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These 19 Tricks Can Help If Mental Illness Makes Sleep Impossible

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

I know I struggle with sleep because of my mental health. Something may have happened during the day to cause my anxiety to spike or perhaps I’m slipping into a depressive episode. Maybe I had a moment of “bipolar rage” and now I’m ruminating over what happened. All of these scenarios, among others, can make good quality sleep hard to come by. If you struggle with sleep because of your mental health condition, you’re not alone.

Getting a good night’s rest is key to helping your body reset itself for the next day. But it can be a challenge sometimes to get that much-needed rest, especially if your mental health affects your ability to fall or stay asleep. Fortunately, there are lots of things you can try that might help you get some rest. This may include simple things like listening to a white noise machine to something a bit more challenging like limiting your screens after dark.

Can’t sleep? Join the Up All Night group on The Mighty to meet people who can relate.

We asked members of our mental health community to share what helps them fall asleep when mental illness keeps them up at night. We hope their tips and tricks help you get a good night’s rest.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. Use CBD Products

CBD — short for cannabidiol — is the non-psychoactive part of cannabis, meaning it doesn’t get you high. It’s currently only FDA-approved to treat certain forms of epilepsy. However, there is a growing body of research that suggests it can help treat sleep problems, anxiety and chronic pain.

“CBD oil and my room has to be pitch black and silent.” — Bailey D.

“CBD. I’d tried Ambien and other prescriptions but they didn’t really work or made me too sleepy. Another doctor prescribed a pill for itchy skin and if I took three of them it would make me sleepy. Insurance decided that it wouldn’t cover it. So, they suggested CBD and I found a company that makes sublingual mints with CBD and melatonin. I’d tried melatonin by itself before with no luck so I was thrilled when this started working. And I only have to dissolve half of a tablet to get the amount I need to fall asleep. So much better than it used to be!” — Jackie P.

For more CBD product recommendations, check out this list.

2. Practice Gratitude

Practicing gratitude can be as simple as writing down a short list of things you are grateful for or telling someone close to you how much you appreciate them.

“I take time to focus on practicing gratitude. I breathe in all the positive thoughts and breathe out all of the negative thoughts. I keep doing that until I am sleepy and fall asleep. It really helps me.” — Joslyn Z.

For more on how to practice kindness and gratitude, check out Born This Way Foundation’s #BeKind21 campaign on The Mighty.

3. Use a Weighted Blanket

Sometimes a comforting hug can make a world of difference. It might help you relax, making sleep a lot easier. For those who sleep alone, a weighted blanket does a similar trick. It “hugs” your body and the weight feels like it could easily be a person comforting you, helping you drift off to sleep.

“I use a weighted blanket, which is the best thing I’ve ever found. But on really bad nights I also do a breathing exercise. Imagine the waves of the ocean drifting in and out over your body and breathe in sync with it.” — Dominique P.

“I use a weighted blanket, and diffuse lavender it helps to ease my anxiety. I use meditation and deep breathing to slow my breathing and relax.” — Hannah M.

You can make your own weighted shoulder wrap by following these step-by-step instructions.

4. Listen to Ambient Sounds

From websites such as RainyMood to YouTube videos, ambient nature sounds can help you feel at ease and drift off to sleep. Whether you prefer to listen to rain sounds or crickets chirping, there are plenty of options to help you fall asleep. And for those who don’t like nature sounds and prefer the sounds of a city at night, there are options for you too.

“I love the sound of rain and other sounds of nature. It calms me down and helps with my anxiety. So usually when it’s that bad I find some nature sounds on YouTube and listen to them until my meds do their trick.” — Jenny J.

5. Read a Book

Reading can help take your mind off your current worries and struggles by transporting you into a different world. Choose any genre and take a break from what’s currently going on in “your world.” It might help you unwind.

“I read a book so the words in my mind are not my own thoughts and listen to Isochronic tone videos on YouTube — knocks me right out. As someone who has suffered [from] insomnia since the age of 9, now I’m 41, I can say that this has been such a relief!” — Rachael H.

6. Use Essential Oils

Have you ever smelled something that made you feel relaxed? It could be lavender or eucalyptus or maybe even a loved one’s favorite fragrance. For those who aren’t sensitive to scents, aromatherapy may help you relax and fall asleep. Essential oils are commonly used in a diffuser, but they can also be sold as sprays or infused in lotions. Avoid putting the oils directly on your skin.

