How to Fall Asleep When It's 4 a.m. And You're Wide Awake

Yes, you know the importance of sleep. It’s just not happening.

A young woman laying in bed late at night awake suffering from insomnia, watching the alarm worrying about falling asleep.
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Of course logging your troubles is all well and good, but it's a habit you build in the light of day, during the hours when you're supposed to be studious and bright. It's not particularly helpful when you're wide awake at 4 a.m. At that point, Walia suggests, "jotting down all your worries on a piece of paper so it's out of your head." And try the breathing, muscle relaxation and visualization techniques above.

Another common anxiety that lurks in the wee-hours of a sleepless night is the mounting awareness that you're not asleep when you should be. Stress and frustration – not typically emotions that welcome relaxation – escalate as you fret about how you need to be up for work in four (or three or two) hours. The experts' suggestion? Get rid of time cues. "No clock watching," Walia says, "That's a big no-no. Turn the clock around."

[Read: How to Be Happier at Home: Tips From Gretchen Rubin.]

Medicate with caution. Whether prescription or over-the-counter, Walia and Olson do not recommend drugs as a first choice for relieving sleeplessness. Ideally, the tips above and improved sleep hygiene should do the trick. But, should you choose a sleep aid, Olson reminds people that, of course, they make you sleepy. This grogginess is great at 11 p.m., but not at 7 a.m. – when you have to drive a car.

"Avoid taking a sleep medicine the closer you get to morning," he says. "You don't want to be hungover because you took that Tylenol PM at 5:30 a.m. just to eek out another hour."

Olson also advises that those who turn to over-the-counter sleep aids do so intermittently, to help avoid building a habit, and to check with their doctors that the medicine doesn't interfere with any of their conditions or medications. If you wind up on a Food and Drug Administration-approved prescription sleep aid, Walia points out that it should be for the short term.

See a doctor. If your sleeplessness is frequent and impairing your daytime behavior, bring it up with your physician. "When people start to feel like they're worried about their sleep during the day, that's probably the time when they need some guidance," Olson says.

[Read: 5 Tips for a Smooth Doctor's Visit.]