Why The Phenomenon of Eyes Closed But Can’t Sleep Happens

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on September 25, 2023
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We’ve all been there – lying in bed, eyes shut tightly, desperately trying to fall asleep. But sleep eludes us. It’s a familiar yet puzzling problem: 

Why can’t we drift off into dreamland even when our eyes are closed? The answer may surprise you.

Simply closing your eyes doesn’t guarantee sleep. This is because sleep isn’t just a physical and mental state. 

If your mind is active or stressed, it can be challenging to fall asleep, regardless of how tired your body might be or if your eyes are closed. So what do you do when you can’t sleep despite having your eyes closed?

Our team’s dedication to promoting mental health awareness and providing accessible online therapy resources ensures compassionate, insightful, and evidence-based advice to help readers navigate sleep challenges.

Let’s dive in and understand this common issue better.

Why is my body not letting me sleep?

Struggling with sleep can be frustrating, but understanding the potential causes can empower you to take steps toward better rest.

  • Stress or Anxiety: Mental health conditions like stress and anxiety can prevent your body from relaxing enough to fall asleep. 
  • Caffeine or Alcohol Consumption: Stimulants like caffeine or depressants like alcohol can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. 
  • Poor Sleep Hygiene: A consistent sleep schedule or an unsuitable environment can interfere with quality sleep. 
  • Physical Health Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as chronic pain or sleep disorders like insomnia, can make it hard for your body to sleep. 
  • Medication Side Effects: Some medications may cause sleep disturbances as a side effect. 

What is sleep anxiety?

Sleep anxiety, a familiar yet often overlooked issue, can significantly impact our mental health and overall quality of life, so let’s understand it better.

  • Fear of Sleep: Sleep anxiety often manifests as an intense fear or dread of sleep, usually due to past experiences of insomnia or nightmares. 
  • Vicious Cycle: Anxiety can disrupt sleep, and in turn, lack of sleep can exacerbate anxiety, creating a vicious cycle. 
  • Physical Symptoms: It may cause heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or excessive sweating at bedtime. 

What are the symptoms of sleep anxiety?

Understanding the symptoms of sleep anxiety is a crucial step toward better mental health and quality sleep, so let’s delve into the most common signs, according to the Sleep Foundation.

  • Difficulty Falling Asleep: Sleep anxiety often makes it challenging to fall asleep, with racing thoughts or worry keeping you awake. 
  • Frequent Night Wakings: You may wake up frequently at night, struggling to return to sleep. 
  • Nightmares or Vivid Dreams: Anxiety can trigger nightmares or overly vivid dreams, disrupting sleep. 
  • Excessive Worry About Sleep: An overwhelming preoccupation or worry about getting enough sleep could indicate sleep anxiety. 
  • Daytime Fatigue: Despite spending adequate time in bed, you might still feel tired during the day. 

How do you relax your eyes when trying to sleep?

In our digital age, our eyes often bear the brunt of long hours and screen time, so let’s explore practical ways to relax before sleep.

  • 20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to give your eyes a break from screen time. 
  • Eye Palming: Rub your hands together to create warmth, then gently place your palms over your closed eyes without applying pressure. 
  • Blinking Exercises: Regularly blinking helps refresh your eyes by keeping them well-lubricated. 
  • Limit Light Exposure: Dimming lights and reducing blue light exposure from screens can signal your body it’s time to sleep. 
  • Mindful Meditation: Focusing on relaxing your entire body, including your eyes, can help you wind down before sleep. 

Tips to Overcome Restless Nights

Overcoming restless nights requires more than just counting sheep. Here are some research-backed strategies for better sleep:

1. Create a Comfortable Bedroom Environment: A well-optimized bedroom can significantly influence the quality of your sleep. Try maintaining an ideal room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, keeping noise levels low, and investing in a good quality mattress and pillows.

2. Practice Relaxation Techniques: Mindfulness techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery, can help calm your mind and prepare your body for sleep.

3. Cultivate Consistent Sleep Habits: A regular sleep schedule, even on weekends, can program your body to follow a consistent sleep-wake cycle.

4. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol: These substances can interfere with your sleep patterns and make falling asleep harder.

Is closing my eyes good enough if I can’t sleep?

Sleep can sometimes be elusive, but even if you’re struggling to drift off, closing your eyes could be more beneficial than you might think. Let’s explore why.

