I Just Can't Sleep!
What To Do In A Sleep Emergency

Written by Casey Engelbert with contributions from Kevin Morton

It has become clear to scientists who study sleep that our slumber is not just downtime in which we get to relax -- it is an important necessity without which we cannot function. For most who have trouble falling asleep, the pressure of this knowledge makes those nights when you can't sleep that much worse.

Thankfully, however, there is something you can do about it. If you are one of the many people who feels like they just can't sleep, take note of these proven techniques for good sleep hygiene and feel yourself melting into the sheets on a consistent basis.

Are you having trouble sleeping? Care to share your problems or your story? We would love it if you did! We really value your thoughts and experiences, and you will likely even be helping our other visitors with your perspective.

Setting A Consistent Schedule

The first step is to bring regularity into your sleep life and do all that you can to keep your biological clock on track.

Can't Sleep Due To Clock Dependent Alerting If you can't sleep there's a good chance it's due to a shift in your biological clock, causing you to be alert when you feel like you should be asleep.

Have you ever established a bedtime with your kids that they can't stay up past? Try taking a piece of your own advice and establish a nightly bedtime for yourself -- then stick to it! A regular and consistent bedtime will allow your circadian rhythm to function at its best, permitting you to fall asleep on time and in turn letting you wake up energized when you need to in the morning.

But sometimes your circadian rhythms may be sufficiently off to make this feel nearly impossible to do from the beginning. Your clock-dependent alerting may be kicking in at a time when you need it to be shutting down, thus handing you a heavy dose of frustration as you lie in bed feeling too alert to sleep.

Bright light therapy can be effective in shifting your biological clock. Bright light therapy ranges from exposing yourself to sunlight at strategic times, to actually using a "bright light box", designed to help shift your biological clock.

If this is the case, as it often is, setting a consistent sleep schedule that you're happy with will require you to shift your biological clock so that your clock-dependent alerting is weak at the times you want to go to bed. Bright light treatment, as seen at left, can be a highly effective way of doing this.

Time Your Naps Right

It is also important take all necessary precautions to make sure that you will be relaxed enough to slip into slumber once you make it into bed each night, and this calls for being smart with when you take naps.

Power naps can be great if used properly. Napping is great for lowering your sleep debt and increasing your alertness, but you must time them right--ideally to coincide with afternoon dips in clock-dependent alerting.

Naps, though certainly a great way to make up on sleep deprivation, can interfere with your ability to sleep if taken too late in the day. Thus, it is important to make sure that you take your naps well before evening falls if you want to stand a chance of falling asleep at a reasonable hour.

In fact, once you start to understand your body's schedule of clock-dependent alerting, you will be strongly equipped with the ability to take naps at strategic times in the day (i.e. when you experience a dip in clock-dependent alerting, typically for most people between 2-4 PM)

Wind Down And Calm Your Mind

Furthermore, try not to exercise within three hours of your scheduled bedtime. The increased heart rate is likely to be enough to keep you wide awake for longer than you may like.

It may also be worth your while to establish a wind down time of about 90 minutes prior to your bedtime in which you partake in no strenuous activities at all. Many even find it useful to physically write down a list of their concerns and worries before getting into bed in order to clear their minds. (If this strategy just brings those troubling thoughts to the front of your mind, this may not be the strategy for you!).

Others find it useful to listen to calm music before going to bed as well. That is to say, doing anything in the effort to make sure your mind is relaxed is a great way to help you fall asleep with greater ease. The following picture leads you to a website written from personal experience that could help you with this:

sound-mind.org

Once You Fall Asleep, Stay Asleep

Third, it is important to take all necessary steps to make sure that once you do fall asleep, you will stay there without being interrupted throughout the night. This involves the avoidance of drinking liquids within 2 hours of your bedtime to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom, staying away from stimulants and stimulating foods in the evening, and creating a cool, dark, sleep-only environment in which to sleep.

Make your bed for sleeping only, so your body and mind do not get used to doing waking activities in it.

Remember that in order to do this it is crucial to avoid partaking in most waking activities in your bed. That is, if you're having trouble sleeping try to make your desk the place where you get work done, a comfy chair the place where you read good books, and so on. In order to fall asleep with the greatest ease your bed must be for sleeping and sleeping only.

With personal laptops becoming more and more common, it is tempting to take advantage of the convenience they provide in your bed. However, the combination of computing in bed being a waking activity and the bright light that you are staring at when using one is a combination that can really not only make it hard to fall asleep, but shift your biological clock in a way that causes you to stay up later on subsequent nights as well.

Of course, some people wake up in the middle of the night due to certain sleep disorders they might have. If this describes you, or you think it might, make sure to check out the information we provide on various sleep disorders.

Don't Admit Defeat. You Can Do It!

Finally, if you do wake up in the middle of the night, or you just feel like you can't sleep until the early morning brings your down, it is important not to admit defeat.

If you can't fall asleep either at bedtime or after waking in the middle of the night, don't lay around in bed. After 15-20 minutes, get up out of bed and do something unstimulating until you feel sleepy once more (although stay away from the bright light of the television).

