How To Fall Asleep

August 10, 2011 3:01 pm 4 comments

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Sleep is a habit and falling asleep is easily impacted by the routines you have set in place (or not), as well as by physiological elements resulting from stress, anxiety, or depression.  Most of us experience a period when falling asleep is a challenge, for one reason or another, but it is possible to improve your chances of falling asleep with methods that range from improving your routine and eating well, to using relaxation and imagination techniques. This article will help you to learn what helps you to fall asleep, as well as offering particular techniques that you can try when you find it impossible to fall asleep on occasion.

If you are lying in bed and unable to fall asleep due to too many things on your mind, do what the myth says. Count sheep in your head, either sheep jumping over a fence or sheep in a field, the method is NOT scientifically proven but it does work. Also staring at one particular area and having your eyes water helps to get sleepy. Try these two methods and you should be on your way to night land.Another good way to fall asleep is to watch one of your favourite movies or tv shows, and watch it until you fall asleep.

Note that this article is focused on helping you to fall asleep now and again. If you are routinely unable to fall asleep over a long period of time, it is possible that you are suffering from a sleep disorder, and this should be diagnosed and treated by your doctor or other qualified health professional.

Sleep Hygiene Preparation

There are a number of things you can do to help yourself sleep better, just by focusing on what you’re eating and doing during the day.

1. Pay attention to what you’re eating.

Some foods are known to aid sleep – eat carbohydrates, bananas, peanuts, and figs, and have milk-based drinks. These contain tryptophans, a precursor for creating melatonin. Some snacks to consider include: cookies and milk, sliced banana with chopped dates, and wholegrain bread with lettuce.

  • Avoid foods high in protein prior to bedtime. These can keep you awake because they contain elevated levels of tyrosine. Also avoid hot curries and other very spicy foods prior to bed time.
  • Do not go to bed hungry – this will make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Avoid having a large meal close to bedtime. This can result in indigestion, reflux, or heartburn.
  • Reduce your intake of alcohol, nicotine, sugar, and caffeine.

2. Don’t exercise in the three hours leading up to bedtime.

Exercise awakens you, with the impact lasting for up to three hours after you’ve completed the exercise, as well as decreasing the secretion of melatonin (needed to help you sleep). Instead, exercise during the day or late afternoon. Exercise is ideal first thing in the morning, as it helps you to wake up and stay metabolized throughout the day.

3. Avoid taking naps during the daytime.

Limit naps. If you need a nap, nap no more than 15 minutes (a power nap). Anything longer can make it much harder to fall asleep in the evenings.

4. Find ways to unwind!

Reduce your stress levels. Stress, anxiety, worry, and depression can all contribute to an inability to fall asleep. Seek help for stress management, including finding positive techniques to handle stress such as yoga, relaxation, cognitive behavioral therapy, self-hypnosis, assertiveness training, meditation, exercise, visualization, etc. Psychotherapy can be helpful if you have underlying anxiety, trauma, or depression issues.

5. Have a warm bath before bedtime.

This can help to relax you, helping you to unwind.

6. Establish a bedtime routine.

Try to develop a pattern of doing the same things prior to bed each night, for example, having a warm drink, a bath, a short read, etc.

7. Keep to an established sleeping routine.

Train your mind to accept a set bedtime every night, and the same waking up time every day (with a little leeway for seasonal changes).

Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. If the problem still persists, just keep repeating until you create a new habit.

8. Wear comfortable clothing.

Clothes for sleeping are best when loose, comfortable and not restrictive. Avoid wearing anything too hot, or that leaves you feeling chilly. Shorts or light pajamas are often the most comfortable. Sleeping in the nude works well for many people, provided you feel comfortable and warm.

9. Choose a comfortable position.

Position yourself comfortably in bed. Always choose the position that works best for you, whether you’re a side, back, or stomach sleeper. Trying to force yourself to sleep in a position that feels unnatural will prevent you from falling asleep. If you’re uncomfortable, correct your position immediately, for example, your body’s weight on your arm is too strong, or your hip feels awkward – change position until you’re comfortable. Especially make sure your pillow is neither too flat nor too high because this may put strain on your neck.

