Forget the zombie apocalypse. Most of us are already walking zombies.
In a Consumer Reports survey, more than a quarter of Americans said they had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep most nights, and 68% — an estimated 164 million — struggled with sleep at least once a week.
Many times we struggle to nod off because we can’t turn our brains off. “Night is the first time you’re not doing something that keeps you occupied,” says Dr. Sogol Javaheri, a sleep expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
If conventional tips like keeping a notepad by your bed or taking a bath beforehand haven’t helped, we have some new techniques for you. When you practice these techniques, try them in a comfortable place that’s not your bed.
“You don’t want to do things in bed that aren’t compatible with sleep,” says Elaine Blank, PhD, a clinical psychology fellow at the Stanford Sleep Health and Insomnia Program. Otherwise you’ll subconsciously connect your bed with anxiety and activity.
Not sheep. Count by 3s or 7s, says Stephanie Silberman, PhD, a licensed psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. If that doesn’t work, go through the alphabet, trying to think of all the fruits and vegetables that start with A, then B and so on.
“Any small mental activity that’s not super challenging but challenging enough will distract your mind from your thoughts,” Silberman says. Keep going until you feel calmer.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Starting at your feet and slowly working your way up your body, tense each muscle for 5–10 seconds, then release it. This does two things: “It’s hard to consciously relax your muscles, so you physically relax,” Blank says. “And it gives you a specific thing to focus on rather than your thoughts so you can get out of your head.”