You can take charge of your sleep. Don't be another one of the countless individual that thinks they just can't sleep. Ambitions and high energy are important in life too, but to optimize these parts of our lives we need to remember that sleep hygiene is an important foundation that lets us pursue our goals with vigor.

Just as with our careers and our relationships, good sleep hygiene is something which requires time and a bit of effort. But when you become successful at it, it sure is worth it! And thankfully, you do have the power to be a healthy sleeper once more.



Enjoy this page? Please help us pay it forward to others who would find it valuable by Liking, Sharing, Tweeting, Stumbling, and/or Voting below.


"I cant sleep!" Is this you? If it is, share your own stories of having trouble falling asleep below.

Can't Sleep? Share Your Story With Us

Have you ever had trouble falling asleep? Hey, maybe that time is even right now....

Write about your thoughts, feelings, or concerns right here. You could gain valuable suggestions for your situation and your insight could aid others who can relate to what you're experiencing.

Enter the Title of Your Story (ex: "I Just Can't Fall Asleep Before 4 A.M.")

Read Other Trouble Sleeping Stories

Click on the links below to read stories of others who have had trouble sleeping. They were all written by other visitors to this page, just like you.

Too Aware Of The Process Of Falling Asleep 
It's a very short story: I often keep myself from falling asleep by being too aware of the process of falling asleep. I think it happens when I really …

6 Days Without Sleep - I Am Unable To Sleep At All 
I have been having trouble getting to sleep for months. But now I cannot sleep at all. I have gone 6 days without sleep at all. Then I got two good nights …

Feeling Like A Feather On My Skin Keeping Me Awake 
Hi I am 23 years of age. I have problems not sleeping. My experience with sleep has never been a great affair.I used to stay up really late watching T.V …

ME Sufferer Of 16 Years...Now Aged 55 Menopausal and Insomniac 
Aged 55, sleepless, menopausal. Hot flushes and night sweats. Have had severe Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 16 years. Housebound most of the time. Feeling …

A Lifetime Without Sleep 
I'm a middle aged man that for the best part of my adult life hasn't had a good nights sleep. It didn't bother me when I was younger (& bullet proof) but …

5 Nights Without Sleep 
Hi, I'm a 19 year-old college student and I haven't gotten a full nights sleep in 5 nights and afraid something is wrong. The most sleep I've gotten is …

Problem Sleeping 
My 11 year old has been waking up almost every night crying that his eyes are weird , he states he can't explain it...crying hysterically and complains …

Hear My Thoughts Really Loud As I Try To Go To Sleep 
I really don't know how to explain my situation. I think all the time nonstop but when I am about to go to sleep I can hear my thoughts really loud and …

Oasis Body Pillow Has Helped My Migraines, Night Sweats and Racing Heart When I Sleep 
When I don't get a good night sleep, I wake up with migraines and my heart racing. I found a natural way to resolve my issues. I received as a gift an …

Sleeping Is Becoming My Nightmare - Restlessness During Pregnancy 
Hi! I am now pregnant and the baby is due in 2 months' time. For the past month I had big troubles falling asleep in the night. It started with my legs …

I Can't Sleep 
I am not able to just fall asleep naturally anymore. I am exhausted and I am able to sleep only with a sleeping pill (restoril) every night. I sleep only …

Night Waking With Internal Intense Body Heat? 
I have been waking in the night with intense body heat at about 12 or 1 AM every night. This is not night sweats, as I am not sweating and have had night …

How To Get Restful Sleep 
I am a 51 year old woman who has had sleep issues for awhile. I can fall asleep after reading, but I don't sleep restfully. I have gotten into the terrible …

Couldn't Get Back To Sleep In The Night, Until Audiobooks 
I could go to sleep with no trouble since I always read at bedtime, but would awaken between 2-4 times a night, and had trouble getting back to sleep. …

I Can't Fall Asleep And I Feel Bad When I Go To Bed 
Hi, I'm a 17 year old girl. My troubles began after the semester break was over; I went to sleep at 4 am willingly then I would wake up at 11 am or somewhat …

Conditioned To Wake-Up, Old Habit Are Hard To Break 
Before the birth of my youngest son, I slept pretty good. My son was born with a congenital heart defect and after he came home from the hospital, I was …

I Can't Stop Worrying Before Bed! 
I have a very active mind at night and no matter how hard I try, I can't sleep. The reason? All I hear about is "the world ending" and it worries me to …

It Takes Me Hours To Fall Asleep 
I can't fall asleep before 3 A.M when I know I have to be up early the next day. I lay in bed tossing and turning and worrying about what time it is and …

Spontaneous Spells Of Insomnia/DSPS Along With Hallucinations 
I have always had trouble falling asleep, and had grown accustomed to only getting four or five hours of sleep every night. But recently, my sleep cycle …

I Don't Know If I'm Sleeping!  
I've suffered from insomnia for years. I am 20 years old and I genuinely don't know why I have insomnia. As I am a university student I will agree that …

I'm Scared Of Going To Sleep, And I Don't Know Why 
Lately, in addition to my DSPS , I've been experiencing fear of going to sleep. I don't exactly know how to pinpoint it. I'm not prone to nightmares, …

How I Overcame My Nighttime Allergies (And Finally Fell Asleep) 
One of the most troublesome things in my life is my seasonal allergies. Every time I think I have them under control they sneak back up on me and play …

Do You Really Need Sleep? Bipolar And Quite Manic Now 
For the past 5 months my sleep has been greatly reduced to sleeping between 1 to 2 hours. Lately it is now that I don't sleep at all, every couple of days …

"Normal" Is Taking Over An Hour For Me To Fall Asleep...Why?!?! 
Ever since I can remember, I've had a very hard time falling asleep. It normally takes me about an hour, but there have been times when it took 7 times …

Click here to write your own.