10. Use aromatherapy and scent solutions.

There are a number of aromatherapy suggestions that might help you to fall asleep. For example, lemon balm oil, chamomile oil, lavender oil, and marjoram can be used singly or in combination for the bath, a massage, or as an air or pillow spray.

  • A sleep-promoting bath can be made from 6 drops chamomile oil, 2 drops lovage oil, and 2 drops lime flower oil, added to a warm to hot bath.
  • A massage blend can be made from 4 drops lavender oil, 4 drops mandarin oil, 3 drops nutmeg oil, 2 drops lemon oil, 2 drops dill oil, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) carrier oil such as almond oil. Mix together and massage into your upper chest, back of the neck, shoulders and down your back. Do not use this blend if you’re about to drive!

Preparing your sleeping space

1. The state of your room impacts your ability to fall asleep easily.

Tidy up as you go along – never leave dirty laundry out!

2. Check the comfort level of your bed.

If it feels too hard, soft, lumpy, etc., or the mattress is older than 10 years, then it is time to upgrade. This is a health investment, so don’t skimp on this important piece of furniture!

3. Set the ideal temperature for your room.

An ideal room temperature for sleeping is 60.8ºF – 64.4ºF/16ºC – 18ºC. Temperatures that are higher or lower can impact your ability to fall asleep. Use natural fibers where possible, as these wick away sweat, as well as retaining warmth or keeping you cooler, as needed.

When it is too hot, remove bed covers until you feel comfortable. Set a fan at the end of the bed. Place your pillow in the refrigerator or freezer for a half hour before sleeping. The chilled pillow can help cool you down enough to induce sleep.When it is too cold, add more bed covers. This is often better than over-dressing yourself. Hot water bottles can also help.

4. Reduce noise.

Noise can be a major reason for preventing sleep, especially if you start to focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. Consider soundproofing the room if necessary, or use double glazing or shutters to keep out street noise. Ask other family members to reduce their own levels of noise after a set time.If the noise is a nightly disruption, for example, neighboring activities or building work, contact those responsible to sort out something quickly. Focusing on continuous noise can leave you irritable and cause you to develop a poor sleep habit.

A white noise machine might help block out noise that you cannot do anything about. These are relatively cheap and produce a neutral sound that can drone out other noises and still let you go to sleep. The constant noise of a fan might work for you too.Having a music system in your room can be a source of interfering with your ability to fall asleep if you’re sensitive to it.[24] This needs to be balanced with the benefits of using music or sound to help you to fall asleep.

5. Reduced lighting for night

Fix the lighting in your bedroom. A low level of light prior to sleep is ideal (such as lamps or dimmer switches), followed by making your room as dark as you possibly can make it. Use blinds or blackout curtains to keep out light. Switch off or cover anything that emits light, such as an alarm clock. Use a towel or similar item for covering but be careful of fire hazards. Eye covers such as a sleeping mask can be beneficial too.

6. Remove all mind-stimulating electronic devices from your bedroom.

It can be tempting to take the laptop, MP3 player, TV, or game player to bed with you but it’s not a good idea. Allowing electronic items into your bedroom trains your mind to see the bedroom as something more than a place of rest and peace.

Avoid having bright clocks because this could be a temptation to stare at the passage of time and fret about it! Make a decisive change to ensure that your bedroom is for sleeping and relaxing only. This means not using it for electronic devices, not taking phone calls in the room, and not bringing tons of work to the bed to read through.

7. Keep your bed made up.

Every morning, get into a habit of making up the bed. Hopping into a fully made up bed is much more inviting than finding a disheveled mess! Keep the bed clothes well laundered regularly, as clean sheets make a world of difference.

Relaxation and distraction techniques

1. Out of the following techniques, try what seems best for you and eliminate what doesn’t work, or combine things that do.

2. Read.

Reading is a fantastic first approach.

