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How to Get to Sleep: 4 Tips for Falling Asleep

March 11, 2010

Sleeping Kitty

A coworker apologized for dragging the other day because she woke up at 2AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. Happens to me, too, I said, and here is what works for me. All unscientific, wholly personally effective. These are my antidotes to lying awake because of the rush of thoughts that are keeping me awake.

1. Quiet those thoughts. Here I fall back to the techniques of meditation by focusing on one word or phrase and repeating it over and over, and getting back to it when my mind wanders off to other thoughts. I either use a simple mantra (e.g. “so hum” or somesuch), or a series of words that offer self-suggestion (“Breathe. Sleep. Dream. Heal.”) Sometimes the cadence matches my breathing, sometimes the ticking of the clock, if I’m too aware of that.

2. Make noisy thoughts. Just the opposite of #1, I flood my awareness with nonsense, mostly real words but strung together in streams of consciousness, but purposely veering away from (explicit!) meaning, and with a rhythm to match breathing or external sounds. “Reciprocal findings aloft wasting nothing but really encountered aligned from the get-go to state something certain astoundingly grateful tomorrow and twice to recall something blue and electric and so on…”. What happens is that this crowds out real thoughts, tricks the mind into thinking it is thinking, but after a while lulls it to sleep because it can’t really deal with the "thoughts" you're giving it.

3. Dispense with the thoughts immediately. Deal with each thought coming down with the conveyor belt, immediately, and in a way that will satisfy whatever your brain thought needed to be dealt with at 2AM. I’ve found that most every thought that is coming at me can be dispensed immediately with one of three words:

  • Yep” If it’s a thought that is basically positive or neutral, and I want to acknowledge it and send it on its way before it leads to more thoughts.
  • Drop” If it’s a thought that’s destructive or negative, and I want to toss it, and send it on its way.
  • Later” If it’s a thought about something that I know I should be working on or dealing with, I don’t really want to dismiss its importance, I just want to set the bit that I’ll agree to work on it later, and send it on its way.

If I dispense with the thoughts, pretty soon the conveyor belt stops sending things my way, and I’m off to sleep. If I’m using this method, I’ll sometimes end up switching over to method 1, with “Yep. Drop. Later.” as the quieting mantra, just waiting for the next thought to come along.

4. Switch to 3D. When I’m lying awake with my eyes closed, there is still visual stimulation, usually patterns of light and dark and colors that morph around behind my eyelids. In this method, I force those patterns to appear 3D, adding as much depth as I can imagine. For some reason, things move from random patterns in 3D to other images in 3D, and from there into dreaming and sleep. The other thing it does is forces me to focus my thoughts on the visualization task, which distracts it from the specific or verbal thoughts that are keeping me awake.

As I said, these may be idiosyncratic and may not work for everyone, but go ahead and give them a try, and good luck falling back asleep.

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