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Here’s What Sleep Doctors Do When They Can’t Fall Asleep At Night

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Stressing over sleep creates more anxiety, which only exacerbates the problem.

We all deal with sleepless nights from time to time ― and yes, that includes experts like sleep doctors

Though having trouble falling (or staying) asleep can be distressing, it may be comforting to know that it’s a common problem. According to a 2016 Consumer Reports survey, 68% of Americans struggle with sleep at least once a week.

“It’s perfectly normal for all of us to have poor sleep or insomnia, but it becomes more of an issue for people that begin to become anxious and fixated on their sleep,” Ruchir P. Patel, medical director of the Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona, told HuffPost. “Remember, if you have a bad night here or there, it’s normal. The more you stress about your sleep, the less it will return back towards normal.”

We asked sleep doctors to share the tips, tricks or other advice they follow when they personally have trouble sleeping. Some you can implement during the day as preventive measures; others you can try on a sleepless night. 

1. They don’t look at the clock. 

“When I am up in the middle of the night, I try my hardest not to stare at the clock because clock watching is an easy way to have anxiety about the sleep loss and make the insomnia worse.” —Raj Dasgupta, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine 

2. They listen to soothing music.

“I will listen to Max Richter’s ‘Sleep’ in the background, as this is very unique classical music where he worked with neuroscientists to create music utilizing tones that can help to relax the mind and assist with sleep. My wife and I also use it for our 15-month-old baby since he was born and [it] has helped him too.” —Patel

3. They try to find some enjoyment in quiet, cozy time in bed.

“I have learned to enjoy being awake in my bed. It’s a pleasure to have quiet, comfortable time to reflect, plan, muse and simply be present. When you treat the situation as ‘a living nightmare,’ as one patient put it, you’ve already lost the battle.” —W. Chris Winter, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of “The Sleep Solution”

When you treat the situation as ‘a living nightmare,’ as one patient put it, you’ve already lost the battle.W. Chris Winter, author of “The Sleep Solution”4. They remind themselves that they can always sleep in on the weekend.

“It helps me to not worry that I did not sleep well last night or that I’m tired today.” ―Patel

5. They don’t look at their phone.

“I try my hardest not to grab my cellphone because once I open my phone, I’m suddenly answering emails, checking my Instagram and watching ‘The Mandalorian’ on Disney+.” —Dasgupta

6. They move to another room and read something dull. 

“If ultimately I have a very difficult time initiating sleep (greater than 30 minutes), then getting out of bed and going to a different part of the house, using dim light and reading something boring on paper can help to distract my mind that I have not fallen asleep. Then, I return to bed as soon as I get drowsy.”―Patel

7. They try not to take a sleep aid if they can help it. 

“I generally do not take anything for sleep as it is a slippery slope. It’s very easy to become accustomed to taking something to ‘help me sleep.’” ―Patel 

8. But if they really need it, they take a small dose of melatonin.

“Rarely, I have taken melatonin, 3 to 5 mg as needed.” —Anupama Ramalingam, sleep medicine physician at the Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona

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Starting your day with some time outdoors can help realign your circadian rhythms.

9. They go outside in the morning.

“Bright light exposure can be accomplished by going for a walk or having breakfast outside on a sunny day, or by using a light therapy box for 30 minutes.” ―Stacey Gunn, sleep medicine physician at the Insomnia and Sleep Institute of Arizona

10. They focus on resting rather than sleeping.

“I know that restful meditation is a restorative process, much like sleep. Unlike sleep, resting is something I have complete control over. I choose to focus on what I can control.” —Winter

11. They make time for exercise during the day.

“To help with sleep, I get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day, whether it’s just me on the elliptical at the local gym or the whole family taking a walk outside or at the park.” ―Dasgupta

12. They tell themselves it’s not a big deal if they have a night of poor sleep. 

“I keep reminding myself that it is OK if I don’t get enough sleep tonight and that it’s not the end of the world. This helps me to not get worked up, which in turn is going to take you longer to fall asleep. I also journal my thoughts, which helps.” —Ramalingam

13. They avoid sugar and caffeine later in the day. 

“I try to eat smart before going to bed, which is not easy at all. I love junk food and Sour Patch Kids, but as a general rule I try to avoid high carbohydrate meals and things with lots of sugar or caffeine.” —Dasgupta

14. They create their own bedtime rituals. 

“It starts two hours before bedtime and includes putting technology away, reading books to my children, keeping the rooms quiet [and] cool, and turning down the lights. Happy and calm kids usually translate into better sleep for me.” ―Dasgupta

Related video: This Is How Much Sleep You Need Every Single Night, According to Experts (Provided by Real Simple)

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