Reading can help by focusing your mind on only one thing, instead of racing through the day’s activities. Read something calming or perhaps dull; for example, if you’re studying, the textbook is fairly guaranteed to send you nodding off!If you wake up and need to fall back to sleep, use a book light to avoid having to turn on brighter lights which can awaken you too much.

3. Try music or audio.

There are a number of musical or audio techniques that can help you to fall asleep, depending on how much you enjoy sound as you’re falling asleep.

  • Compile a playlist. If you have an iPod, compile a playlist of relaxing and soothing songs. Avoid songs that you enjoy singing along to, however. Turn the volume down as low as possible but make sure the music is still audible.
  • Listen to water sounds. The sounds of a fountain or a stream bubbling can be very soothing, as can the sound of waves coming in to the shore. There are many CDs or music downloads with ambient music of this type, including water, space, and nature sounds.
  • Sing to yourself. Sing a song in your mind to help remove challenging thoughts. A lullaby might be a soothing choice.
  • Listen to a podcast on an MP3 Player (like an iPod) for a few minutes before trying to sleep. A podcast that focuses on an interesting topic can take your mind off worries.
  • Listen to whisper videos. There is a YouTube community of people who make videos of themselves whispering, to lull you into a state of relaxation. Some good whisperers on YouTube are: WhisperCrystal, StrawberryWhisperer, WanderingWhisper, DanishVlog, and SnarkyWhispers.

4. Relax to shift your attention away from the concerns keeping you awake.

Some techniques include:

  • Muscle loosening: Lie on your back. Starting from the very tips of your toes, gradually loosen all of your muscles one by one. Move to your ankles, then calves, knees, and upward. If your mind wanders, return to the last part of the body loosened and keep working up until you reach your head. (Another way of approaching this is to see it as “erasing” your body. Start with your toes and work your way up; the torso and head are the hardest to “erase”!) Staying on your back, aim to sink loosely into the mattress until you feel it is time to roll into your desired position.
  • Acknowledging: In your mind, “acknowledge” everything around you that all your senses are experiencing. For example: Tell yourself “I don’t care that I hear the clock ticking; I smell the lotion I just applied to my hands; I feel my legs’ weight on the bed. I hear my spouse/partner breathing. I see different shades of black. I hear the dog barking in the distance. I hear myself in my own mind talking.”, etc. Doing this can help to clear your mind of exciting thoughts by slowly acknowledging everything and subsequently dismissing it.
  • Stretching: Stretch while laying on your back. Stretching can help to relieve tension in your lower back, legs and up to the back of your neck. While on your back, raise up one leg at a time and attempt to bring your knee to your chin. Once raised as close to your chin as possible, hold your leg with your arms close to you until you feel your lower back and the hamstring of your leg begin to stretch. Do this for the leg and repeat until the tension begins to subside. The looser your muscles become, the more your body is beginning to relax. This stretching method should help you refocus your mind on resting.
  • Meditating: Along with the muscle loosening sensation of trying to settle into your mattress, use meditation to visualize yourself addressing your thoughts and resolving them. Or, meditate on a calming word or phrase. Keep still and relaxed to maximize the state of restfulness. As you do so, it helps you to lower your heart rate and relax your muscles, making it easier for you to fall asleep.

5. Use breathing techniques.

Deep breathing can help you relax enough to fall asleep. Lie on your back in bed, watching or feeling your stomach rise, and then breathe. Your goal is to breath in and out about six times per minute, as per this exercise:

  • Breathe in deeply for four counts.
  • Take a deep breath out for four counts.
  • Repeat.
  • Concentrate on your breath.
  • Remaining focused on your breath to the exclusion of all else.
  • Do this for 60 breaths (at least 10 minutes) and you will feel very relaxed.