“I can’t handle silence or dark, so I turn on Netflix or YouTube super quiet. I also have some essential oils, different scents for different days or triggers. It helps keep me grounded and relaxed.” — Joleen Q.

“A wonderful essential oil blend called Good Night. I use it in my diffuser.” — Jennifer M.

7. Download a Sleep or Relaxation App

Can’t relax or fall asleep? There’s an app for that. A quick search on your phone’s app store will pull up a number of sleep apps to choose from based on what exactly you need.

You may want an app that just has sounds or guided meditations to help you fall asleep. Maybe you want to track your sleep habits, that way you can discuss them with your doctors — especially when your mental health is getting in the way of a good night’s rest.

“This is an app called Moshi Twilight, it’s made for kids but works wonders for my anxiety. It has sleep sounds, stories, meditations and songs. You can pay $33 a year for it or just enjoy the free aspects like I do. I’ve been able to sleep so much better.” — Jessica P.

“Sleepo. It’s a free app that allows you to mix your own sounds. It works well, but I’ve been doing this so long I think my brain is getting used to it…” — Preference R.

“There is an app called Calm. There’s a fee for a subscription however there are many free options on the app that help with inducing sleep.” — Kay L.

To learn more about how sleep apps work, check out this review from our Mighty editors.

8. Establish a Nighttime Routine

Establishing a routine can definitely help with sleeping better. Routines, in general, can be wonderful for mental health overall. Your routine may look different from someone else’s but it’s important to find one that works for you, that way it’s easier to follow through on nights that are harder than others.

“I set a ‘routine’ on my Amazon Echo Dot. I say ‘Goodnight Alexa,’ and she says ‘Have fun trying to sleep you insomnia-ridden potato, goodnight!’ and then she shuts off the light and starts playing soothing sleep music for an hour. I have to wait until I’m actually sleepy but it does help me drift off! I’m usually out before the music stops playing. Also Benadryl.” — Cassie S.

9. Engage in Light Exercise

Experts aren’t sure exactly why, but exercise can help with chronic insomnia. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout, rather try going for a walk or taking a light jog around your neighborhood if you can.

“Regular exercise has been the best remedy for me. When I am not doing well, it usually goes back to a lack of exercise, outside in the world, at sunset. My favorite time of day.” — Christine S.

10. Watch ASMR Videos

ASMR — short for autonomous sensory meridian response — is a sensation that starts at the scalp and can move down to the rest of your body. It’s triggered by whispers and crackles, among other sounds. ASMR videos have become increasingly popular on YouTube and might include nail tapping sounds, whispering or hair brushing sounds — all meant to put the viewer in a state of relaxation.

“I watch ASMR on self-love and healing. One of my favorites is ‘The Lune Innate’ on YouTube.” — Alex T.

“ASMR. It just saved my life. I myself am especially triggered by light triggers and personal attention. These videos calm me down, make me relax and help me to sleep. Works 4 out of 5 times for me.” — Alina S.

11. Picture Yourself in a Calming Place

Do you have a calming place you like to go to? When you’re struggling to sleep at night, you might not be able to physically go to that place but you can imagine yourself there. Imagining yourself in a place that brings happiness and calmness can help your body relax and wind down.

“I imagine that I drift in the ocean. Swim like a mermaid. Underwater it is silent and peaceful, and the shimmering light is beautiful. Sometimes I rest on a sandbank low beneath the surface, the sun warms the water, the slow waves. It helps me to calm down the ongoing thoughts.” — Ute E.

12. Practice a Grounding Technique

If you’ve ever heard of grounding techniques, you know they’re perfect for times of high stress, anxiety or relieving trauma. Grounding techniques take your mind off things by making you focus on your breathing or five senses. By taking your mind off things, you’ll be able to relax and fall asleep easier.

“My therapist recently shared a trick: find five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can feel, two you can smell, one you can taste. It is a neat little trick to get into the moment and out of your head for a minute.” — Allison P.

“Long lung breath technique through pursed lips. 8-second inhalation, 8-second breath-hold, 8-second exhalation. Repeat for 10 to 15 minutes.” — Christopher J.

13. Listen to Audiobooks

Reading a book may work for some, but others may prefer to hear someone telling them a story instead. Next time you’re having trouble falling asleep and want to slip into a different world, try an audiobook. A soothing voice telling a tale can be the perfect way to drift off to sleep.

“I listen to audiobooks. Especially really long ones. Whilst I adore Stephen Fry, his voice makes me super sleepy— I’ve been listening to him reading ‘Sherlock Holmes’ for months but have mostly been replaying the first story as it’s so effective in making me nod off! It’s also great when I wake up in the night, as I prefer hearing a story to lying in the dark feeling restless.” — Jo M.

