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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.