What to think about to fall asleep: 7 tips for sleeping soundly

Do you ever have trouble falling asleep? According to the Consumer Reports, 68% of Americans struggle with sleep at least once a week.

Good sleep hygiene can help. Focusing on healthy habits that promote sleep is important: no screens in bed, sticking to a schedule, limiting caffeine late in the day, etc. But what do you do when you’re lying in the dark and your mind won’t stop racing? 

You prepare for that moment long before it comes, says Dr. Jill Amos, licensed behavioral health psychologist for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. 

“A common misconception people have about sleep is that the only time we need to think about it is bedtime,” says Dr. Amos. “But we need to be preparing all day to get a good night’s sleep.” 

Sleep is the perfect intersection of mind and body, says Dr. Amos, and if you can’t relax enough to fall asleep, something’s probably going wrong during the day to create that situation.

“Look at how you’re managing stressful situations and work through them, one by one,” says Dr. Amos. “It’s the only effective way to help ensure you’re not overloaded at the end of the day.” 

7 tips to prepare for sound sleep

1. Don’t panic

When it comes to what to think about to fall asleep, the most important thing is to stay calm.

“We’ve all thought: ‘If I don’t fall asleep right now, I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow,’” says Dr. Amos. “We need to change that thought to be: ‘Okay, I’m struggling a little bit, so I’m going to get up and read for a little while. Or maybe I’ll pull out my sleep app.’ Having tools at the ready helps keep you from going to a catastrophic place.”

2. Keep your tools boring

If you find yourself in need of a mental distraction to fall asleep, pick a boring one. Apps like Headspace have meditations that are specific to sleep, including “SOS” sessions that will play a boring narrative or calming music. And remember: even if you need to pull out your phone to use an app, avoid turning on the TV or using screens in other ways. 

“If you fall asleep with the TV on, your brain may continue searching for that low-grade stimulation instead of fully shutting down,” says Dr. Amos. “Try to move gradually toward less stimulating options.”  

3. Write out the anxiety

If your thoughts tend to race when you’re trying to fall asleep, be proactive. Are you mentally planning your next day? Worrying about the kids? Whatever it is, write it down. 

“If you know you go to bed at 10, try sitting down at 9 and journaling, or make a to-do list for the next day,” says Dr. Amos. “Many people find that once something’s written down, it’s ‘done’ in a way because you’re getting ahead of it, or you’re acknowledging your feelings. Taking a proactive approach cuts off anxiety later.” 

4. Be your own detective

“The barriers to falling and staying asleep are different for everyone,” says Dr. Amos. “Be your own detective. Pay attention to what you’re thinking and doing, make note of possible problems, and take a practical approach to solving them.”

Consider these questions:

  • Is outside noise bothering you? Try a sound machine or app.
  • Are you too hot or too cold? Turn the thermostat up or down one degree each day until you reach your comfort zone. 
  • Are you waking up thirsty? Focus on hydrating throughout the day or take a glass of water to bed. 
  • When you lay down, are you uncomfortable? If so, maybe it’s time to rotate your mattress or get a new bed. 
  • Is your partner disrupting you? Help them make changes as well. 

“If your partner doesn’t sleep well, you won’t either,” says Dr. Amos. “If they snore or have undiagnosed sleep apnea, for example, you’re likely to experience the effects of those disorders yourself. Help them and that will help you.” 

5. Make an appointment to relax

In order to fully relax at night, you need to build moments of relaxation into your day. Try scheduling it the same way you would a meeting: 

  • Set aside 5 minutes after lunch to meditate. 
  • Take a short walk mid-afternoon.
  • Practice deep breathing [link to article in this batch once posted] for 1 minute after a conference call.

Keep the process simple, and go back to strategies that work when unexpected stress pops up.

6. Ask for help

If you routinely have trouble falling asleep, talk to your healthcare provider. 

“They might recommend a sleep study or something experimental like sleep deprivation therapy,” says Dr. Amos. “Ultimately, it’s all about routine. Your body needs to get programmed to fall asleep, and that takes time. But applying even a few of these things to your routine should help.” 

7. Set realistic expectations

“Sleep is important, but it’s not everything,” says Dr. Amos. “If you don’t get the 6 or 8 hours you need, it’s easy to think, ‘Everything’s going wrong today because I didn’t sleep well.’ But giving it that much importance may lead to more panic, which creates a vicious cycle. Try not to go to the place of horrible consequences just because you lose an hour or two of sleep.”

On the days after a restless night, work on developing a tolerance to lost sleep with 8 steps for surviving on too little sleep.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.

Filed under: Mind & Body


Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).