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4 Ways to Relax When You Can’t Sleep

These strategies will have you drifting off in no time.

You wake up in the middle of the night—because of a siren, indigestion, or a bump in the night—your mind immediately starts racing, and the next thing you know, you’ve been tossing and turning for an hour (which isn’t helped by the fact that your anxiety about losing sleep is making you lose even more sleep). Sound familiar? Luckily, there are tried-and-true techniques you can use to help calm your body and mind and get back to the dream space.

1. Take deep breaths. If your mind’s moving at 1,000 miles per minute, try to turn your energy away from your worries and onto your breathing. If you notice any tension in your body, make a conscious effort to relax your muscles, and pay attention to how your body feels. Then, focus on your breathing. Take a deep breath that fills your belly, hold for a few seconds, then release. If you find that your thoughts wander, bring them back to your breath. As you hold your attention to your breaths, you may find yourself getting sleepier as you feel more relaxed.

2. Listen to a bedtime story. No, adults aren’t too old to succumb to the soothing effect of being read to. Download the Calm app, which includes stories that are specially designed to help you fall asleep. They range from fairy tales like Cinderella to classic stories like The Velveteen Rabbit, and some are even read by celebrities like The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira and Bachelor Nick Viall.

3. Use your imagination. If you’re not in the mood to listen to a bedtime story, try guided imagery. Visualize yourself in a tranquil place, whether it’s a beautiful beach at sunset or a field of poppies in bloom. You can also recall a soothing memory, like lounging in a comfy chair at your parents’ house or baking cookies with your kids. Or go completely imaginative and dream up a relaxing story. Slowly and carefully fill in all the details of your image or story, and if any disruptive thoughts pass through your mind, acknowledge them before refocusing your attention on your calming scene to get back on the path back to a good night’s sleep.

4. Loosen up your muscles. Get your muscles ready for bed by practicing progressive muscle relaxation, where you tighten and release your muscles while breathing. Start with the muscles in your face (tense them up for 10 seconds, then release), and the work your way down to your upper body, lower body, and lastly the feet. 

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