6. Use your imagination.

The time between laying your head on the pillow and falling asleep can be a time to plan a lucid dream, or just to let your mind wander and be as imaginative as you like. Lost in the world of imagination, you may just be lucky enough not to notice you’ve drifted off into dreamland. Here are some ideas:

  • Think of something very calming. Picturing something calming such as a waterfall, a pool of clear water underneath falls, a green field under a rainbow, etc., can be ways of calming yourself. Picture yourself doing pleasurable things, such as floating down the river, gliding over clouds, seeing blue sky on a perfect day, smelling roses, anything at all that reflects your ideal fantasy. Explore the place if you like, discovering what else is in this imaginary realm.
  • Build your perfect house or room in your mind. Anything goes. How magnificent a house can you make in your mind? What colors do you want to use? Let yourself get lost in the details of your dream house as you relax.
  • Try storytelling. Stories can be a good way to wind down. Create an ongoing storyline carried over each night, or start a completely new one as needed. Ideally, keep the story light and happy, picturing it in your mind. Thinking of favorite movie scenes and putting yourself into them can be another fun imagination exercise, such as a kissing scene, or a daring rescue.
  • Imagine being with someone you care about, doing something that you both enjoy. For example, imagine yourself and your spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, lover, etc., maybe walking on a prairie peacefully. Or, if you’re feeling lonely, perhaps imagine a special friend (imaginary) who is listening to your feelings and troubles.
  • Think up the strangest, most impossible things as fast as you can and don’t stop. For example, imagine purple Twinkies™ walking on walls, growing red wings with yellow fishhooks dangling from them, and chasing after bankers, etc.
  • Close your eyes and imagine a swinging pendulum. If you’re relaxed, you should feel the sensation of “falling into the mattress”.
  • Imagine you’re a computer. Think about the process your computer goes through when it shuts down: “I am shutting down, falling asleep. All excess functions are being shut down. I’m only breathing, my heart’s beating…”.

7. Don’t think of something you can’t change

I.E a project you need to do or problems. Imagine your crush/lover/spouse on a date or maybe kissing or something like that. You will get distracted and go to sleep happy.

8. Play a game.

Sometimes a game can distract you enough to get you to the land of nod. Either real games or mind games can work; if you’re playing a real game, keep the game material at your bedside and a book light to keep the light level low.

  • Play solitaire. Undemanding, repetitive, and requiring concentration but little mental effort, this card game will soon lull you.
  • Do a crossword puzzle or a sudoku.
  • Play the mind game “Return” or “Associations”. Think of a word and the first thing that comes to your mind from that word is your new word. For example: “Dog” reminds you of “cat”, “cat” reminds you of “fur”, “fur” reminds you of “bear”, etc. This game settles your mind and calms you down.
  • Count sheep, or count anything. The rhythm and monotony of counting can send your mind into a sleepy state. This doesn’t work for everyone though – for some, the level of concentration required to maintain sheep jumping a fence, for example, might create too much stimulation!

9. Try self-hypnosis.

If you know how to hypnotize yourself, this technique might be a useful one, using the “Best Me” technique of self-hypnosis. Use this to involve your whole person in the process of going to sleep. With or without an actual hypnotic induction (but preferably after one), slowly repeat the following suggestions to yourself. When you get to the last two steps, repeat them over and over like a mantra, as long as necessary until you drift off. (By this time, you should be quite relaxed and the entire experience should be a very pleasant one.) You don’t have to use these exact words, of course – just use whatever words are most meaningful to you, as long as you cover all of the steps. With each step beginning with one of the letters of the words, “Best Me,” they’re easy to remember. Believe it will happen, expect it to happen, and feel it happening.

  • (Belief systems) – Imagine, or picture in your mind, that you are reaching down into the depths of your unconscious potential for feeling drowsiness and sleep.
  • (Emotions) – These feelings of drowsiness and sleep are flowing out from innermost depths of your unconscious potential like water from a hundred secret springs.
  • (Sensations and physical perceptions) – Feel this drowsiness and sleep flowing into every muscle, and nerve, and fiber of your body, growing stronger and stronger with every breath you take.
  • (Thoughts and images) – Sinking down, and shutting down, and sinking down, and shutting down. Sinking down, and shutting down. Shutting down completely.
  • (Motives) – Think these last two steps to yourself, matching your thoughts to your breathing, until you fall asleep, “And the deeper I go, the deeper I want to go.”
  • (Expectations) – “And the deeper I go, the sleepier I will become.”
  • If you prefer, you can have someone else whom you trust hypnotize you and give you the suggestions just described, substituting the following suggestions for the last two steps: Motives: “And now you will just keep on going deeper by yourself, until you fall into a deep, peaceful sleep. Expectations: You will awaken naturally at the proper time, feeling completely refreshed.”
  • If you should feel yourself starting to wake up during the night, keep silently repeating the Thoughts and Images step to yourself over and over like a mantra, over and over until it takes on a life of its own. As long as you don’t try too hard, this will help you get back to sleep.

