How to get to sleep

It’s four in the morning. You’ve been awake since you went to the toilet at two thirty. You’re up at five thirty for work. What’s the answer?

Well, for today, it’ probably too late. You’ll probably fall into a deep sleep about a half hour before your alarm goes off and from that point on-wards the day is a struggle.

We’ve all been there. If you can wake, for whatever reason, and canget back to being comfortable in bed without that infernal inner dialog getting a chance to start up and fill your head thoughts – usually troublesome ones about what happened yesterday or what will happen today or some point in the future, then you’re in with a chance of dropping straight back to sleep. Simple. But usually it just don’t work like that.

Try not to stress too much about it now as that will just add the the problem. Resolve to try and avoid it getting to this time tomorrow before you attempt to do something.

It’s something that’s happened to me regularly over the last ten years or so and caused much stress. I lay there, I may be mentally arguing with people from work, usually about something that hasn’t even come up, but might do. My heart, beating against the mattress sounds like a drum. I’ll turn to my right side but then that might not be as comfy. I turn onto my front. ba boom, ba boom, ba boom, Turn on my back, my neck starts aching! What a nightmare – oh! the irony.

But then, just recently, I’ve started to get it sorted. Not 100 percent of the time, but a fair chunk of it. There are two or three things I’ve found that make the process of drifting back to sleep much more probable.

Before I begin, I just need to say that my sleeping habits are a bit odd anyway. I like to dream. I believe we dream all the time while we sleep, but only realise and remember if we wake up during a dream, so for that reason I have a chime alarm going off every hour and a half (that’s the sleep cycle apparently). And, I like to dream for several reasons which I won’t get into just now but I will say that, in my own experience, when we are conscious while asleep we have a far greater mental capacity than we have when we are conscious while awake. So I know it sounds crazy to write an article about sleeping when I purposely try to wake (a little anyway) every 90 minutes, but it in actual fact it’s not usually a problem.

The one and only key to sleeping is to prevent you mind from fully waking up

So let’s get started. What follows works for me – usually.

The first and easiest step: Get comfortable. If the reason you are awake is due to the fact that you had to get out of bed, for whatever reason, take a few minutes to settle back in and get you breathing back on track. You will be breathing heavier than before because you’ve exerted yourself even just standing up after doing basically nothing for some time will make you breath more – it will also raise your heart rate, which you may be able to hear. Get into as comfy a position as you can. Purposely try slow your breathing without it becoming a challenge. Take slightly longer, deeper breaths, but don’t get uncomfortable doing it. If you can hear your heartbeat, listen to it slowing down, again without too much effort mentally. You’ll be surprised to find that you can actually slow it down by observing it. By purposely letting your attention settle on these two things you’ll also help to avoid thoughts starting your waking mind up. This may be all that’s needed to send you back to the land of nod. If you need a little more help and if you awoke from a dream, try gently remembering it, re-running it – this will coax your mind back into the same state that you were in before you awoke. This first step works for me about half the time.

Step 2: If you’re still awake after a few minutes you should at least be in a stable position breathing wise, by which I mean you should not be breathing hard. Let’s now try a little breathing exercise I found online which takes just a few moments and which is designed to relax you and oxygenate your blood which will definitely help. Read this through first so that you get an idea of what you need to do, and memorize it, then try it a few times during the day or before you go to bed so that you can find your rhythm without straining – this is crucial! First you need to breath out as much as you can and use your tummy muscles to help push out the last bit of breath that you can. Don’t go blue in the face doing this, don’t struggle or strain, this has to be comfortable. When you have pushed as much air out as you easily can, then you need to breath in for a count of four. The count may be around a second or just a bit less – again, if you can hear your heartbeat you can use that to count if you like. So, after breathing in for a count of four you need to hold your breath for a count of seven – same timing. Then breath out for a count of eight – again using your tummy to get the last bit out. This last bit will probably be the hardest part but by practicing beforehand you’ll get a feeling for how much air to breath in. This is actually a very old technique and technically you’re supposed to breath in through your nose and out through pursed lips making an audible hiss as you do. I don’t. I do the whole lot through my mouth and as quietly as possible. It’s your call, do whatever stresses you the least. Repeat the cycle four times. To recap then, after emptying as much air as you can, breath in for 4, hold for 7 and breath out for 8. repeat 4 times. If you count for a second that’s a total of 1 minute and 16 seconds (or something like that). Lay still and let things settle back down as in the first step. For me, the above two steps work about 70 percent of the time.

Noise is a major problem, from a partners breathing or traffic noise or weather, whatever, if you can hear something your attention can latch onto it and that mind can use it to stress about and foil your attempts to sleep. Some sort of noise cancelling is needed. I’ve tried the lot. I’ve tried simple ear-plugs which can be excellent at stopping noise and be comfortable too but which sometimes can be problematic getting in and out. I’ve tried expensive (very) Bose quiet comfort 15 active noise cancelling headphones which are excellent but I’ve broken a pair by sleeping in them (I’ve actually replaced them, they are that good, but don’t sleep in them for fear of breaking them again). What I’ve settled on are a pair of Howard Leight Leightning L0F Folding Earmuff’s. You can get them for around £15.00, they are slim enough to be comfortable to wear when you sleep on your side, they are very robust if a little tight until you get used you them, but most of all they are very effective at blocking most noise you’ll hear at night.

A combination of the above works about 80 percent of the time for me. As a last resort I’ll imagine the little man in my head, who plays the big reel to reel tapes that generate the thoughts that keep me awake during the day – and night! I’ll picture him there in his white lab-coat, sitting at his desk making sure that the tape to tape reels keep turning. For some reason I see him from above and behind him – sort of looking down on him from his ceiling. I’ll will him to get up and take a break, I watch as he get’s up almost as if I’m controlling him, he doesn’t want to, he just wants to keep the tapes running, but he’s compelled by some outside force to get up and leave the room. Sometimes I might actully ask him to take a little break and if he’s in the mood he might, but usually I need compel him to leave. Either way, when he’s gone I Imagine those big tapes slowing down, almost imperceptibly at first, but slowly and surely the slow, and slow, and as they do the stream of thoughts that they generate slow and slow and , when the tapes stop the thoughts do to. I only know this has worked when I awake from my nights sleep at the proper time.

If the last resort does not work, then I give in. But, importantly I try to on my terms without anger or stress – there’s no point. Get up, or read in bed, or do whatever you feel like but please, at least try to not worry or stress – there’s always tomorrow.

Good luck and sweet dreams.

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