix your sleep schedule for additional ways to improve your sleep hours.

    23. Start Your Bedtime Routine Early

    If you’ve had a hectic day, your adrenaline could be running at higher-than-normal levels later in the night. Starting your bedtime routine earlier in the evening can signal to your body that it’s time to ramp down your energy. When your body experiences your established sleep triggers, it’s more likely to deliver your desired responses.

    24. Adjust Your Thermostat

    Studies have found that the optimal sleep temperature for most is somewhere between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, though this may vary from person to person. Lower the thermostat to your preferred sleeping temperature, but keep a blanket on hand in case you suddenly get chilly.

    25. Save Your Bedroom for Sleep

    By maintaining your bedroom as a dedicated sleep environment, you condition your brain to associate it with rest and relaxation. Eliminating distractions like TV and games helps establish a mental boundary, ensuring that when you enter the bedroom, your mind knows it's time for sleep.

    26. Air Out Your Daily Stressors

    Sharing your concerns and worries aloud can lighten your emotional load, providing a sense of relief and validation. In therapy, a trained professional can guide you through coping strategies and offer valuable insights to manage stress effectively. 

    On the other hand, confiding in a trusted friend can offer emotional support, empathy, and fresh perspectives. Verbalizing your thoughts and feelings helps you gain clarity and fosters a stronger connection and understanding. Both avenues allow you to release pent-up tension and reduce anxiety.

    27. Dim Your Lights

    Bright lights can inhibit your body’s production of melatonin. By gradually reducing the intensity of light in your surroundings, your body receives a signal that it's time to wind down. This dimmer lighting mimics the natural progression from daylight to darkness, prompting your brain to secrete melatonin and induce drowsiness. 

    28. Be Mindful of Your Diet

    While heavy meals before bed should be avoided, that doesn’t mean you should go to bed hungry, as this can also keep you from falling asleep. Try eating a heavier lunch instead, then enjoy a light dinner.

    29. Limit Your Caffeine

    The caffeine from that first cup of coffee can stay in your system for over nine hours. If you use caffeine to get you through your afternoon slump, it can keep you energized long after you want it to. 

    Make it a point to limit your caffeine consumption strictly to morning hours so it won’t keep you up at night. Also, consider cutting your coffee or tea to no more than two cups a day.

    30. Start Your Day With Exercise

    Engaging in vigorous exercise during the morning or early afternoon can significantly aid in falling asleep later at night. Physical exertion increases the release of endorphins, which are natural mood boosters and stress relievers. This burst of endorphins, combined with the accompanying fatigue from a rigorous workout, can help regulate your body's internal clock and enhance your overall sleep quality. 

    31. Talk to a Specialist

    If you try all of the sleep techniques outlined in this post and you still have difficulty falling asleep, it might be time to consult a specialist. Sleep specialists, such as sleep doctors or psychologists, can diagnose and treat various sleep disorders or chronic sleep issues. They can conduct comprehensive evaluations, such as sleep studies, to pinpoint the root cause of your sleep problems. 

    Through this specialized assessment, they can develop tailored treatment plans to address your unique needs. These professionals can guide you with appropriate interventions, ranging from behavioral adjustments and cognitive therapies to medical treatments, if necessary. 

    Reasons You May Not Be Able To Sleep

    Your diet, sleep environment, and daily activities can alter the effectiveness of your sleep routine and keep you from drifting off. Explore the most common reasons why people can’t sleep so you can avoid them or make changes to your routine.

    Some of the top reasons why people can’t sleep include insomnia, stress, caffeine, and alcohol consumption.


    Insomnia is a common sleep disorder with repeated difficulty falling or staying asleep, despite having sufficient opportunities. Individuals with insomnia often face significant distress and functional impairment during the day. 

    Common symptoms of insomnia include: 

    • Trouble falling asleep at bedtime 
    • Frequent awakenings throughout the night 
    • Waking up too early and being unable to return to sleep 
    • Feeling unrefreshed upon waking 
    • Experiencing daytime fatigue or irritability 

    Consult a healthcare professional if insomnia symptoms persist, as early intervention and appropriate management are crucial for improving sleep and well-being.

    Waking Up At Different Times Each Day

    The body’s circadian rhythm is the natural internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. When you wake up at inconsistent times, this internal clock is thrown off balance, making it challenging for your body to establish a stable and predictable routine. This inconsistency can confuse your body's natural rhythm, leading to difficulties falling asleep at the desired bedtime and causing irregular sleep patterns.

    It’s Too Hot

    Few things are as uncomfortable as a stuffy, sweaty bedroom. Your body's core temperature naturally decreases during the evening to facilitate sleep, and a cooler sleeping environment aids in this process. When the room is excessively warm, it becomes harder for your body to regulate its temperature. 

    Additionally, a hot room can cause dehydration and exacerbate feelings of restlessness and irritation, further hindering your ability to achieve a rejuvenating sleep. 