10. Get out of bed and distract yourself temporarily.

If things are so bad that you’re tossing, turning, and kicking your partner, it might be best to get out of bed and do something for a while to wear yourself out properly. Some ideas of what to do once you’ve got out of bed include:

  • Do something dull. Read a boring book, a work paper, or watch something mindless on TV. Do something you’ve been putting off for a while because you’re afraid it will be too boring!
  • Watch a movie. Rather than watching the whole film, fast forward to a part that you really like and watch it. Don’t choose scary, edgy movies. This will only “work” if it’s a film you love and are very familiar with. It might just be enough to help your mind clear of racing thoughts.
  • Simply sit. Find a comfortable chair in the house, keep it dark or rely on street lights, and sit, contemplating the thoughts that are keeping you awake. It will start to seem less pressing when you’re in a chair surrounded by familiar objects. Stare out of the window and relax.
  • Try yoga, stretching, or pilates.
  • Whenever you experience “eye fatigue”, stop doing the out-of-bed activity and return to bed. It will usually be a fast falling to sleep for you.

11. It may sound crazy, but if nothing else has worked for you — try this.

If you find it hard to sleep, you’ll notice that you try to tell your body to fall asleep. You try and try, but it doesn’t work. Try this is a simple trick. When you close your eyes and attempt to fall asleep, stop. Do this instead. Close your eyes and try your hardest to stay awake with your eyes closed. It may take a few minutes, but before you know it, you’ll be waking up to a new morning.

