What to Do When You Can’t Sleep, According to Experts and Studies

PureWow editors select every item that appears on this page, and the company may earn compensation through affiliate links within the story. All prices are accurate upon date of publish. You can learn more about the affiliate process here.

You worked a full day, shuttled kids to and from school (and gymnastics and lacrosse) and even had time for a quick yoga video. You’re desperate for a good night’s sleep, but the second you put the finishing touches on your skincare routine and turn off the lights, you’re wide awake. Figuring out to what to do when you can’t sleep can be beyond frustrating—we know. That’s why we did some research to find scientifically proven ways to deal. From lowering your bedroom temperature to indulging in a little self-pleasure, here are eight things to try when you can’t sleep.

The 9 Best Free Sleep Meditation Apps

1. Open Your Bedroom Door

While some sleep tricks seem a bit out there, this one’s actually backed by science. In a study published by Indoor Air: International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health, scientists observed a group of healthy young adults sleeping over a period of five nights. Those who slept with the bedroom door open reported a better and longer night’s sleep than those who slept with the door closed. Why? When you open your door, you’re providing more ventilation to the room, which might help some people drift off more easily. Opening the door also caused the temperature of the room to lower slightly, to about 67 degrees Fahrenheit—optimal for sleep. So instead of tossing and turning, crack open your bedroom door.

2. Resist the Urge to Look at Your Phone

Bad news for your bedtime Instagram sesh: Staring at your iPhone before bed (or even worse, in bed) could seriously mess with your shuteye. Studies—like this one from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute—have shown that the blue and white light emitted from screens prevents your brain from releasing melatonin, a hormone that readies your body for sleep (uh-oh). To make the transition easier, remove all temptation by keeping your phone and charger far away from your bed (or, better yet, in another room).

graphic explaining how to calculate your sleep opportunity
dasha burobina/purewow

3. Try Calculating Your Sleep Opportunity

According to Matthew Walker, director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab and author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, unless you plot out when—and how long—you’d like to sleep, you’ll never log the hours of shuteye you actually need. According to Walker, the secret to a good night’s sleep is calculating the number of hours of sleep, plus the number of hours you know you’ll need to fall asleep. (That’s known as your “sleep opportunity.”) For example, if you know you need eight hours in order to be productive the next day, but you also need 30 minutes to read in bed and 30 minutes to fall asleep and you always wake up 15 minutes before your alarm, you actually need to get in bed nine hours and 15 minutes before you get up. (This means a 10:15 p.m. bedtime versus 11:30 p.m.) Do the math and get ready to have your most restful sleep in months.

4. Dab Some Lavender Essential Oil on Your Pillow

The flowering plant has been scientifically shown to temporarily slow down your heart rate and lower blood pressure. If you’re having trouble dozing off, dab a bit of lavender essential oil onto your pillow, or even behind your ears. You can also try putting lavender essential oil into a diffuser near your bed or misting your pillow with an oil blend, like this one from This Works.

5. Start Keeping a Sleep Diary

Understanding what it is that keeps you awake at night—say, the tendency to reach toward your nightstand for your phone, have a penchant for midnight snacking or go for a run at 9 p.m.—is key to repairing this broken sleep cycle. Track your nocturnal habits and see what contributes to a good night’s sleep and what leads to hours of tossing and turning. Ditch the latter from your routine.

6. Listen to a Chakra Meditation

Chakra meditation is a blanket term for any type of meditation that seeks to clear blocked chakras and harness the power of these energy centers located throughout the body. They can be used for everything from promoting calm and relaxation to encouraging spiritual awakening (note that those meditations devoted to spiritual awakening should be guided by a certified teacher—not a random video on the internet). Basically, if your goal is to feel more balanced or relaxed, or even just to have an easier time falling asleep, a self-monitored practice via a guided YouTube video should suffice. If your intentions are a little deeper, your best bet is to learn from the pros.

illustration of a woman meditating
dasha burobina/purewow

7. Practice the 4-7-8 Breathing Method

A lot of times, we forget to breathe properly as we go about our day to day. But the right technique matters, especially at night, since deep, slow, self-aware breathing is one of the best methods for releasing stress and tension during this time. That’s where Oprah’s go-to sleep guru Dr. Michael Breus says the 4-7-8 Method comes in. Here’s how it works: First, inhale for four seconds, then hold your breath for seven seconds, then exhale slowly for eight seconds. When you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep (or if you wake up with anxiety in the middle of the night), put this technique into action. It will not only help kick off a series of physiological changes that aid relaxation, it will help reduce stressful thinking, too.

8. Indulge in a Little Self-Pleasure

Yep, according to experts and studies alike, masturbation can actually improve your quality of sleep. One 2019 study published in Frontiers in Public Health, looked at online survey responses from 778 people who were mostly in their 20s or 30s and heterosexual. Researchers found that 54 percent of the volunteers said they slept better after having an orgasm from masturbation. Another recent survey by the female-focused sex toy brand Femme Funn found that 95 percent of people polled said they experience a better-quality night’s sleep after having an orgasm. The authors of that first study explain that it’s all about the neurochemicals—like oxytocin and prolactin—that are released following sexual activity. These neurochemicals, the experts say, contribute to improved sleep. (Note that there isn’t enough data to say whether an orgasm is necessary to reap the positive sleep benefits of masturbation.)

sarah stiefvater
Sarah Stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...
read full bio