1. Quick Fixes to Fall Asleep
1.1 Get cozy.
Are you as comfortable as possible? If not, consider adjusting these things:
- Temperature: The optimal sleep temperature varies by person but usually lies somewhere between 60.8 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (16 – 20 degrees Celsius). If the room is too hot, try turning on a fan and try ideas from How to Sleep Comfortably on a Hot Night. If you’re cold, put another blanket on the bed or a loose sweatshirt over your pajamas.
- Position: Always choose the right position that works best for you, whether you’re a hip, back, or stomach sleeper. Also, make sure your pillow is neither too flat nor too high because either may put strain on your neck. If your pillow is too hot, flip it over.
- Clothing: If you’re wearing pajamas that are tight, scratchy, or otherwise uncomfortable, consider changing into something more sleep-worthy. Try putting on loose cotton pajamas or a long nightshirt. If that’s still not working, some people sleep best when they strip down to nothing at all.
1.2 Change the lighting.
Most people find it easiest to sleep in total darkness. If that’s not possible for you, though, you can still make some small fixes.
- Turn away from any light sources: try putting your arm near your face to block out any unwelcome rays. Light that shines directly on your face while you’re sleeping can create shadows under your eyes.
- Make a sleep mask: If you’re really struggling, make an impromptu sleep mask out of an old tie or a pillowcase rolled lengthwise and tie it gently over your eyes.
- Place night lights in the hallway: If you sleep best with a night light, consider moving it from your room to a hall or another nearby space. You want to still be able to see the glow, but it won’t be as strong.
1.3 Manage noise.
Some people sleep best in total silence; others need ambient noise to fall asleep. Whatever your preference is, here’s how to make it work:
- Use earplugs: block out sounds of roommates or neighbors. With them in you should still be able to hear emergency warning systems like a fire alarm. You can buy them at any pharmacy.
- Drown out intermittent noises: Use a consistent noise. If you’re trying to fall asleep but keep getting interrupted by noises from the street or around the house, try to block them out with a regular noise. Turn on a fan or some music. This can make a big difference.
- Listen to music: Low-volume music that’s soothing or familiar can provide comforting background noise while your mind checks out. Instead of putting in headphones, consider turning on the radio or leaving your mp3 player on your nightstand at low volume.
- Compile a play list: 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 ambient noise: Raindrops, running water, wind, or binaural beats are all sounds that help some people sleep. See if you can download a free app with these features.
1.4 Make a combination sleep mask.
If there’s a loud source of noise you can’t do anything about, try this trick to block out both sound and light:
- Grab an old tie or a pillowcase rolled lengthwise.
- Get two soft cloths. Dishtowels or washcloths should work fine.
- Lay down the tie or pillowcase lengthwise on the bed.
- Put one of the folded cloths on top of the tie, around the middle of the length.
- Lie down so that one ear is on top of the folded cloth.
- Put the other cloth on top of your free ear.
- Pull the ends of the tie or pillowcase over your ears, and knot them behind your head. Make it snug enough that the cloths stay in place, but not so tight that you’re uncomfortable. This works best if you tend to sleep on one side.
Some techniques include:
- Loosen your muscles: Lie on your back. Starting from the very tips of your toes, gradually loosen all of your muscles one by one eventually reaching the head. 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, relaxing your body; the torso and head are the hardest to relax! Staying on your back, aim to sink loosely onto the mattress until you feel it is time to roll into your desired position.
- Think of boring things: Is your mind on a few things? For example maybe there’s something exciting happening that you are staying awake about? Well here are a few suggestions on what to do
- Think of black: Black is a boring color but this is how it comes in handy. Close your eyes and think of things that you dislike, Now change them black. Think of as many things as you can and turn them black until you fall asleep.
- Have a friend: If you ever feel lonely in bed get a friend! For example maybe a cuddly toy, your cat or dog,a pillow and maybe even call up some friends and have a sleep over/slumber party!
- Acknowledge distractions: your senses are experiencing everything, 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 excitable feelings by slowly acknowledging and dismissing it.
- Stretch: Lying 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 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 — until the tension begins to subside. The looser your muscles become, the more your body is relaxing, refocusing your mind on simply resting.
- Meditate: Along with the muscle loosening sensation of trying to settle onto 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.
Focus your mind on only this one thing, instead of racing through the day’s activities. Read something calming or, perhaps, dull; for example, if you’re reading your textbook in bed that’s 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.
1.7 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 breathe in and out about six times per minute, as per this exercise:
- Breathe in deeply for four long-counts.
- Hold the breath for two counts.
- Let the deep breath out for four counts, pushing the last “bit” of breath out but gently, not over-working it.
- Repeat. Concentrate on your breath, remaining focused on it to the exclusion of all else.
1.8 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, 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 doing something that you and someone you care both enjoy, for example: imagine yourself and your spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, lover, etc., walking on a field of flowers with a beautiful aroma peacefully.
- Imagine your ideal sleeping conditions: See yourself curled up on a feather bed with the softest sheets, sleeping under the stars or curled up with your dream partner on a soft cloud.
- Think up strange, impossible things, for example: imagine purple Twinkies™ walking on walls, growing red wings with yellow fishhooks dangling from them, and chasing after bankers, etc.
- Imagine a swinging pendulum: With your eyes closed, if you’re relaxed, you should feel the sensation of “falling into the mattress”.
1.9 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 to drowsiness.
- Do a crossword puzzle or a sudoku.
- Count sheep, or your breaths: The rhythm and monotony of counting can send your mind into a sleepy state. However, 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!
1.10 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.”
- Have someone whom you trust hypnotize you: Let this person make the described suggestions, 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.
1.11 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’re up include:
- Do something dull: Read a boring book, a work paper, or watch something mindless on TV like the news. 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 rest in a comfortable chair: keep your area 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.
- Do yoga, stretching, or Pilates.
- Return to bed: Feeling your eyes getting tired, you’ll usually fall asleep quickly.
- Sometimes sleeping with a pillow between your legs can help reduce stress and/or pain. When you have stomach or back pain, doing this may help to lull you into sleep.