7-Day Sleep Challenge: Simple Steps to Beat Insomnia

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

Stop tossing and turning and try these strategies to calm your mind — and sleep tight — the natural way.

Keep up with the 7-Day Sleep Challenge here.

Can’t drift off to dreamland? Maybe it’s because your mind is racing with worries left over from today — or you’re anxious about whatever’s waiting for you tomorrow. You’re in good company. One in three Americans experience insomnia at least one night a week, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That was before the pandemic hit. Since then, a whopping 56 percent of Americans say they’ve been tossing and turning most nights.

Insomnia is defined as an inability to get enough sleep to function at your best the next day. If you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early in the morning, you have insomnia. Short-term bouts are often caused by stress or lifestyle habits. Insomnia that lasts more than three weeks is considered long-term insomnia and should be brought to the attention of your family doctor or sleep specialist to rule out an underlying cause, such as sleep apnea.

“If your mind is too busy to fall asleep—or you wake up in the middle of the night because there’s so much chatter in your head, you can do something about it,” says senior fitness expert Larysa DiDio. “There are techniques you can use to train your mind to fall asleep.”

6 Tips to Beat Insomnia

Take a deep breath. Deep, slow breathing helps send your brain waves into relaxation mode.  It’s easy: Just count to three while you breathe in through your nose, then exhale through your mouth as you count to six. Try for a couple of minutes. The breathing techniques you use in one of our SilverSneakers yoga classes may also help you in the moment.

Use your imagination. Picture all your problems in a cloud above your head. Then imagine that cloud bursting as your troubles gently tumble and disappear. “What you’ve got left,” says DiDio, “is a nice, clear mind.” Learn other visualization techniques in a SilverSneakers LIVE Mindfulness & Meditation class.

Relax your muscles. Feeling tense? Lie on your back and one by one, tighten up each muscle group, from your neck to your toes—then squeeze and release to a count of three. “Go through your entire body,” suggests DiDio. “It should take about a minute or two.”

Jot it down. Anxious about your busy tomorrow? Jot down your to-do list in a notebook by your bed. In one study, that helped people fall asleep 10 minutes faster.

Grab a light snack. Get up and have a small carbohydrate snack, like one graham cracker square or a handful of popcorn (about ½ cup). Those carbs boost your body’s supply or serotonin, which helps you snooze.

Tune in to soothing sounds. Nature’s music can physically change our mind and body systems, helping us relax. Try a sound machine tuned to babbling brook or nighttime forest. Or listen to a guided meditation app, like Headspace. In one study, 80 percent of participants reported less insomnia.

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For best results, practice these techniques during the day when you’re not rushed, says DiDio. Give each one a try and stick with the ones that feel most natural to you. Your goal is to have a small set of go-to strategies that feel natural — and effective — when you need them most.

To learn more about insomnia, read 10 Reasons You Wake Up in the Middle of the Night (and How to Fix Them) here.

Bonus Challenge: Try a SilverSneakers Mindfulness & Meditation Class 

Our Mindfulness & Meditation Express class is a 15-minute session that offers you a chance to slow down and cultivate a sense of calm through guided imagery and other simple-to-follow practices. You don’t have to be a meditation master to join us — all experience levels are welcome! See the latest SilverSneakers LIVE schedule and RSVP for classes here.

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