I normally have no trouble getting to sleep within minutes of laying down. However, there are rare occasions where I struggle to sleep, or I wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep again. I’m sure that nearly everyone experiences this from time to time, especially when there is a lot on your mind. Here are some tips for getting to sleep that have helped me over the years.
Ways to get to sleep
Here are some methods you can try when you are already in bed and trying to sleep:
Play the ‘alphabet game’
This is a simple game that focuses your mind. The object is not to actually complete the game, because the hope is that you will fall asleep whilst playing it! Think of a category, such as animals, places, or people you know. Go through the alphabet thinking of something in that category that begins with each letter, for example, A = anteater, B = bear, C = cat etc. If you get to the end of the alphabet, go back to A and think of a different thing. If you get stuck on a particular letter (often Q, X or Z), either keep thinking, or skip it – it really doesn’t matter. Often when I play this game, I fall asleep long before I reach the end of the alphabet (usually when I get stuck on a letter). The game has served its purpose!
This doesn’t always work if your mind is already very active with thoughts running around. The game will probably keep your mind active and the thoughts will keep creeping in. But if your mind is quiet and you just can’t sleep, this is often effective.
Tell yourself ‘I am so sleepy’
This is one of the most effective methods I’ve found. Imagine that you are really sleepy, and act that way. Yawn, stretch and curl up in bed, telling yourself things like, ‘I feel so sleepy, it’s so cosy and warm in my bed, I’m going to fall asleep right away’ etc. For me, this usually brings on genuine feelings of sleepiness!
Another variant of this method is to try to recreate the feeling you get when you have just woken up in the morning, and feel very sleepy. Imagine it’s the morning and you have just woken up. Tell yourself, ‘It’s so cosy here, I’m so sleepy and I don’t want to get up, I want to stay in bed and go back to sleep’. Really try to recreate that feeling. And then tell yourself, ‘I don’t have to get up just yet! I can go back to sleep for as long as I like!’. And hopefully you will do so!
Watching and listening
I’ve heard the advice before that in order to fall asleep, you should try to blank your mind and not think at all. Sometimes this works, but I find it is easier to focus my mind on something, rather than to try not to think at all. So I focus on ‘watching’ the darkness and ‘listening’ to the silence. I intently watch the dark insides of my eyelids, and listen for any sounds that may be around me. After a little while, I usually find that dream-like pictures and sounds (usually voices) start coming into my awareness.
I am open to these pictures and sounds appearing, and I don’t try to resist them. In fact, I expect them. It’s hard to describe; it’s like I am in a half-awake state and I am beginning to dream before I fall asleep. Conversations come into my head out of nowhere and they are complete nonsense, but I am somehow aware of every word. I just listen to them, and watch any pictures, and I soon fall asleep (and probably continue the dream, but I don’t remember).
Imagine your bed is floating in the sky
This one sounds silly, but somehow it works for me! I imagine my bed lifting off from the floor, flying gently out through the window and up into the sky. I imagine the scenes and lights passing below me, and the stars and moon above me. My bed floats gently along, and I am wrapped up cosy and warm in it, insulated from the night time breeze. I imagine there is a barrier around the edges of my bed, so I can’t possibly fall out. This usually sends me to sleep, so it’s worth giving it a try!
Focusing on your breathing and taking deep, slow breaths can help you relax and fall asleep. You can also progressively relax your muscles as you breathe. Move up your body from your toes to your head, and with each out-breath, relax each body part in turn. Imagine and feel yourself sinking into sleep every time you breathe out.
Ways to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep
These things will help to prepare you for a restful night:
Dehydration can interfere with sleep. There have been times where I have gone to bed without having enough to drink, and woken up thirsty in the night. I think it’s best to stay hydrated throughout the day, with regular drinks of water, rather than drinking lots of water just before bed and potentially needing the toilet in the night.
I often struggle to get to sleep if I haven’t eaten much that day, especially if I had a small evening meal. But this could differ from person to person, as I know it is usually recommended to have a light evening meal (and a more substantial breakfast and lunch). I don’t think it’s a good idea to eat immediately before bed, but it certainly helps me sleep if I have had a substantial evening meal.
Make a plan for tomorrow
Do any planning or preparation that you need to do for tomorrow, or at least make a list and write down the things that are on your mind. This gets them out of your head so that you can forget about them for the night. Sleep time is for sleeping – everything else can be dealt with in the morning.
Adjust your temperature
It can be hard to sleep when you are too hot or too cold. Make sure you are at a comfortable temperature. If it is cold, wear a jumper or add a blanket. If it is hot, remove layers/blankets, or open the window.
Shut out any light
Most people find it easiest to sleep in complete darkness. Shut out any light that is coming under your door, close the curtains to block out streetlights or the moon, and turn off any digital clock displays. Even removing tiny sources of light can make a surprisingly big difference to your quality of sleep!
Use calming scents
Lavender is well known for helping you sleep, so try spraying your pillow with lavender oil or taking a lavender bag to bed with you. You could also try a calming body lotion. LUSH does one called ‘Sleepy’ which contains oatmeal, lavender and tonka among other calming ingredients.
Only try to sleep when you are sleepy
I recommend that you get ready for bed early. Brush your teeth, get into your pyjamas etc when you are still wide awake. You can even get into bed and read, go on your smartphone, or whatever you want to do. But only actually lay down and put the lights out when you have started to feel sleepy. Otherwise, you may struggle to get to sleep because you still feel too alert.
If you still can’t sleep…
If you have been lying awake for ages and none of these methods and tips are working, the best tactic may be to get up for a while and do something until you start to feel sleepy. These are some activities that have worked for me:
Listen to the radio
Listen to a calming radio station (through headphones if you might disturb other people). Most radio stations play relaxing music in the early hours of the morning. Just laying there and listening can make you feel sleepy, especially if you turn the lights off. You can switch the radio off when you are about to fall asleep.
Do a puzzle or play a game
You can keep a puzzle book by your bed, or download games onto your smartphone. I pick games that are not too visually stimulating. Sudoku puzzles, crosswords or other simple word games seem to do the trick, but any game could work. Play until you start nodding off.
Write down your thoughts
If you are kept awake by thoughts whizzing around in your head, write your thoughts down to get them out of your head. If you are thinking about tomorrow, and haven’t already made a list of things to do in the morning, do it now!
I hope these tips help you sleep!
I hope you will find some helpful tips among these. They may not all work for everyone, or every time, but it’s helpful to have several different methods to try! I wish you many nights of restful sleep.