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Can’t sleep? Do this, not that!

Filed in
  • poor sleep
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Technology

By Patrick Murray  |  Jun 28, 2013
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One of the first things sleep physicians tell insomnia patients is to get out of bed if you can’t sleep. The worst thing you can do when you can’t fall asleep is lie in bed and attempt to force yourself to sleep. But you can’t do anything that’s stimulating or in violation of the basic rules of sleep hygiene. So what do you do?

Do This

Indulge in a low impact hobby: Do you play a musical instrument, knit or like to draw? All of these activities can be low impact and perfect for when you cannot sleep. Whenever you find yourself ready to nod off, stop what you’re doing and go to bed.

Not That

Quality screen time: Netflix, Hulu and a boatload of apps may entertain you but won’t help you fall asleep. Computers, smartphones, televisions and tablets emit blue light, which can reset your circadian clock and make your body think that it is time to be awake.  Late-night screen time is one of the most common sleep hygiene violations.

Do This

Read Something Boring: Maybe you have a book or magazine you’ve been meaning to read, but instantly lose interest the moment you read half a page. Now is finally the time to learn about the intricacies of legislative process or attempt James Joyce’s Ulysses… or crack open that mildly amusing collection of short stories you’ve been meaning to read.

Not That

Read Something Thrilling (or at Least Semi Interesting): Remember that chapter in Game of Thrones where everybody dies? Whatever you do, do NOT read that when you cannot sleep. Don’t read the latest page turner by Dan Brown. If you’re interested in politics or baseball, don’t read about either subject. And remember, don’t do it on a backlit electronic device!

Do This

Low Impact Chores: When was the last time you mopped the floor or picked up clutter around your home? As long as you do these at a relaxed pace and don’t work up a sweat, you may find yourself ready to fall asleep in no time. Just don’t make too much noise.

Not That

Exercise: There’s a common misconception that you can tire yourself out by exercising. While this could hold true for daytime exercise, doing even moderate exercise in the nighttime is akin to drinking a big cup of coffee. Exercise at night and you will not sleep.

What do you do when you cannot sleep? Share your tips in the comments section below:


