Here’s What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

woman sitting up in bed frustrated that she can't fall asleep

Here’s What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

If you struggle to fall asleep at night, you’re definitely not alone. Millions of Americans have sleep deprivation and insomnia, a sleep disorder in which a patient has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep throughout the night, getting quality rest while sleeping, or all of the above.

There are many reasons why sleep deprivation is dangerous, as it can disrupt your daily mood, cognition, socialization, and overall healthy functioning, which is why you need to know what to do when you can’t sleep. For advice from our experts in sleep solutions on what to do when you can’t sleep, read on!

Causes of Insomnia

Before giving you our best advice for preventing insomnia, remember that sleep solutions are not one-size-fits-all because there are many different causes. 

Knowing the origin of your sleeplessness will help you narrow down which solutions are best to try implementing into your routine. 

For many, anxiety and stress are the primary source of sleepless nights and insomnia. In addition, many other factors include your diet, alcohol consumption, medication use, sleep environment, and more. To explore these causes further and learn how to improve your habits for your best chance at sleep, check out the following four tips:

What to Do When You Can’t Sleep: Top 4 Tips

#1: Examine Your Diet  

Spicy and acidic foods, dairy, and other common digestive irritants can be significantly disturbing to one’s ability to sleep. It can make sleep difficult if your stomach is doing somersaults due to whatever you eat for dinner. Try to limit consumption of these foods too closely to bedtime, giving your digestive system sufficient time to process them.

Instead, try incorporating calming or easier foods on the stomach, like drinking chamomile or valerian root tea and eating more bland, light meals when eating close to bedtime.

#2 Monitor (When and How Much) You’re Drinking Caffeine

A more prominent cause of sleep deprivation is caffeine consumption. Whether you’re sensitive to caffeine or other stimulant compounds or drink coffee (or energy drinks) later in the day, you may struggle to fall asleep. Many find that a good rule of thumb is to stop drinking caffeine after lunchtime in the early afternoon. 

If you still struggle with energy without caffeine, you may have a vitamin deficiency and need to incorporate more superfoods and supplements into your daily diet and routine. However, before doing so, talk with your primary care physician (or prescriber of any medications you’re taking) and consider consulting a sleep specialist. 

#3 Limit and Monitor Alcohol Consumption

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is not the way to go when trying to get good sleep. Sure, it might make you fall asleep quickly, but your body will wake itself throughout the night to prevent dehydration. That means, if you’re going to drink alcohol, stay extra hydrated by drinking plenty of water—not soda, juice, or more alcohol—with each beverage and continually after you’ve finished drinking alcohol; also, keep drinking water on your nightstand, since that’s what your body will be waking itself up for throughout the night. 

Not only is alcohol not the best for your overall health and natural sleeping ability, but it commonly interacts with medications to neutralize or reverse intended effects. In the worst-case scenarios (yet the prevalence rates are relatively high), mixing alcohol with medication can lead to coma, stomach or other organ bleeding and damage, or death.

Whatever you do, don’t drink alcohol within 24 hours of taking OTC or prescription medication unless your doctor has explicitly stated that you will not experience adverse side effects due to the interacting substances.

#4 Improve Your Sleep Environment

First of all, to relax, you need a sleeping environment that’s comfortable and free of distractions. A few adjustments to make include:

  • Lower room temperature: the body naturally reduces its temperature during sleep, and a cooler room can help to initiate a similar effect.
  • Dress your bed with warm bedding, pillows with the right firmness, and clean, soft sheets.
  • Wear comfortable, clean pajamas (or whatever you sleep in) without uncomfortable buttons, zippers, or whatever could disturb your sensory perception.
  • Remove makeup if you wear it.
  • Wear a sleep mask to block out any light you can’t turn off
  • Turn off devices and TV and do so at least an hour before bed if possible


Regarding the last point, you’ve probably heard that playing on devices such as a cell phone or tablet before bed can cause you trouble sleeping, and we’re here to confirm this. 

Many people report having no issues sleeping with the television on in the same room or that they even have a dependency and cannot sleep without the TV on before falling asleep. Still, just because this habit is part of others’ sleeping routines, it isn’t necessarily healthy for you to get the best possible night’s sleep. Try powering down devices an hour or two before bedtime and see how much your sleep improves!

When to Seek Professional Help

For more severe cases of insomnia, the above four tips won’t be enough to fix it (though you should try them all first, as they can make a world of difference). There are two routes to consider when seeking professional help for insomnia. A psychiatrist can often offer pharmacological treatment solutions and other advice, and an experienced sleep specialist can conduct sleep studies and provide both holistic and more traditional options for treatment like medication.

Medications: OTC and Prescription 

Of course, taking any form of sleep aid—over-the-counter, prescription, even herbal remedies—should be done with caution, research, and close monitoring. Always ask your doctor before incorporating new drugs into the mix, especially if you’re already taking medication for the same or other conditions.

If you have a bed partner or at least live with others, ask someone to help you monitor the way you respond to new sleep medications during the early stages of taking them. 

Looking for a Sleep Specialist?

As we mentioned, once you have tried different at-home approaches and are still unable to sleep, it’s time to face the music and get professional help. Although it may seem impossible to get relief from your lack of sleep, we can help you by tailoring professional solutions to your case.

At TMJ & Sleep Solutions of Alabama, our mission is to provide personalized care to restore quality of life, one patient at a time. If you are experiencing issues with sleep, don’t hesitate to contact us and schedule an appointment!