Tips

  • For people who own an iPod Touch or an iPhone: There are many apps which can play calming noises (like quiet rainfall, wind, etc.) to help you go to sleep. Another option is to listen to guided sleep soundtracks – a meditation to help you relax and fall asleep.
  • Avoid falling asleep somewhere else in the house, such as in front of the TV. If you feel this happening, get up and prepare for bed and get yourself into bed quickly.
  • Use warmth. If you’re feeling cold, fix this quickly. Put on socks or a warmer layer on the bed. Fill a hot water bottle or microwave a wheat-bag. Put a warm towel over your eyes: Put a washcloth in the dryer and lay it over your eyes. It will relax your eyes as well as warming you a little.
  • Know yourself. Only you can know what does and does not keep you awake at night. If reading sends you to sleep, by all means use it but if it’s revving you up, avoid it!
  • Make use of a journal by your bedside. Instead of lying there worrying, write in your journal and leave the thoughts for dealing with during daytime.[27] Use a book light to avoid disturbing others and to avoid putting on too much light. A page or two of thoughts written down can calm you enough to restore the need for sleep.
  • It is very important to see your doctor or qualified health professional if you are at your wit’s end about not sleeping properly. Note the signs of when it is important to seek advice. The following symptoms are a sign that you need to seek your doctor’s advice: your insomnia is stretching out over a period of months; you constantly feel tired during the daytime, rarely refreshed; pain or a need to visit the toilet are regularly waking you up; your relationships with other people are suffering because you’re feeling tired, irritable, and snap easily; you’re taking prescription drugs and have noticed the sleep problems since starting them.[28]
  • Abandon thoughts about “being a wreck tomorrow”. This self-fulfilling thinking will cause less sleep. Think of other things immediately and forgive yourself for feeling worried. If nothing else works, tell yourself that it is better to lie there with your eyes shut and not sleeping than to be getting up and activating your mind without energy to drive it. Just lying there with closed eyes will often result in you drifting off to sleep – you will drift in-and-out of sleep even if you do not realize it. As a result, you will be more relaxed in the long run. Of course, if about 15 minutes pass and you are still not asleep you should get up and do something not too physically or mentally demanding (read, do a puzzle, write in a journal, etc). Then go back to bed.
  • If someone else sharing the bed is the cause of your not falling asleep, discuss the problem together. Perhaps it’s a case of spending a night in the guest bed when your bed partner is ill or stressed about a deadline, etc. There is no sense in two people missing out on sleep, and this can impact your relationship negatively if you both have a poor night’s sleep.
  • Try sleeping with a pet; this can be very calming knowing that there is a living being with you. If your pet moves a lot, however, this can backfire on you!
  • Find something that makes a very quiet, steady sound. A small fan on a low setting or a real, non-electric, ticking watch or clock are ideal. For some the sound could make sleep harder, but for others, the steady beat of the ticking, or the quiet hum of an electric motor in a fan can be very peaceful.
  • Playing an instrument before sleeping can help to soothe you, calm your mind and force you to focus and concentrate on a task. Make sure it’s classical music!
  • Tell yourself you are tired; start saying this before you go to bed and as you are settling in bed.
  • Having sex or masturbating promotes your ability to sleep.[29]
  • Make a conscious effort to relax your tongue, jaw, and face along with the rest of your body.
  • In my opinion the best way to prepare yourself to have a well deserved sleep is to first take a nice, warm shower, get a warm cup of milk and read a book while drinking your milk. While you are reading your book I prefer to be reading in my bed and with a low light on. You will soon become very tired after all that!
  • Listen to calm, soothing music before bed but avoid listening to heavy metal, heavy rock, screamo etc. as these won’t lull you to sleep but will instead make you feel more energetic.
  • Try warm water, or warm milk with nutmeg as a drink before sleep.
  • If you are wake up or can’t sleep for worry or other thoughts, take them out of the bedroom so that where you sleep is not where you think about these things. Find a chair in a different room for about 15-20mins to leave the thoughts there. You could even write them in a journal.
  • Ensure you have a good few minutes of sunlight during the day.
  • Make sure you are exposed to lots of sunlight in the hours after you wake up in the morning.

Warnings

  • There are many possible reasons for having a sleeping disorder – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, for example, has an entire chapter devoted to the topic of sleep disorders, some of which can be quite complex. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a physician or other health care professional before engaging in any activity related to health and diet.
  • Be responsible for your kids’ nighttime habits. Watching exciting TV or playing stimulating video games right before bedtime will keep them more alert and awake. Move such viewing to earlier in the evening. And if you need to watch a movie before bed, watch a comedy movie or TV show.
  • Be careful if you’re wearing earbuds! If you roll in your sleep, the cord can be a hazard. Try a ‘radio pillow’, where you can plug in an MP3 player and sound comes out softly through the pillow. If you use earbuds, ensure that the wire goes around the back instead of the front.
  • Always check the contra-indications of essential oils as some cannot be used for pregnancy, lactating mothers, people who are immuno-suppressed, etc.
  • Avoid self-diagnosing your sleep problem. Talk to your doctor about any problems you’re experiencing with insomnia or other sleeping problems. It is important to identify the source of the problems and get a proper remedy. Ask your doctor about routine changing suggestions (i.e., tips for breaking a poor habit), what non-addictive sleeping aids are available, if there are any possible herbal remedies before having to tackle the heavier medications (for example, valerian), and whether there are any suitable nutritional and exercise options.[30] Since prescription medications can bring about addiction or drowsiness, exploring all the possible options is prudent.
  • Avoid taking over-the-counter remedies. These can lead to their own set of problems, or can mask the symptom of something more serious. Be careful with herbal remedies that are swallowed – follow the instructions of your health professional with care and be sure to detail any other medical conditions.
  • If you have problems such as snoring, sleep apnea, etc., seek medical assistance as quickly as possible. These can be either dangerous or can harm your health-restoring sleep, impairing your performance during the daytime. They are trained professionals and are there to help.

 

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