By Laura McMullen for U.S. News
Of course you wish you were sleeping. It's just not happening. And here you are, in the wee hours of the morning, staring at the insides of your eyelids. So how do you snag at least a few hours of Zzs before the birds start chirping? We asked the experts. Read on for the advice of Eric Olson, co-director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Harneet Walia, a doctor in the Cleveland Clinic's Sleep Disorders Center.
1. Get out of bed.
When you lie awake in bed, you send yourself the wrong message. "You're basically training your body not to sleep in bed, but to lie there and not sleep," Walia says. "And your mind can get conditioned to that." If you're unable to sleep for about a 15- or 20-minute stretch, leave the room, and try something relaxing and non-stimulating. Listen to music, read a book or take a bath.
2. Practice yoga, or meditate.
Call to arms your favorite relaxation techniques. Try a calming yoga pose (Savasana, anyone?). Or meditate. In this article, neuroscience researcher Catherine Kerr explains a simple way of unwinding through breathing. You simply note the rising and falling of your breath, and focus on the parts of your body where you feel these slow inhales and exhales, whether it's in the lungs, abdomen, tip of your nose or elsewhere.
3. Try other relaxation techniques...
...like progressive muscle relaxation. Working from your toes to your forehead, tightly tense each muscle group for five seconds, and then relax. Or try “mental distraction techniques,” as Olson labels them, such as picturing yourself someplace pleasant and calm or -- yep -- counting sheep. Fixating on your sleeplessness only makes those sweet zzz's more elusive. With these techniques, "you're getting your mind off 'I can't sleep; I can't sleep; I can't sleep,' and onto something else," he says.
4. Ease anxieties.
Sometimes sleeplessness stems from worry. Your brain is in overdrive as you think about bank accounts and meetings while you should be sleeping. Try to train your brain to think about these anxieties at more appropriate times. Schedule times each day -- keyword: day -- to simply write a sentence or two about what's worrying you and where you stand with that. When worries keep you up at night, jot them down and try those relaxation techniques.
5. Don't watch the clock.
Another common anxiety that lurks in the wee-hours of a sleepless night is the mounting awareness that you're not asleep when you should be. Stress and frustration -- not typically emotions that welcome relaxation -- escalate as you fret about how you need to be up for work in four (or three or two) hours. The experts' suggestion? Get rid of time cues. "No clock watching," Walia says, "That's a big no-no. Turn the clock around."
6. Medicate with caution.
Whether prescription or over-the-counter, Walia and Olson do not recommend drugs as a first choice for relieving sleeplessness. But, should you choose a sleep aid remember that, of course, it will make you sleepy. This grogginess is great at 11 p.m., but not at 7 a.m. -- when you have to drive a car. "Avoid taking a sleep medicine the closer you get to morning," Olson says.
7. In the waking hours, perfect your sleep hygiene.
No more 4 a.m. stare sessions. Develop a sleep schedule with consistent bedtimes and wake times; unplug from electronics well before you hit the hay; and make sure your bedroom is dark, cool and used only for sleep and intimacy. Poorly timed exercise and napping, along with the consumption of caffeine, alcohol and certain foods can also wreak havoc on your sleep. Read this sleep hygiene guide for more tips.
8. Consider seeing a doctor.
If your sleeplessness is frequent and impairing your daytime behavior, bring it up with your physician. "When people start to feel like they're worried about their sleep during the day, that's probably the time when they need some guidance," Olson says.