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5 tricks to fall asleep when your mind is racing about work

Counting sheep may have worked to cure insomnia when you were a kid. But if you're like many professionals, even a thousand sheep isn't enough to shake work-related stress.

Your mind may be racing as you worry about deadlines, what your boss thinks of you or general work dissatisfaction. You can't fall asleep but you also can't afford to be tired the next morning.

So what do you do?

CNBC talked with sleep experts to find out the best strategies to fall asleep when work is keeping you up.

1. Get out of bed

This may seem counterintuitive, but lying in bed when you can't fall asleep is the worst thing you can do, experts say.

"It's called stimulus control," says Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a physician who specializes in pulmonary and sleep medicine at the University of Southern California. He is also a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

"When you can't shut your mind off, you have to leave the bed within the first 15 to 20 minutes of going to bed," he says.

If you stay in bed, "the body will not not associate the bed with sleep."


2. Read a book or color

Get out of bed and do something relaxing that uses minimal mental energy, like reading or drawing, says Dr. Philip Gehrman, physician and assistant professor of psychiatry at The University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates reads for an hour every evening before bed.

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While many sleep doctors advise people to avoid TV at night, Dr. Gehrman says watching a relaxing show is actually fine if the TV is at least a few feet away from you. But watching a show on your iPhone will make it harder to wind down, because having light that close to your eyes is too stimulating.


3. Schedule 10 minutes of "worry time" earlier in the day

If work stress is keeping you up at night, then deal with it before it's time to go to bed, both doctors recommend. Set aside 10 to 12 minutes of "worry time" earlier in the day to focus on what is stressing you out.

Write down your stressors and split them up into two categories: Those you can control, and those you cannot. For example, you can't control how your boss may treat you tomorrow. But if you're stressed about getting to work late again, you can control whether you manage to leave your house on time.

For the factors you can control, write down specific steps you can to deal with them, like preparing for work the night before to help you get out of the house more quickly. Even for the factors that you can't control, sometimes just acknowledging that you can't control them can help you stop worrying, the doctors say.

Once your 10 or so minutes are up, move onto whatever else you would do.

"If you know you're going to bed and are having a stressful day, maybe you should set up worry time in advance," Dr. Dasgupta says.

When worry thoughts start circulating around bedtime, tell yourself that you will deal with them during tomorrow's worry time. Your mind may actually listen.

"Set up time to worry in advance." -Dr. Raj Dasgupta, University of Southern California

4. Exercise for 20 minutes every day

People who exercise vigorously for 150 minutes each week, or about 20 minutes each day, sleep significantly better than those who don't, according to a study of more than 2,500 people.

"Exercise," Dr. Dasgupta says. "When you're stressed out, it really helps."

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Richard Branson says daily exercise has doubled his productivity. Besides helping you sleep better, working out promotes creativity and mental sharpness.


5. Set up a sleep routine

"Most people need a good hour of winding down down time before they're just physically and mentally ready to go bed," Dr. Gehrman says.

Avoid eating directly before bed as it can cause acid reflux and make you feel uncomfortable. Give yourself time to digest. And while having a glass of wine before bed may seem to make you tired, alcohol leads to disrupted sleep.

Instead, set up a relaxation routine. Yoga, meditation, coloring or progressive muscle relaxation are all techniques experts recommend.

Avoid activities that get you excited, like watching the news or an action-packed TV show. And, as Arianna Huffington recommends, keep your iPhone away from your bed.

Video by Richard Washington.