Insomnia: What to Do When You Can’t Sleep

This article describes some simple things that you can do to help your insomnia.

Follow these tips each night. Don’t be worried if it takes a week or two before you can tell a difference.

Be sure to talk to us about your sleep problem. Insomnia can be caused by many medical conditions. Treating the medical condition may be necessary before you can sleep better. We may also prescribe medicine to help you sleep. These medicines can help, but they should only be used for a short time (less than 4 weeks).

Insomnia Tip #1: Change your lifestyle to promote good sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon or evening. Coffee, cola and tea are obvious sources of caffeine. Caffeine may also “hide” in chocolate, medicines, diet pills and soft drinks.
  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it will make you wake up again later on in the night.
  • Avoid tobacco and any other stimulating drugs at bedtime. Ask us if any of the medicines you take may be causing sleep problems.
  • Exercise regularly. However, avoid exercising within three or four hours before you go to bed.
  • Try eating a light snack before bedtime, such as crackers and milk. But don’t eat a heavy meal close to bedtime.

Insomnia Tip #2: Improve your sleep environment.

  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool, but not cold. Keep the bedroom dark and quiet (use ear plugs and an eye mask if necessary). Be sure your mattress is comfortable.

Insomnia Tip #3: Slow down your mind at bedtime.

  • Many people find it hard to “turn off their mind” at bedtime. If this happens to you, gently remind yourself that you can think about these things tomorrow. Then set the thoughts aside. You may have to try this several times before your mind quiets down.
  • Setting up a special time early in the evening to worry and think may keep you from doing it at bedtime. For example, spend 30 minutes after dinner writing down what’s worrying you and what you can do about it.

Insomnia Tip #4: Follow these rules for healthy sleep.

RULE #1 Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy.

There’s no point in going to bed if your body isn’t ready to sleep yet. You can’t make yourself fall asleep.

RULE #2 Don’t use the bed for anything except sleeping. Don’t read, worry, eat, watch television, talk on the phone or do anything else in bed (sex is okay). The bed is for sleeping.

RULE #3 If you’re not asleep after about 20 minutes, leave the bedroom.

RULE #4 Do something relaxing and return to bed when you’re sleepy.

  • Repeat step 3 as many times as needed. Soon you will get into bed and fall asleep within 20 minutes.
  • Develop a bedtime routine. Do the same thing every night before going to sleep. For example, take a warm bath and then read for 10 minutes every night before going to bed. Soon you’ll connect these activities with sleeping, and doing them will improve your insomnia.

RULE #5 Get up at the same time every day (including weekends).

RULE #6 Don’t take naps.

*Steps 5 and 6 will help make sure you’re sleepy at bedtime. If you follow these tips and your insomnia doesn’t get better, be sure to tell us.

Insomnia Tip #5: Keeping a Sleep Diary – ZzZZzz

Sleep Diary will help you track your sleep, allowing you to see habits and trends that are helping you sleep or that can be improved.

Example First       day Second day Third  day


Bedtime (date/time) 10:45 p.m. (4/10)
Rise time (date/time) 7:00 a.m. (4/11)
Estimated time to fall asleep 30 minutes
Estimated number of awakenings and total time awake 5 times
2 hours
Estimated amount of sleep obtained 4 hours


Naps (number, time and duration) 1 at 3:30 p.m.
45 minutes
Alcoholic drinks
(number and time)
1 drink at 8:00 p.m.
2 drinks at 9:00 p.m.
List stresses of the day Flat tire
Argued with son
Rate how you felt today
1 = Very tired/sleepy
2 = Somewhat tired/sleepy
3 = Fairly alert
4 = Wide awake

Irritability level
1 = None
2 = Some
3 = Moderate
4 = Fairly high
5 = High

This article provides a general overview on insomnia and may not apply to everyone. To find out if this article applies to you and to get more information on this subject, talk to us.

Need more advice?

Come down to Our Clinics for a discussion with Our Doctors, or call our clinics for more information:


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  1. do you think i need to see the psychologist?

  2. Dear Dr Tan,
    i already 1 months cannot sleep ,i guess i may be a bit peranoid, think too much ,i ask the Dr gave me medicine to take, he gave me hydroxyzine 12.5mg to take .take 2tablet ON…BUT STILL NO USE..then i see the another Dr ,the Dr gave me Alprazolam(xanax 0.25mg) to take,the Dr ask me take 2 tablets ON…But now i take 2 tablets also cannot sleep…ONLY CAN SLEEP 2 TO 3 HOURS…do you think i need to see the physiocological Dr?

    • Hi miao,

      Yes, I definitely think you will benefit greatly from seeing a psychologist.


      Dr Tan