How to get to sleep the night before an early call or big event

Those are the nights when you crawl to bed early and beg for sleep—all too often to no avail.

“Unfortunately, this has happened to me many times,” said Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “If you can’t sleep, don’t worry. It won’t help.”

The sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta has a similar guide.

“My general advice is don’t force it because worrying about getting that zzz will rummage in your head and make things worse,” said Dasgupta, associate professor of clinical medicine at the university’s Keck School of Medicine from Southern California.

“The reality is that the more we try to relax and transition to sleep, the more concerned we are that we’re losing valuable sleep time, making it harder to achieve that elusive ‘good night’s sleep,'” he said him via email.

When your sleep chronotype—the time when your body is naturally programmed to want to sleep—is that of a night owl (go to bed late, get up late), those nights (and the days that follow) can be particularly rough, say experts.

Here are some tried and true tips from experts on how to alleviate those “please-let-me-sleep” worries.

1. Don’t try the impossible

First, unless you’re a morning lark, don’t try to fall asleep at 9 p.m., which can be far too early for your body Watch. It only makes you angry.

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Instead, “start dimming the lights at 8-9 p.m.,” Zee advised, and aim for an 10 p.m. bedtime.

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You also want to avoid blue light, which tricks your brain ” into thinking it’s still day. This prevents the release of key hormones, like melatonin, that help you sleep,” Dasgupta said.

“Blue light is emitted by electronic devices like smartphones and computers,” he said, so avoid those and bright lights in the two hours before bed.

2. Meditation, mindfulness and breathing

Having stress while sleeping is “a major impediment to restful sleep,” Dasgupta said, and can “complicate existing sleep problems like insomnia.”

Hit back with mindfulness and meditation to promote calm, he suggested. “[These practices]can help calm the mind and body, making the transition to sleep easier and hopefully more enjoyable,” he said.

Meditation can help quiet the mind and help you fall asleep.

One of the best ways to help you fall asleep is to focus on your breathing, experts say.

“One technique is the ‘4-7-8 breathing method’ that has been shown to reduce stress,” Dasgupta said. “Take a deep breath in for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds, then slowly release your breath and exhale while counting from one to eight. Repeat these steps several times, then pause and see if you feel more relaxed.”

3. Introduce daylight

If that all-too-early alarm goes off, turn on bright lights right away, Zee said. That tells your brain it’s daytime and helps shut down melatonin production.

Then get out in the sunlight as soon as possible, experts suggest.

“Natural sunlight during the day helps keep your circadian rhythm healthy,” Dasgupta said. “This improves both daytime energy and nighttime sleep quality.”

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4. Plan a power nap

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You might want to schedule a 20- to 30-minute power nap early that afternoon and then do your best to get to bed earlier that night, too, Zee said. Your “sleep drive” will be high, she said, because you “were sleep deprived the night before.”

It’ll be “easier to fall asleep around 10pm to 10:30pm and catch up on some sleep,” Zee said.

5. Avoid alcohol and sweets

Avoid consuming caffeine after lunch and avoid alcohol before bed, “as both can disrupt sleep,” Dasgupta said. “If you’re hungry after dinner, keep snacks small and sugar-free and easily digestible so as not to disturb sleep.”

That call in the middle of the night

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What if you’ve done all of this and nodded off happily, but live in California and confused relatives call you at 6am or 7am ET – which would be 3am or 4am PT?

Here are the rules for this scenario, according to Dr. Vsevolod Polotsky, Professor of Medicine and Director of Sleep Research in the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

  • don’t turn on the light
  • Try to calm down, end your conversation immediately, and go back to bed.
  • If you can’t get back to sleep in less than 10 minutes, go to another room, turn on a dim light, and try reading a boring book. (No electronic devices allowed, Polotsky said. They emit blue lights that wake you up.)
  • Don’t check your email or text messages. In fact, don’t use your smartphone, computer, e-reader, or TV (again, because of the blue light stimulation).
  • Do not wash up, go outside or exercise.
  • Meditate or relax and think of something pleasant.
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So relax, don’t worry and have sweet dreams!

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