Falling asleep is a natural part of life, so why is it so damn difficult, then? Many people have experienced sleep troubles at some point in life, but others dread when the time it comes to fall asleep…because they can’t. Some wish it was the simple process of laying down in bed, closing their eyes, and drifting off into the land of dreams. Instead, they lie awake, tossing and turning, fading in and out of sleep until the alarm goes off in the morning.
Whether it is attributed to increased exposure to blue light or excessive caffeine consumption, the inability to sleep through the night can increase stress levels, influence poor eating habits, and cause fatigue and poor immune function. The CDC estimates that about 33% of the American population sleeps less than six hours per night, and the National Sleep Foundation encourages seven or eight hours a night for sufficient rejuvenation.
There are several tips that can help you fall asleep, but these tips don’t work for everybody. Maintaining a consistent sleep/wake schedule, limiting caffeine consumption, and counting sheep are the classic suggestions, but other psychological tricks may promote natural relaxation to aid your journey to sleep land. Next time you are in bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering if you will ever be able to shut down your mind, try a few of the following tricks.
Practice The 4-7-8 Method
This is a common technique that involves following your breath for different lengths of time in a specific rhythm. To perform this method, all you have to do is inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds. Keep repeating this method to natural slow your heart rate and calm the mind. Another variation is to inhale for three seconds and exhale for six seconds, but find the breathing pattern that works best for you.
By focusing your attention on an image or story, worries or thoughts that keep you awake start to fade away. Climb into bed and get comfortable. Visualize a memory, nature scene, favorite vacation spot, or relaxing activity like floating in a pool or lounging on a beach. The ultimate goal is to let go of your thoughts and visualize a scenario in the imagery you have already thought of. If you run into an unrelated thought, acknowledge it and let it go to get back to your relaxing scenario. It takes practice but it can be a great way to assist the body in falling asleep.
Don’t Count Sheep, Focus On Relaxing Images
Turns out that the age-old recommendation of counting sheep in the regular sequential manner does nothing to make you sleepy. A 2010 study at the University of Oxford even found that counting sheep does nothing to improve sleep patterns, but the researchers conducted another test that proved more effective. When subjects focused on relaxing imagery like mountains, beaches, or any serene place, they fell asleep 20 minutes earlier than they would have otherwise. If you feel compelled to count, though, you’ll get more relaxation from counting backwards. Starting at 1,000, count back in groups of three to focus on a sequence that tires the brain. Counting sheep is too easy and the brain needs a harder challenge to become tired.
Anxiety is one of the major causes of irregular sleep patterns, and it can creep up out of nowhere. You wind down for the day, for example, after taking hints from your body that you need to go to sleep, but your mind starts racing as soon as you get under the covers and close your eyes. There can even be anxiety around the act of going to sleep, causing you to stay up. The University of Southern California developed a technique known as thought stopping, which encourages anxious sleepers to think of the of the word “STOP” in capital letters amid their racing thoughts. Give your brain this visual command to help your thoughts from running amok.
Don’t Use Your Sleep Tracker
The use of sleep trackers or fitness watches that track sleep has increased exponentially within the past couple years. These trackers can be beneficial at times, but a new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that sleep trackers may cause anxiety around sleeping. The quest to get the perfect amount of sleep can cause unrealistic expectations or mislead you into thinking that you had a poor night of sleep, even when you slept soundly. Put your tracker to rest for a while and see how you sleep without it.