If you struggle to fall asleep, you aren’t alone. At least 60 million Americans deal with insomnia, and that number may be low. You’re also not alone if your inability to get the sleep you need is frustrating and annoying.
However, you don’t have to live like that. Talk to your doctor to rule out any health issues, and then try some of the techniques below. Sure, some of them sound crazy, but it’s worth being a little nuts if you’re getting the rest you need.
Sure, sleeping in a tent may not be the most restful thing ever, but exposing yourself to the cycle of natural light can help reset your own circadian rhythm. With all of the artificial light in our lives, it’s easy for the biological clock to get out of whack. When you camp, you expose yourself mostly to natural light, from dawn until dusk. Over several days, this can reset your internal clock so your body is ready for bed at a normal hour.
Focus on Your Breath
Your breath is key to helping your body rest. You just have to learn to use it correctly. Anytime the breath is regulated, it activates your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system that helps you rest, destress, and relax.
There are many ways to regulate your breathing. You can breathe on a 4-count: in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four, etc. Or you can practice 4-7-8 breathing: in for four, hold for seven, out for 8. You can also simply make sure your exhales are longer than your inhales and forget the counting altogether. Any of these techniques can help you sleep better.
Get Into a Story
Stories seem to help us sleep. For one thing, the get us out of the endless churning that can happen when we’re struggling to sleep. You can read a fiction story or tell yourself a story. If you feel silly telling yourself a story, make one up for a child you love (the child doesn’t have to be present…you can tell her tomorrow!). Do stay away from stories that are overly stimulating or non-fiction stories that put your brain into problem-solving mode.
Go Backwards Through Your Day
One way to access the benefits of stories for your brain is to work backward through your day. Try to remember each scene with as much detail as possible. Include as many senses as you can in your memory. As you work through each scene, think about what you felt, what you smelled, what you heard, and more. The more detailed you can be, the more your brain will engage with the exercise and the more likely you will be to fall asleep.
See How Long You Can Stay Awake
Change things up internally by trying to stay awake instead of trying to fall asleep. Challenge yourself to keep your eyes open as long as possible, and you may find that, instead, you fall asleep. A study has confirmed that having this sort of paradoxical intention can actually help you sleep faster. Scientists think this happens because we get anxious when we are trying to fall asleep but can’t, which then makes it even harder to sleep.
Spend Time With Your Journal
Writing things out can help us get them out of our own heads, which means that we don’t have to stew about them when we should be falling to sleep. Writing can be extremely useful when we are trying to process difficult feelings, so using it before bedtime can help us get our feeling out where we can see them, rather than keeping them inside where we think about them instead of resting.
If you want to try it, give yourself a few minutes and just free write. Write whatever comes to mind, and see what your brain is holding onto. Even just 10 minutes can be the difference between falling asleep easily and lying there for hours wondering what went wrong.
Go to Your Happy Place
Is there a place you love to go, or one you’ve always wanted to visit? Think of a place where you would be relaxed and happy, and imagine yourself there. Don’t just see yourself there, but use all five senses to really put yourself in that place. Think about how the sand would feel between your toes, or how the waterfall would wash over your body from head to toe. This sort of visualization has been shown to help people fall asleep faster.
Squeeze and Release Your Body
Start with your feet. Squeeze the muscles in your toes, then release them. Do the same with your feet, up your legs and back, down your arms and, finally, with the muscles in your neck and head. This releases tension and gives you something to think about beyond how much you really wish you were asleep. It can also help you find places of hidden tension, so you can release them, too.
Roll Your Eyes
When you fall asleep, your eyes stop moving and focusing, and many times they roll back into your head. The very motion of them rolling releases melatonin, which is a chemical that helps your body fall asleep. To activate this response, close your eyelids and move your eyes around underneath them. Roll them as far back, down, and to each side, as you comfortably can. This should trigger your body to get ready for sleep.
Dunk Your Head in Cold Water
If you are particularly stressed out at bedtime, put your face or your whole head in cold water for 3 seconds. This activates your Mammalian Dive Reflex, which draws blood away from your extremities and into your vital organs. It also lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, both of which can help you fall asleep.
You don’t even have to use crazy cold water for this. The water only needs to be lower in temperature than the air in your room. This isn’t a technique you should use every night, but it’s useful for those times when something upsets you right before you need to go to bed.
Warm Your Hands and Feet
When your hands and feet are warm, you are more likely to fall asleep fast. There are many ways to achieve this. You can take a hot water bottle to bed, use a heating pad that turns itself off after you’ve fallen to sleep, or warm your bed before you get into it. You can even wear socks to bed, though that will drive some people nuts.
Researchers think that having warm extremities helps your body cool. Since we sleep better when we’re relatively cool, this helps the body achieve the temperature it desires for optimum rest.
Cool Yourself Off
In general, cooling yourself off before bedtime is a good idea. You can take a shower. Even a warm one will leave you damp afterward, and you will cool off as the water droplets dry on your body. If you’re really committed, take a cooler shower and hop straight into bed.
Consider, too, whether your bed itself is too warm. Memory foam mattresses tend to hold heat, which can make them too warm for some people to sleep on. Consider using a cooling pad if this is a problem for you, so you can reap the benefits of your memory foam without getting too hot. You can also sleep with fewer blankets, lighter pajamas, or without pajamas at all.
If you really can’t get cool, run your hands and feet under the coldest water you can find. Keep them there for at least 30 seconds. These are places in your body where blood runs close to the surface. As it passes under the cool water, it cools off. As that cooler blood circulates, you can cool down, at least for a few minutes.
Create Your Own Ritual
Figure out a bedtime ritual that is relaxing for you, then do it. Try not to choose anything that is too stimulating or anything involving an electronic device that emits blue light. Both of these things can keep you awake.
When you’re developing your ritual, it’s key to perform it every night and to include at least one or two things that you only do before bedtime. The purpose of your ritual is twofold: you want to relax before bed, and you also want your body to begin associating certain activities with falling asleep. You need to do it every night to enhance these associations. You need to choose a couple of things that only happen at bedtime so these activities can only be associated with resting.
You can choose from almost anything when it comes to developing your ritual. Maybe you read a few pages from a real book while you drink a cup of tea, or you take a bath with lavender essential oils. Whatever you choose, remember that the ritual needs to work for you. It needs to be relaxing for you, and it needs to fit into your life.
Insomnia is obnoxious, but it doesn’t have to be something you struggle with long-term. If you’re having trouble falling to sleep, you don’t have a medical condition causing that, and you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked, don’t be afraid to get a little weird. After all, nobody has to see your odd bedtime behavior, and being a little strange is worth it when you’re falling asleep easily and sleeping well all night long.