“Listening to Harry Potter on audiobook. It’s a series that I know well enough and I’m not on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happens next. Plus it’s soothing — like I’m being told a bedtime story.” — Melissa M.

14. Try Word and Letter Association

Pick a word and try to picture different words that begin with each letter of the first word. It’s a simple way to ease your mind and help you fall asleep.

“Choose a word with no repeating letters (e.g. resting), then go through each letter of the word and picture items that start with that letter: R= rabbit, road; E= exercise, eggs, elephants, etc. Once I’ve exhausted the list for one letter, move on to the next. Picturing these items makes your brain behave in a way that is similar to dreaming, so it tricks you into sleeping. I’ve never made it to the end of my word.” — Stephanie L.

15. Take a Relaxing Shower or Bath

You might find yourself feeling tense when you deal with anxiety or other mental health conditions. A warm bath can soothe your tension and help you relax before bed.

“When I can’t fall asleep I take a warm shower and slowly increase temperature till it makes my shoulders a little red and I just stand in the water sometimes till I start to feel relaxed, then I get out and put my favorite PJs on turn a fan on level two (medium) and lay down either on my bed or the couch.” — Mariah B.

“On nights where my anxiety is so bad, I feel a pinprick sensation under my skin. I take a super hot bath soak with Epsom salts and lavender, scrub my skin with a bath brush. [I] feel so sleepy and relaxed afterward. Then night meds, and I’m out for at least eight hours.” — Juwairiah T.


16. Listen to Podcasts

There’s a podcast for almost every subject these days. You may have a favorite podcast that puts you in a good mood or has a riveting storyline. Or maybe you just want to listen to a podcast where the podcaster has a mellow voice to help you fall asleep. The possibilities are endless.

“I cannot recommend enough a Bluetooth headphones sleep mask and the podcast ‘Sleep With Me.’ When I’m anxious, this does the trick. Add in a weighted blanket if super anxious.” — Caitlyn R.

“I found a podcast called ‘[Bedtime Stories for Grownups in which] Nothing Much Happens.’ The narrator’s voice is slow and soothing and more than anything, she paints a scene, then repeats it a second time. Because there’s no action or intrigue, I’m not worried I’ll ‘miss’ something like with an audiobook. I’m almost always asleep before she finishes the story the first time and maybe once in the two months I’ve listened have I had to repeat an episode because I didn’t fall asleep by the end.” — Jessica H.

17. Listen to White Noise

Maybe podcasts or ASMR videos aren’t your things, but you need to hear something in order to fall asleep. Let’s talk about white noise. White noise can be generated using a fan, space heater or air conditioner. Some sleep apps even have a white noise option.

“I typically have two fans on, even if the air conditioning is on and it is winter and I try to focus on the white noise. It’s very difficult, especially when my mind wants to wander and make up a million different scenarios but it definitely helps after many trials and errors!” — Kaylin B.

“I like to turn on some kind of white noise, like a fan or rain sounds. Lying still and doing deep breathing exercises helps too.” — Jacinta M.

18. Relax with Your Pet

Research shows having a pet can help both physical and mental health challenges, including reducing anxiety and depression. If you have a pet, relaxing with them for a little while can help calm you down until you’re ready to give sleep another try.

“My dog is my biggest reliever if I can’t sleep I’ll get up and go pet him for a while. My thoughts center around my dog which can help me get my mind off of whatever is keeping me awake.” — Brandon P.

19. Use Guided Meditation

Meditation offers a whole host of benefits, including reduced stress and improved mood. Guided meditation is great for beginners to “seasoned pros” alike. There are even meditations that are geared toward specific issues, such as sleep troubles.

“Occasionally I’ll use the app called InsightTimer and do guided sleep meditations.” — Josie S.

“I love guided meditation. It makes me fall asleep so fast if I immerse myself in what they’re saying. Also, melatonin helps when I need an extra boost.” — Shayle C.

Falling asleep can be a challenge, so we hope these tips help. If you need a distraction from what is keeping you awake at night, you can always reach out to The Mighty community by posting a Thought or Question using the hashtag #DistractMe. We’re here to support you so you can get some rest.

For more tricks for falling asleep, check out the following stories:

Do you have a trick you use to fall asleep that wasn’t listed? Let us know in the comments below!

Getty Images via nadia_bormotova.
Originally published: October 23, 2019
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