    Stress & Anxiety

    Some people find that their daily concerns turn into racing thoughts, keeping them from falling asleep. When worries burden the mind, it becomes challenging to attain the state of relaxation necessary for falling asleep. These emotions trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol, activating the body's fight-or-flight response. Physiologically, this response increases heart rate, alertness, and muscle tension. 

    If you’re struggling with anxious feelings, read this guide on sleep anxiety for tips to deal with it and fall asleep faster.

    Light In Your Bedroom

    Bright bedroom lights aren’t the only threat to your sleep cycle. Certain light colors can signal to your brain that you should pay attention, and even the glowing light of a charging device can get in the way of your sleep. Learn which light colors help you sleep, so you can control the light sources in your bedroom. 

    Caffeine Before Bed

    While caffeine’s impact on your body peaks around one hour after ingestion, its effects can linger long after. This means drinking coffee, energy drinks, or soda late in the afternoon may leave caffeine in your body when it’s time to sleep. The resulting exhaustion in the morning can make you rely on more caffeine to get through the day.

    Vigorous Exercise 

    Intense workouts can tire you out, but too much physical activity before bed can also stimulate your body and raise your temperature. Physical activity releases adrenaline and endorphins that naturally boost your alertness and energy. This can delay the natural wind-down process that your body needs to prepare for sleep. 

    It also raises your body temperature, and it typically takes a few hours for the body to cool down to a level conducive to sleep. This can make it hard for you to fall asleep and impact the overall quality of your rest.

    Heavy Meals And Alcohol Close To Bedtime

    Heavy meals can put a more digestive strain on your body, making it harder to drift off and stay asleep. Additionally, lying down after a large meal can increase heartburn occurrences by causing stomach acid to leak into your esophagus. Similarly, alcohol can make you feel sleepy, but it also disrupts your sleep patterns and wakes you up at odd hours of the night.


    Getting answers for why you can’t sleep at night can be a frustrating task. Here is some additional information to make your search a little easier.  

    Why Is My Body Not Letting Me Sleep?

    There are many reasons why it might feel like your body isn’t letting you sleep. Some of the most common causes include:

    • Stress, anxiety, or other emotional factors that activate the fight-or-flight response, keeping your mind overly alert

    • Lifestyle choices, like engaging in stimulating activities, drinking caffeine, or eating large meals 

    • Disruptions to your circadian rhythm, possibly caused by irregular sleep patterns or exposure to bright light before bed

    • Underlying medical conditions such as insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or chronic pain

    Why Can't I Sleep at Night But Can During the Day?

    Difficulty sleeping at night and feeling more rested during the day can be attributed to a disrupted circadian rhythm or irregular sleep schedule. Your body has a natural internal clock regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Factors like exposure to light, routine activities, and lifestyle choices can influence this rhythm. 

    If you're consistently napping during the day, it can throw off your body's natural balance and make it harder to fall asleep at night. Additionally, bright light or engaging in stimulating activities close to bedtime can confuse your body into thinking it's still daytime.

    Why Can't I Sleep Through the Night?

    Many factors can prevent you from falling asleep at night. Disruptions to your sleep cycle may stem from inconsistent sleep schedules, excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol, or certain medications. Interrupted sleep can also result from an underlying medical condition like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.   

    Why Do I Have Racing Thoughts at Night?

    Experiencing racing thoughts at night can often be tied to anxiety, stress, or an overactive mind. As the day winds down and you settle into bed, your surroundings become quieter, allowing thoughts and worries to surface more prominently. 

    Learn how to stop racing thoughts at night by engaging in relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises, or talking to a mental health professional.

    What If I Still Can’t Sleep?

    General tips may improve the quality and duration of your sleep, but they won’t address issues caused by common sleep disorders. Your doctor may examine you for underlying medical conditions that may be affecting your sleep, such as depression. They may also prescribe medicine or recommend you to a sleep specialist if you suffer from a sleep disorder like chronic insomnia.

    Should I Just Stay Awake If I Can’t Sleep?

    If you still can’t sleep after lying in bed for a prolonged period, calming activities can be beneficial. Reading, journaling, or performing some light cleaning can distract your mind from the frustration of being unable to sleep and provide the reset needed to try again a short time later. 

    Fall Asleep Faster With Purple

    We've explored various strategies in this article to help conquer sleepless nights, but ultimately, it’s your mattress and pillow that create the literal foundation for a good night’s rest. If you’re still wondering what to do when you can’t sleep, investing in the right mattress and pillow could be the true solution you've been seeking. 

    A mattress that provides cooling, cradling comfort, and a pillow that perfectly cushions your head can transform your sleep environment in a profound way. So, find the perfect pillow and create your tailored sleep sanctuary today. 

    About the authors

    Cecilia Gillen

    Cecilia brings over five years of writing experience primarily centered around lifestyle and health topics. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Media and Journalism from the University of South Dakota. She’s both an advocate for sleep and a night owl at heart.

    Kristen Olson-Turner
    Senior Director of Merchandising, Mattress and Bases

    Kristen Olson-Turner is the Senior Director of mattresses, where she has spent 10+ years understanding customer needs and integrating solutions into Purple products for better sleep and comfort.