  • Resting Your Eyes: Even if sleep doesn’t come, closing your eyes can offer them much-needed rest, reducing strain and fatigue. 
  • Reducing External Stimuli: By closing your eyes, you limit visual distractions, helping your brain to relax and possibly transition into sleep. 
  • Promoting Relaxation: Closing your eyes can encourage mindfulness and relaxation, making it easier for sleep to take over. 
  • Visualizing Sleep: With your eyes closed, you can use visualization techniques, such as picturing a relaxing scene or scenario, to support sleepiness. 
  • Practicing Deep Breathing: Eyes-closed deep breathing exercises can help slow your heart rate and promote a state of calm, setting the stage for potential sleep. 

What is micro-sleeping?

Micro-sleeping can sneak up on us, especially when we’re tired or sleep-deprived, but what exactly is it? Let’s delve into this fascinating phenomenon.

  • Brief Unintentional Sleep: Micro-sleeps are involuntary, short episodes of sleep that can last from a few to several seconds. 
  • Sign of Sleep Deprivation: Research indicates micro-sleep often derives from inadequate or chronic sleep deprivation. 
  • Happens Anytime, Anywhere: Micro-sleeps can occur anytime, even when actively engaging in a task or activity. 
  • Potential Danger: These episodes can be risky, particularly during activities like driving or operating machinery. 
  • Can Be Mitigated: Regular sleep schedule, healthy sleep hygiene, and addressing underlying sleep disorders can help reduce micro-sleep episodes. 

Should I Get Up if I can’t sleep?

Scientific research supports the idea that you should get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes. Here’s why:

1. Break the Cycle of Frustration: Staying in bed while unable to sleep often leads to anxiety and frustration, making it even harder to drift off. You break this cycle by getting up and diverting your mind from the stress of not sleeping.

2. Maintain Your Bed as a Sleep Sanctuary: Your bed should be associated with sleep and rest, not wakefulness and worry. By only using your bed for sleep and intimacy, you reinforce this association and improve your chances of falling asleep quicker.

3. Engage in Calming Activities: Getting out of bed allows you to engage in calming activities that facilitate sleep. This could be reading a book, listening to soothing music, or practicing mindfulness exercises.

4. Regulate Your Sleep Schedule: By getting up at the same time every day, regardless of your sleep, you can help regulate your body’s internal clock and improve your sleep quality over time.

So, next time you find yourself staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, remember this: it’s okay to get out of bed. It might be the best thing you can do for your sleep health.

Stellar Sleep For DIY Insomnia Treatment

Meet Stellar Sleep, the #1 mobile app based on science, is designed to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Developed in collaboration with top sleep psychologists and therapists at Harvard, this award-winning app uses the power of psychology to help you sleep better. Our team bought and reviewed Stellar Sleep, and now we believe:

Stellar Sleep is not just an app; it’s a comprehensive sleep aid designed around cognitive-behavioral therapy – insomnia (CBT-I) principles. Meta-analysis shows CBT-I is a scientifically proven method that changes negative thought patterns and behaviors that can contribute to sleep problems. Researchers state, “CBT-I produces clinically significant effects that last up to a year after therapy.”

With Stellar Sleep, you get personalized, evidence-based treatment plans that guide you through habit-building exercises, CBT-I techniques, and more—all aimed at breaking the insomnia cycle and helping you achieve restful sleep.

Stellar Sleep Tools

  • Personalized Treatment Plans: Based on your unique sleep patterns and needs, Stellar Sleep provides tailored treatment plans to help you conquer insomnia.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Insomnia (CBT-I): This app utilizes CBT techniques proven to help manage insomnia, teaching you how to change negative thoughts and behaviors impacting your sleep.
  • Habit Building Exercises: Create healthy sleep habits that encourage restful nights and energized days.
  • Expert Collaboration: Developed with input from top sleep psychologists and therapists, Stellar Sleep combines expert knowledge with user-friendly technology.
  • Evidence-Based: The strategies used by Stellar Sleep are based on scientific research, ensuring you receive a reliable approach to managing your sleep.

Try the Stellar Sleep Quiz for a free 7-day trial!

Join the thousands of others who have improved their sleep patterns ruined by insomnia!

Eyes Closed But Can’t Sleep Conclusion

what to do when you can't sleep and have to wake up early

Restless nights can be more than just frustrating – they can impact your health. But with the right strategies, a good night’s sleep is within reach. Remember, it’s not just about closing your eyes; it’s also about calming your mind and creating an environment conducive to sleep.

If You Are In Crisis

Amid a crisis, it’s essential to know that immediate help is available. If you’re feeling unsafe or contemplating harm to yourself or others, don’t wait for an online therapy session – your safety is paramount.

Remember, you can reach out to emergency services by dialing 911. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

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