Seven things to do when you can’t sleep

Insomnia smiley

Insomnia smiley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like the three main characters in my novel “More Than You Think You Know” I suffer from insomnia. Let me rephrase: Used to suffer. I’m still sleeping lighter and less, as many of us do as we grow older. Women of a certain age are particularly prone.

I just don’t let it bug me. Tonight, for example, that big ol’ moon is gonna shine like a spoon. If I’m up, I’ll enjoy the view.

You can’t force sleep. We all know it. But the tossing and turning goes on, as immortal as the old pop song.

If you’re weary of lying there staring at the clock, maybe one of these seven strategies will help you make the best use of wakeful hours in a way that eases you back into slumber.

1) Count something besides sheep. Hailey, lead escapee and narrator in my novel “More Than You Think You Know,” counts rivers and lovers. I count my blessings, or string together prayers in rosary fashion like the 109 beads on a japa mala necklace. The other night I prayed for everyone in my neighborhood, using my favorite Ram Dass compassion prayer, “May all be free of pain and sorrow, May all be well and happy.” I worked most of the way around the block before nodding off. Pray for your cousins, your teammates, your co-workers, those experiencing medical challenges or natural disasters – or just let random people pop into your head and pray for them. It’s illuminating to see who surfaces when you let the reel whir along on its own. You may even find yourself praying for your enemies.

4) Agnostics, atheists and pessimists need not squirm in the throes of unwanted wakefulness. Meditation, a process that taps into that which lies within, is available to everyone. Running through to-do lists or self-recriminating “I should be sleeping” statements is a like a mantra anyway, one that manifests more stress. Instead consider what some Yogis call “the sound in between the sound” or that pause between long, slow, deep breaths. Breathe and listen. If you can’t shush those whirling thoughts in your brain, at least change the frequency. Switch up the replay of what went wrong yesterday with a new version in which everything goes right. Anything is possible in the middle of the night. Dream while you’re awake. Allow yourself to anticipate desirable outcomes rather than embracing the “life is a shit sandwich and every day is another bite” philosophy. Experiment with happy thoughts or no thoughts to lull you into sweet dreams.

Up between 2 and 3 a.m.? Count yourself lucky. This precious time of day belongs to those awake to witness it. Legendary psychic Edgar Cayce calls it the optimum time to seek “at-one-ment.” More of his meditation suggestions and philosophy are featured at

2) Have a snack. Preferably something healthier than beer and nicotine, Captain Robin of Blackdog’s go-to for all occasions. It may also help to nosh on food conducive to slumber before you go to bed:

3) Seek a natural remedy. I’m a new Breathe Right nasal strips fan because of all those time when my husband breathes WRONG. I also bought earplugs to combat his disruptive snoring but haven’t needed to adjust to the claustrophobic underwater sensation because when he wears a strip he’s not honking, buzzing and snorting all night.

I’ve never been one for Sominex lullabies or Lunesta butterflies, but if chamomile tea and lavender pillow mist won’t do the trick consider a natural sleep aid with serotonin. This one is reportedly OK to take in the middle of the night; you won’t be a doped-up zombie in the morning.

If you’re entering peri- or full-blown menopause which can happen from age 40 on, you may also want to research different supplements available that address insomnia and night sweats. Trish, the youngest of the “More Than You Think You Know” trio, turns out to be the wisest when it comes to finding an herbal capsule that keeps the crew on an even keel during their wild boat ride down the Heartland Rivers.

5) Work it out in bed with eye or face yoga exercises. Check out classic facial moves such as the “Sachmo,” “Prom Queen with Crazy Eyes,” and “Smiling Fish” on YouTube. Eye exercises, which promote healthy vision, include slow circles in one direction, then the other, without turning your head. Since I’m a sailor I box the compass, with North up and South past the tip of my nose, moving just my eyes in slow circles both counter- and clockwise. I also do figure 8s with my eyes closed, which balances both brain hemispheres in addition to toning optical muscles. Take it slow to prevent strain or dizziness. If you’re too antsy to lie abed, rise and gently shine with simple yoga relaxation moves in this mini-class offered from

Yoga Today, my favorite online practice, offers “Yoga for Insomnia” with Sarah Klein:

6) Read. This always does it for me, although it contradicts the findings of a recently published study that shows ambient light from our electronic devices conspires to murder sleep.

Oh well. At least I’m not dozing with the TV on. A long-lasting, adjustable, clip-on reading light like my M-Edge is a must for both my trusty old Kindle (saving up for the model with the built-in light) or whatever hardbound or paperback I’m into. Many sailors wear headlamps for night reading. Combining goofy with hands-free is always a win-win.

7) Write your next blog. Or your next chapter. Or your next script. Take notes. Make a journal entry. Vent emotional toxins in a cathartic cleansing letter you’ll never send. Cherish the free time to free your creativity without interruption.

What do you do when you can’t sleep?

4 thoughts on “Seven things to do when you can’t sleep

  1. For years I would wake up multiple times during the night for no apparent reason. Or, wake up an hour before that 4:30am alarm :(. It’s only been over the last year that I finally started to sleep like a baby. Go figure. With the big ‘5-0′ right around the corner, I heard I was doomed to never getting a good night’s rest again. Now, I think, a laissez-faire attitude, and maybe the 55+ hour work weeks might have something to do with me hittin’ the sack and falling right to sleep. Just to be sure I’m thinking awesome thoughts, I always go to bed thinking about getting that new-to-me boat and hitting the islands. Sometimes I actually wish I could stay awake just a tad bit longer to keep the daydream going 🙂

    • I think it’s definitely the long work week, sailing daydreams, not watching a lot of TV and hmmmm, maybe a clear conscience 😉 that helps you sleep. Glad it’s working for you 🙂

      On Sat, May 25, 2013 at 2:03 AM, cyndiperkins

  2. Another great article, Cindy! I’m going to try some of your ideas for catchin’ some zzzzzs! (In the event I can’t fall asleep). Luckily, (knock on wood!) I’ve not had a problem with that, lately!

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