  1. 1 Kristen Brooks 13 Aug
    Exercising does help you sleep well at least me aha PERIODT
  2. 2 Huntergal 28 Jul
    Try listening to nature sounds or any kind of sounds on youtube you might fall asleep faster that way you can finally wake up next morning and enjoy your day (and drink some water it helps me when i start falling asleep)
  3. 3 lisa 22 Mar
    i’m 16 and ever since i was a child the thought of ending my day and getting into bed gave me a pit in my stomach and i don’t know why! literally have tried everything - changing my sleep routine, melatonin, eating healthy, exercising during the day, u name it. every night i sleep later and later than the night before and i dropped out of school due to this problem for a while. then a friend of mine introduced me to a dab pen.... i was skeptical at first smoking weed but this has changed my life. for all you insomniacs this will put u right to sleep! i swear on this dab pen 
  4. 4 Shirley Brown 04 Mar
    Nice Post
  5. 5 Carrie 22 Feb
    I’ve only just found this article. I’m a 15 year old who hasn’t had decent sleep consistently since I was 7-8. I’ve been on high doses of melatonin and lots of therapy. My doctor has told me that “maybe you just don’t need sleep”, which I find highly unlikely since I’m tiered all of the time. But whenever my head hits the pillow, I’m wide awake. I, unfortunately, have anxiety and depression with symptoms of paranoia. Can someone please help?!
  6. 6 AASM 09 Jan
    Gabriel - Please talk to your doctor about your sleep problem. You also can contact an accredited sleep center ( or a behavioral sleep medicine provider ( Help is available.
  7. 7 Gabriel 07 Jan
    I havent slept in 5 days. Considering jumping off my roof. Its 1:41am, 5 doses of melatonin, three doses of nyquil and four doses of tussin and I’m laying here wide awake. I need a horse tranquilizer not this. 
  8. 8 Grace 03 Dec
    This is true!
  9. 9 Bo 21 Dec
    But my problem is that I can't sleep in! I have to get up so early on weekdays that if I ever have a holiday or weekend I automatically get up only about 10 minutes after the normal time. Still, on these days I stay up about an hour after usual, so I end up getting less sleep than usual!
  10. 10 Edd 22 Aug
    In your mind's eye - slowly draw a large cross using your favorite color. Top to bottom - left to right. Do not move your eyes.  Count each cross. You probably will not get to ten.  It works.
  11. 11 lucy 13 Jul
    i am going to trust you because all the websites i have been on have told lies so i hope this works will get back to you thank you - Lucy
  12. 12 Anna Turner 06 Mar
    That part about exercising isn't true. I start to have a panic/anxiety attack the moment I get in bed if I dont exercise. 
  13. 13 Tony 04 Jul
    I re-listen to audio books. Interesting enough to keep me from thinking much and boring enough to allow me to drift off to sleep.
  14. 14 Benjamin M 29 Jun
    I would like to see more information regarding amber colored lights and apps o remove blue from screens. I use them exclusively after 9pm and it has turned around years of insomnia! The F.Lux app for mac took care of the blue light from my computer so I can fall asleep watching movies.
  15. 15 greenscarab 30 May
    Melatonin, Sweetest dreams, Solgar brand. Cheap melatonin works one or two nights, But stops after that.This is the best brand I think...Source naturals are also good.
  16. 16 Rich 23 May
    Very good article, Ardith the UP you mentioned is great. I have the UP 24 and it has helped me keep track of my sleep and lack of sleep. However, I find when I can't sleep I can watch TV or play a game on laptop or IPad and within minutes I am starting to doze off. Since I was a child I always fell asleep to the TV
  17. 17 Mel 17 May
    I use a sleep app.  The soothing background sounds put me right to sleep!
  18. 18 Vi 16 May
    Good article with basic information. I would be interested in an article on improving sleep quality as well. When I can't sleep - which is frequently - I pretend that it's morning and get up and do all my normal morning chores. By the time I've both dressed and emptied the dishwasher I'm starting to fight a case of the yawns. So I go through my bedtime ritual all over again. Soothing hot shower and dose of melatonin included - I usually sleep really well the second part if the night. Whatever I do I have to be careful to make sure it isn't something that engages my brain or my imagination - the last thing I need are more runaway thought trains coming through my night! 
  19. 19 Jim Miller 18 Apr
    How can I increase deep sleep?
  20. 20 Marielle 11 Apr
    I get up and have some sleepy time tea. Also do deep breathing and use imagery. Usually I think of something beautiful I saw or something that was soothing.
  21. 21 Janan 14 Mar
    I understand about TV and the blue light but my remedy is twofold:  either C-Span with somebody droning on, or depending on the season, Nascar/football with the hypnotic sounds. I use a mask or hide under covers to avoid the light but hear the low sounds...Then presto!
  22. 22 Paula 14 Mar
    I agree w/not staying in bed and forcing yourself to sleep. It is very frustrating. Calming herbal tea helps me sometimes before I go to bed or if I wake too soon. I really enjoy the sleep app it helps me keep track of my nightly zzz's
  23. 23 Annamaria 17 Jan
    Great read. All your suggestions are very helpful

  24. 24 Julie 10 Jan
    I do a couple yoga sun salutations then a shoulder stand or some other inversion. It works like magic!
  25. 25 Barry 10 Jan
    Ambien works for me.  But then, I have a sleep disorder.
  26. 26 Dick 03 Jan
    At age 76 I can walk the treadmill at moderate pace and tire after short stroll and return to sleep 
    Different strokes for different folks.
  27. 27 Ardith 20 Dec
    All your GREAT articles really add to the fact the  UP. is the very best product like this out there. lpve the good ideas/bad ideas.....very belpful. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
  28. 28 Bridgett 13 Dec
    Simple, to the point and practical. Very helpful to offer things not to do, too. I often read to help, but I choose favorite books and stories. 
  29. 29 pvs prasad 10 Jul
    very happy to read the article and it is really useful for diabetic with partial osa.