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The Insomniac’s Guide of Things To Do When Failing to Sleep

The Insomniac’s Guide of Things To Do When Failing to Sleep

So you’ve checked your clock for the third time in the last ten minutes. It just past two in the morning and you have to get up at seven to get to work. You’ve tried everything to get to sleep but something between life stresses and that fourth cup of coffee you had are keeping you up. What do you do?

Don’t give up. The problem is usually that you are preoccupied with something that is keeping you from relaxing. This could be a distracting sound, stress or even your own concern at how late it is. I’ve had moments like these and I’ve come up with different mental games to play to calm myself down and get to sleep.

Before that, here’s a list of things not to do:

  • Don’t leave the bed. Unless you can sleep standing up, moving around will only keep you awake longer.
  • Don’t read. Although a boring book can put you to sleep, reading will probably only delay any rest.
  • Lights off. Keep the lights off and put yourself in a position where you are ready to fall asleep.

This may seem obvious, but many cases of insomnia are the result of the person getting impatient when trying to fall asleep. Unless you’ve decided to pull an all-nighter and are prepared to feel like death the next morning, stay in bed.

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After removing all the fun activities, here are some things you can do to help you fall asleep:

1) Picture a Scene

Try focusing yourself to imagine you are in a familiar place. A good way to start is to visualize yourself moving around your room. See how much of it you can remember clearly. If this gets too easy, try creating your own room to walk through. You can spend a few minutes during each bout of restlessness building your own imaginary mansion you can improve on each time.

2) Breathing

Focus on your breathing. Try to consciously slow your breathing to a particular number of counts in and out. Not only does this focus your mind by counting, but it physically relaxes you. Slowing your heart rate down and forcing you to relax your body will make it easier to drift away.

3) Self Dialog

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Who says imaginary friends are just for kids? Make up a character and have a conversation with him. This can help you focus your normally random flow of thoughts. This can direct your thinking away from distractions or stresses that are keeping you awake.

4) Bodily Awareness

A good relaxation technique is to contract and release all the major muscles in your body. Start by tensing up your toes for a few seconds. Then relax them for another few. Then tense up the muscles in the arch of your foot. Go through your legs, arms and finish on your neck. This can help remove bodily tensions and make you more comfortable.

5) Daily Review

Spend your restlessness reviewing the past day. What accomplishments did you make? What would you like to improve on next time? Don’t do this if specific stresses are keeping you awake, but it can be a useful exercise if the day went normally.

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6) Plan Ahead

Visualize from start to finish your perfect day tomorrow. Imagine yourself waking up with energy and getting done all the things you want to do. It usually takes at least fifteen minutes to go through the entire day if you are specific enough. This can help calm your thinking while preparing you for a good tomorrow.

7) Visualize a Goal

Spend some time thinking about a goal you have. If you currently have problems with money or debt, spend a few minutes thinking about being wealthy. If you are looking for a new relationship, imagine the partner you want. Invest time in bringing out the details. Don’t just imagine writing a book, visualize the finished copy in your hand.

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If you are forced to stay awake, you might as well think about something that makes you feel good, right?

8 ) Sheep Squared

Counting sheep is a little too boring to occupy a restless mind. Try counting by powers of two instead. This means starting with the number 1 and continually doubling it. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16… 1024… 8388608. Eventually you are going to lose track of the digits and have to start over. Little math games can keep your mind occupied when distracting thoughts are keeping you awake.

9) Mental Studying

If you are a student or learning a new subject, use your insomnia to ace the next test. Start with a random piece of information in your subject. This could be the name of a muscle in your foot for an anatomy class or a major philosophical figure for your history paper. Now link this idea to another idea in your subject. With each new idea, find a new link in the chain. Socrates could lead to Aristotle, leading to Alexander the Great, leading to the Gupta Dynasty in India.

10) Keep Your Eyes Open

Blink when you have to but try to keep your eyes open. You can probably remember boring lectures or meetings where it was painful to keep your eyes open. Watching your ceiling fan will probably be a better sleep inducement than anything your high school math teacher could have come up with.

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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The power of habit

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to make a reminder works for you

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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