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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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Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More About Note-Taking

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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