5 Mind Tricks To Help You Fall Asleep When You Can't Stop Tossing And Turning

by Samantha Brodsky

You're finally ready to go to sleep after a long day, but once your head hits the pillow, your mind becomes wired.

Your unruly thoughts make every position unbearably uncomfortable, so you spend hours tossing and turning.

You think. A lot. It's too warm in the room, then too cold. Every noise might be an intruder coming to steal that Keurig you got for Christmas, might be someone coming for you.

Suddenly, you're reassessing your life choices. Maybe you shouldn't have majored in philosophy in college. Maybe you shouldn't avoid the dentist for the second year in a row. Maybe you should've called your grandma on her birthday.

You think about how many kids you want, what you're going to name all 27 of your rescued cats.

You question every decision you've ever made from forgetting to turn the oven off that one Sunday two summers ago to thinking you could wear leggings to the office last week.

And the worst part of this crazed insomnia is your brain comes up with the most bizarre to-do lists. Out of nowhere you go over everything you should and have yet to do when all you really should be doing is dreaming about vacation and warmer days.

“I need to re-paint my nails,” you think. “I need to re-organize my desk and check my savings account and find out how many sick days I have left.”

“I need to prepare my dinner for tomorrow and try a spin class and learn how to really braid my hair and bake that cinnamon chocolate cake made with Yodels I saw on Facebook before sunrise.”

It just doesn't end.

When your mind is in this anxiety-induced frenzy, here are some ways you can trick yourself into falling asleep (that aren't counting sheep).

1. Guided imagery

According to the National Sleep Foundation, this technique is a great way to preoccupy your brain. Instead of clearing your mind, distract it.

Focus your restless energy on a specific image instead of on miscellaneous, trivial things you can think about when you're actually awake and ready (like what kind of organic dog food you should switch to).

Visualize a scene or memory that's calming and replay it in your head. Go through every detail slowly and carefully.

My fifth grade teacher told us when she couldn't sleep, she'd picture herself unpacking a bag at the beach.


She'd walk herself through it step by step -- first setting down her towel, then her book, sunglasses, lotion, cooler full of food -- all while feeling the warmth of sunlight on her skin.

She said it worked every time.

2. Progressive muscle relaxation

This is one you might've heard before. The trick is to tense and release one muscle group at a time.

Try starting at your toes and slowly working your way up to the muscles in your face.

This will control anxiety and help you relax.

3. The 4-7-8 breath

This breathing technique was pioneered by Harvard graduate and Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine Dr. Andrew Weil.

Described as the "natural tranquilizer for the nervous system," the exercise is meant to relieve stress and focuses on the ratio of 4:7:8. Follow these steps:

  • Inhale through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale through your mouth, making a "whoosh" sound to a count of eight.

Repeat this cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Note: Dr. Weil says that for the first month of practice, you should not exceed more than four breaths at a time.

4. Read fiction

Distracting your mind with an alternate universe tends to relax us. It's an escape from reality.

Founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, Janet Kennedy, phD, says fiction "engages people by transporting them into an imagined scenario and pulls focus from stress."

Doing this before bed will quiet your mind. So pick up your favorite fantasy novel or even "Fifty Shades of Grey" and let your imagination run free.

Which leads me to the final and probably most difficult suggestion...

5. Put away electronics

It's simple: Hiding your electronics from sight will cut you off from the cyber world of Instagram likes and constant emails.

If you don't see your screen light up, you might actually forget about that text you're waiting for or those pesky reminders telling you it's time for a software update.

Sometimes just putting your phone face-down is effective.

It's hard, I know, but it's worth a try. And those messages can wait until morning.

It's one thing to want to fall asleep, but to actually do it is another story. There's no telling what a busy brain will make you worry about when you're trying to rest your tired eyes. We've all been there.

So try these techniques out the next time you're up dwelling over the paint chips in your bathroom or the package from Amazon that never showed up. You'll be better for it.