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But I’m Not Sleepy

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

East meets West. Hong Kong, 2015. Acrylic on canvas.

I can’t count the number of times I heard this from my kiddos at bedtime when they were growing up, often in a whiny, over-tired voice. It usually meant that they wanted to read/play/do more and so they weren’t ready to go to bed.

If you are lucky enough to be the kind of person who falls asleep within minutes of laying your head on the pillow and awakens refreshed in 8 hours, You may consider yourself blessed. In the world of weight loss, you would be that naturally thin unicorn who can eat whatever she wants and never exercises or worries about her weight.

For the rest of us, there is unfortunately no “off” switch that we can flip to turn off the brain when it comes time to sleep. The good news is that all humans naturally need to sleep every night and so we just need to figure out how we can help to facilitate our own biology.

Sleep pressure

From the time that you wake up in the morning, your brain begins to accumulate a chemical called adenosine that builds sleep pressure throughout the day. Your body’s circadian clock will synchronize with this sleep pressure and another chemical called melatonin to signal your brain when it’s ready for sleep by the end of the day.

However a number of factors can interfere with this process, such as caffeine which blocks the action of adenosine, and naps which also reduce adenosine levels. Certain foods and alcohol may confuse the picture, as can exposure to LED lights and blue light screens like iPads or smartphones.

Landing sequence

Perhaps there was a time when we were younger that we remember being able to fall asleep easily. But these days we may need more of a landing sequence.

Like an airplane coming in for landing, our bodies need about 30 minutes or so to prepare for sleep. Just as the pilot advises us to stow away our tray table and buckle the seatbelt, we need to signal our bodies that bedtime is nigh.

Everyone’s landing sequence will look a bit different. Mine usually includes basic hygiene like face washing and brushing of teeth, then reading quietly (hard copy book or kindle but never ipad) for a few minutes before a short qigong meditation.

Experts recommend that we avoid bright LED lights or blue light screens at least 30 minutes before bed, so it is a good idea to charge your smartphone outside the bedroom or at least away from the bedside.

Quality me time

I will confess that sometimes I stay up later than I want because the end of the day finally feels like “me time.” When no one else will bother me.. I can just “veg out” watching TV or scrolling on social media.

You are building a habit by signaling your body that you are ready for sleep

But then I still wake up at the usual time in the morning before my alarm clock. It’s like my body won’t let me sleep in late. So actually I’m cheating myself of sleep by staying up late. It’s not really “me time” - it’s just inertia or maybe just a bit of rebellion.

So rather than playing that cheating game, I began asking what I actually needed. to make bedtime quality “me time”? I started by mindfully engaging the senses: not just visual, but also sound, scent, touch.

I started listening to my favorite romance novelist for a few minutes on audiobook when getting ready for bed - hearing the familiar words and language feels like a luxurious indulgence. You might consider an aromatherapy candle or pillow spray with lavender essential oil.

What would be a relaxing and enjoyable bedtime experience for you? How can you build a “me time” landing sequence that you will look forward to every night?

Even if you’re not sleepy right away, you are building a habit by signaling your body that you are ready for sleep. Try doing it consistently every night for at least a week, and see what happens..


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