So – the last post was about sleep strategies… And since I acknowledged that none of those strategies were quick fixes, I figured it would make sense to follow up with strategies about what on Earth to do with yourself when you can’t sleep. Because, even if you do everything I just suggested in the last post, chances are some of the time you’ll still be up, unable to sleep.
Or, chances are that you’ll get to sleep and then be woken up with nightmares. If that’s the case, check out this post.
If you’re lying in bed and you can’t sleep – don’t just keep lying there tossing and turning. Get up. Go to a different room.
Turn on only soft, dim lights. Try NOT to turn on the TV, the computer, or your phone; your brain interprets the type of light emitted by those devices as daylight, so looking at them will only get you more alert and wired, and will make it harder to get back to sleep.
Instead, do things that feel either relaxing and/or a little boring to you – some examples might include playing soft music; flipping through a magazine; folding laundry; working on a jigsaw puzzle.
Do this until you feel sleepy (until you’re yawning and feeling like you could fall asleep). Then go back to bed.
There’s a reason behind this approach:
If you can’t sleep and you don’t get up, you end up spending night after night tossing and turning in bed. After a while, you don’t think of bed as “a relaxing place to go to get some rest”; instead, you think of bed as “that awful place where you toss and turn all night long every night”. If you’ve been doing that for a while, you’ll tense up a bit as soon as you think of bed. You might find it easier to fall asleep on the couch or in a big armchair – anywhere but bed.
So, getting up when you can’t sleep basically re-teaches your brain that bed is a comfortable place where you can sleep, and not an awful place where you toss and turn for hours on end.
And doing relaxing, boring, quiet stuff gives you another chance to lull yourself to sleep. Even if you don’t get back to sleep that night, doing quiet, relaxing stuff during the night helps to re-teach your brain that night-time is for sleeping, or at least for resting.
Again – no quick fixes here, folks. But this is important stuff to know, and if you try it, it might make a bit of a difference.
I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…
~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.
*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.
**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.