Thursday, January 05, 2006

How to go to Sleep

My girlfriend has been dealing with Insomnia for a little while and I have this set of guidelines and techniques that I came up with a number of years ago when I went through my own terrible bout. My stretch lasted off and on for about 6 months and I tried everything I could. Eventually I learned how to fall asleep and luckily it has stuck with me ever since. I can go to sleep at night perfectly every time.

There are a few keys to my technique. First, it is important to be committed to sleeping. Second is that it seems to me that to fall asleep, the best way is to emulate being asleep as much as possible.

You have to be committed to falling asleep. You have to be convinced that the time you allot for sleeping is for that and that alone. You have to know that sleeping is the top priority, not thinking about your past or future days. All of the steps and techniques I have here are predicated on this.

My steps (outlined below) all focus on emulating sleep. This is done for 3 reasons. First, I believe that if you convince your body that you are asleep, it will eventually let you fall asleep. It’s almost like your body is confused about your intentions so it keeps you awake. By pretending you are asleep your body will get the message and allow you to. On the same parallel, I believe that when you believe something you manifest reality. This is an affirmation of sorts. You say to yourself “I am asleep” and soon enough you are. Thirdly, if for whatever reason you don’t actually sleep, by following my steps you will be the closest you can be to being asleep and so you will at least maximize your relaxation (physical and mental) during your sleep hours. It’s illogical to do anything else (i.e. Worry, get up, move around, read, etc.)

So, here are the steps. They are sequential. To accomplish a given step, you need to have accomplished all the previous steps. Please note that all of these steps may prove difficult at first, but with practice you will see that all are accomplishable and soon enough you will see that this technique works.

  1. Never, ever look at your clock – Looking at the time can only make your brain more active. You will see the time, compute the hours left in the night, worry about hours slept, think about going to work, etc. The train of thought will begin there and you will have a hard time stopping it. Your alarm is set, when it goes off it’s time to wake up, until then, there is no need to know the time. It can only make things worse. Personally I don’t even look at the clock at all unless the alarm is going off. I have a general idea about what time it is when I’m going to bed and that’s really all anyone needs. Think about it for a second. If it’s too late what will you do about it? Get nervous? The plain fact is that the time you have to sleep on a given night is fixed from the moment you get in until the moment your alarm goes off – your job is to maximize your sleep in that window. Knowing the amount of time can’t help you one bit.

  2. Close your eyes – This one seems simple but everyone seems to mess this up. When you are ready to go to sleep, close your eyes and don’t open them until you hear the alarm. If you wake up in the middle of the night, there’s no need to open your eyes, that can only add stimulus to your brain. Keep them closed as much as possible.

  3. Get Comfortable and then don’t move – Take your time to find a comfortable position and then stay there. Force yourself if you have to, but I found that moving around is simply an excuse for your body to stay awake. You really never need to move when you are trying to fall asleep. If you have an itch of some kind you shouldn’t scratch it. Instead focus on that itch and only that itch. It will help you stop thinking of all the other crap that was floating around in your head for the day. The itch will go away sooner than you think. What I usually do here is take a moment to focus on my muscles, one at a time and imagine them un-tensing and relaxing and falling asleep individually.

  4. Breathe regularly – This is hard to do at first. It seems simple but it’s tough because you usually don’t think about your breathing. What we are hopefully getting to here is a full emulation of a body at rest and regular, even breathing is a hallmark of this. Concentrating on breathing is a wonderful way to let your brain let go of everyday thought (step 4). You want to start off taking controlled and even and full breaths into your nose and then out of your lips. Eventually you will easily fall into a very regular breathing routine.

  5. Stop Thinking – This is the key to everything. You have to tell yourself that it’s ok to let go and then do it. This is your sleep time. It’s not time to think about your day, or worry about tomorrow. Don’t be fooled by “Important Thoughts!!” I’ve found that if something is important enough, it will pop into your head tomorrow morning. Just let it all go. Your brain needs to let go of conscious thought in order to allow you to sleep. It needs to relax. This is easier said than done I know, but once you learn how, it gets to be very easy, almost reflexive. When I am ready to let go, I just turn it all off and the next thing I know it’s morning. Here are some techniques I’ve used successfully:

  6. a) Counting Sheep. Sheep are simple beasts that in most cases won’t stimulate you onto other thoughts. I’ve found that you simply imagine a simple fence and you watch and count them jumping it one by one. No need to worry about timing just let them jump. I’ve done this a ton of times and I am yet to remember the count at all in the morning. Yea, I know this sounds silly but it works for a number of reasons. First off, your brain is on a mindless task that is just hard enough to keep it from thinking of other things. Secondly, your eyes will roll slightly as the sheep jump the fence which is very much like what your eyes do when you dream. It is a signal to your body that you are asleep. The more you act asleep, the more you become asleep.

    b) The Stop Thinking Mantra. This is my current technique that I use when I have a hard time falling asleep. I try to let my mind go blank entirely. It happens pretty quickly but inevitably I get a thought about my day or tomorrow or whatever. No matter how interesting or pressing the thought is, I yell to myself “Stop Thinking!”.  If it persists, I repeat it over and over to myself “Stop Thinking, Stop Thinking, Stop Thinking”. It’s sometimes a small battle with the thought but if I persist, I usually win. Eventually your brain gives up and you are asleep without knowing it.

    c) Breathing Mantra. This technique is all about giving your mind something useless to be distracted enough from conscious thought. You can do this in one of 2 ways. First is to simply focus intently on your breathing. Just focus on the technique and getting each breath perfectly identical to the last. The second way is to actually mutter a non-sensical sound on your out breath through your mouth. It’s important that the sound isn’t a word that you know since it will end up triggering regular thoughts.

    d) The Transient Noises. This one is odd and hard to describe. If you are able to clear your head of thoughts and remain awake you will notice (if you are really aware) that your brain will be resonating small snippets of sounds. Words, daily sounds, tiny bits of songs, short snippits of mocie lines. Nothing will connect. It seems to me that these sounds are just random firing of synapses or something that your brain usually filters out as noise but if you try to “listen” for them you will find your brain going along with you quite naturally. It will remain clear so you can hear better. The longer your brain remains clear like this, the greater your chance of falling asleep.


Lingo Slinger said...

I get insomnia sometimes too... If it's really bad I take sleeping pills, but I try to avoid that since they are pretty addictive.

I use a counting technique... blank out everthing in my mind except for the visualization of the number. Doesn't always work, but sometimes it does.

StringMan said...

Sleeping pills, sex, some Jack 'n Coke (non caffeinated), a couple of ludes, and a little heroin - that's my sleep cocktail.

If that doesn't work, I turn on the TV and watch PBS programs.

(sorry, I'm going on 48 hours without sleep ... a little punchy)

Lingo Slinger said...

he he... nice stringman ;) when i saw jack 'n' coke i was thinking "what is he mad... he'll be jacked all night" of course you were referring to coke of the cola variety.

the heroin will definitely do it. just make sure you have a bucket beside the bed.

alas, if all else fails... there are some INCREDIBLY boring blogs out there.