So, it’s 3am.
You were supposed to have been asleep hours ago, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen and now you’re stuck here, lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling unable to get to sleep.
Maybe you’re stressing.
There’s a lot going on in your life right now, and you really don’t know how you’re going to get through these next couple days.
Maybe it’s your sleep itself that’s worrying you.
All you want to do is get to sleep, but the more you try to make that happen, the more awake you become.
We all experience these sorts of sleepless nights from time to time, and for the 1 in 10 Americans suffering from chronic insomnia, getting an appropriate amount of sleep is a constant struggle.
Here are a few of the best techniques other people in your position have found useful.
Breathing Exercises Can Help with Sleep
One simple way to get your uncooperative mind under control comes to us via your breath.
While it’s often extremely difficult to get things like your thoughts or heartbeat under control by trying to overpower them directly, the intake of breath is something you almost always have control over, no matter how stressed you are.
There are two basic ways breathing exercises can settle you down enough to sleep.
Technique 1: The 4-7-8 Technique
Your first option just involves slowing down your breathing in order to relax.
The 4-7-8 technique, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil based on the ancient pranayama yoga technique, has been hailed as the ultimate sleep relaxation strategy.
The technique follows five basic steps:
- Exhale all the air from your lungs through your mouth.
- Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds. While you do this, lightly press your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth.
- Exhale for 8 seconds through your mouth.
- Repeat steps 2 through 4 three more times.
This technique is designed to disperse any stressful thoughts that have been keeping you up thus far, putting you in the state of mind sleep requires.
You can also try the 4-7-8 method at other stressful times in your life, as well.
After all, we all know how much good a deep breath can do when we’re trying to clear our heads.
Technique 2: Breathing Meditation
Another example of a simple, breath-based relaxation technique is breathing meditation.
Unlike 4-7-8, this is a completely mental activity – no special methods required.
All the form meditation asks is that you focus entirely on your breath.
Feel the air as it rushes in through your mouth or nostrils.
Feel your lungs and chest as they contract and expand.
Let go of all the petty worries that have been bogging you down, and allow yourself to be entirely present, thinking of nothing but your breath.
The purpose of this exercise is the clear your mind, so don’t try to breathe in any particular way.
Just allow yourself to be here – no more, no less.
Your thoughts will try to wander.
When that happens, just gently pull yourself back to your breath, focusing on nothing but the feeling.
This technique allows you to settle down your brain, tuning out all the annoying thoughts that pester us throughout the day.
And while breathing meditation is often helpful in the moment when you’re just trying to get to sleep, its effects on your sleep life will be most noticeable if you practice it every day for around 10 to 20 minutes.
The Best Visualization Techniques for Falling Asleep Faster
Visualization techniques can also prove helpful when trying to drift off.
You’ve probably come across some of those wacky sleep CDs at some point or another, asking you to imagine all this supposedly soothing imagery.
Some people may find this kind of guided imagery helpful for sleep, while to others they may just be a nuisance.
All of us, however, may stand to benefit from some form of visualization.
All you have to do is shut your eyes and focus on a perfectly peaceful scene.
You’re sitting on the beach listening to the surf.
You’re lying in a meadow looking up at the sky.
You’re walking through a forest, listening to the wind in the trees.
The exact location doesn’t matter that much, all that matters is that everything is exactly as it should be.
Imagine how happy you feel in this place, how totally at peace.
As you become more relaxed, allow the scene to become more vivid in your mind.
Listen to the woodpecker as it hammers at a nearby tree.
Kneel down in the dirt to look at a fern.
Watch the snail crawl slowly up its stem.
Feel the cool of the soil against your knees.
Take a pinch of the soil and enjoy the texture of it between your fingers.
Let its smell, rich and earthy, flood your senses.
Let yourself explore this beautiful, beautiful world, and allow everything outside of it slip quietly away.
Stop Looking at the Clock (And Your Phone)
Above all, stop looking at the clock as if worrying about sleep is going to get you to sleep any faster.
It’s just not going to happen.
It’s later than you want it to be, that’s true, but there’s nothing you can do about that now.
You don’t need to think about what time it is.
Whatever time it is, it’s OK.
You will still get up in the morning no matter how little sleep you get tonight.
Do not look at your clock.
I know it’s difficult, but the truth is, worrying about how little sleep you’re getting is a surefire way to never get to sleep at all.
Sleep will come.
Don’t worry about how.
It will, and that’s all you need to know.
If at all possible, also try to avoid looking at electronics when trying to sleep.
Not only can these be distracting in the very worst way – keeping you up for hours instead of calming you down – but the waves of blue light emitted by modern LEDs can be hard on your entire sleep/wake cycle and turn your body against you.
If you absolutely must look at electronics in order to calm down, keep the screen as dim as possible, and consider downloading a specialized app like NightShift or f.lux that will prevent harmful, blue light waves from messing up your biology.
After 20 Minutes, Get Up
When sleepless nights hit, it’s common to spend hours of your night tossing and turning.
While it is tempting to say you’ll just lie down and not move until you get to sleep, in reality, this often one of the worst decisions you could make.
Your body just isn’t built to stay in one place for lengthy periods of time, so after a while, you’re naturally going to start feeling more restless than you are relaxed.
Because of this, most experts recommend that you should just get up and leave your bedroom after 20 minutes of wakefulness.
Go off and do something relaxing during that time until you start to feel tired.
Some options include:
- Journal writing – sit down and write everything that’s been worrying you to get it off your mind
- Reading – try reading the least interesting book you own (nothing too engaging, or it might wake you up!)
- Make some tea – a warm beverage can calm your body down
- Take some time to meditate/pray – again, spiritually re-centering yourself can work wonders for your sleep
Design Your Ideal Sleep Environment
If this sleeplessness isn’t just a one-time thing and you’ve actually been having consistently poor sleep, there are a couple things you should do.
First of all, consider calling up a specialist.
There are people whose entire job revolves around getting people better sleep, and they’ll almost certainly have better advice than some random article you found on the internet.
Second of all, consider your sleep environment.
Sleep is often a flighty thing, and while people can get used to a lot, certain circumstances will make sleep substantially easier than others.
First of all, you might want to have a look at your mattress.
If you’ve been sleeping on a poor-quality mattress for long enough, you might just take it for granted that there isn’t any sleeping position that will leave you 100% comfortable.
The thing is, though, that’s not actually true.
Getting a decent mattress can help cut out that awful tossing and turning we all know and hate – so if that’s something you might be interested in, I’d recommend this buyer’s guide to today’s best mattresses.
Some other tips to a good sleep environment include:
- Keeping your room cooler than you think it should be (ideally around 65 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Eliminating excess light as much as possible
- Using white noise if ambient sounds are keeping you up
- Getting a mattress topper if you can’t afford a new mattress right now
Conclusion About How to Fall Asleep When You’re Not Tired
Although there is no silver bullet for getting better sleep, with the help of the right techniques, you should be able to significantly cut down on the amount of time you’re spending awake in bed.
Be patient with yourself as you toss and turn.
Whatever your situation is, you are not alone.
Sleep isn’t something you can force, no matter how much you might want to.
It takes patience, it takes humility, and it takes an acceptance that things may not always go the way we want them to.
You’ve got this.