Why Can't I Sleep In My Bed? 
Ok so it started last year around this time. I fell asleep to the movie UP. I woke up and slept in my parents room. No prob, right? Well the next day …

I Just Can't Fall Asleep Before 4 A.M. 
I've had this problem for months now. I don't know if it's the satisfaction of knowing I don't have anything to do the next day, but even if I do I can …

Can't Fall Asleep For Hours, Then Finally Do, But Have Exhasuting Dreams 
Help - I'm constantly exhausted, and I'm running out of sick days. Takes a while to fall asleep - I have lot of thoughts about work stresses and can't …

I Cannot Fall To Sleep The Whole Night Since 2007 
I am 63. I am having this problem since 2007. It just happened all of a sudden at one night after I felt a nerve pain at the back of my head near the neck. …

I Can Fall Asleep, But I Rarely Feel Like I Slept 
Hi, I'm Scott. I'm 16 years old. I sometimes have problems sleeping, mostly falling asleep, but once I do, I sleep like a log. My problem so far has …

I Just Can't Fall Asleep Before 12:30AM 
Ok so it is the end of Spring Break and trying to get in the sleeping routine for school but even if I go to bed early (10 pm is early for me) .. I'll …

My Tryst With Insomnia 
They say a good night’s sleep is like an indulgence. How true! Looking back in time, I remember that my tryst with insomnia began in class ninth or tenth …

The Insomnia Marathon 
How is it possible to go two, three days with no more than 3 or 4 hours of sleep? Well, I've been routinely doing it for months now, and it's getting …

7 Year Old Won't Sleep, Needs Us To Check On Her 
My 7 year old daughter goes to bed ok 7.30pm but she wants us to keep checking on her every 10 mins, she nods off to sleep but wakes thinking we havnt …

Click here to write your own.

Where to go from here:

Go from Can't Sleep to Learning About Sleep Debt

Go from Can't Sleep to Natural Sleep Remedies

More Resources

Still can't sleep?? This page from SleepForAll.com is an additional great directory of resources to help you sleep better.

Sleep Aid Guide has also got some more information about strategical sleep aids, from relaxation techniques to herbal remedies and over the counter medicine.

No Hype also offers some writing on natural sleep aids
to help you strategically make your sleep sanctuary.

About This Site

Welcome! This site is continuously being created by students of Dr. William C. Dement's Sleep And Dreams course at Stanford University.

We made this site as a call to action for people all over the world to live healthier, happier, safer, and more productive lives by learning about their own sleep. We have faith that reading the information provided on this site will motivate you to be smart about your sleep deprivation and strategic about your alertness in order to live life to your fullest, most energetic potential.

In fact, we challenge you to do so! What do you say, are you up for the challenge?





The Stanford Sleep Book

Stanford Sleep Book Picture

Dr. Dement's pioneering textbook has been the core text for Sleep and Dreams since 1980, but it has just recently been made available to the wider public for the first time.

In it you'll find a more detailed account of the most important things you need to know about sleep, alertness, dreams, and sleep disorders. Studies, statistics, plus plenty of Dr. Dement's classic anecdotes painting the history of sleep medicine.

Preface | Intro | Contents | Get A Copy

More Sleep Resources

The Zeo

A revolution in personal sleep tracking, the Zeo is a wireless headband that transmits your brainwaves in realtime to a dock (pictured here) or your smartphone. The result? You can wake up and see exactly what stages of sleep you were in during the night! Unprecedented personalized sleep knowledge.

Sleep Paralysis: A Dreamer's Guide

Sleep Paralysis Treatment Book

Ever woken up paralyzed? A surprising number of us have, believe it or not. But few know the actual causes of this phenomenon, and fewer still how to exert control over it. Dream researcher and sleep paralysis expert Ryan Hurd shares breakthrough insights into how to do just that.

How This Site Was Made

In 2007 I discovered a guide to website building that would change my life. After learning from it diligently, it would eventually empower me to help Dr. Dement take his life's mission of spreading education about sleep health to the online world. Now, several years later, this site reaches over 100,000 visitors per month and counting.

The results are due in large part to the methods taught in that guide, and they are replicable for others who have knowledge of a subject they would like to share with the masses. I've detailed some of my journey here for those who might be interested.

The Sleep Essentials Quick Guide

Important Disclaimer

Please Note:

The information found on this page and throughout this site is intended for general information purposes only. While it may prove useful and empowering, it is NOT intended as a substitute for the expertise and judgments of healthcare practitioners.

For more info, see our
Terms of Use.