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If you have trouble sleeping at night, or trouble getting to sleep, you have probably tried a lot of things. Here are some tips that really work because they revolve around the idea of re-training your subconscious.
The game plan: Think of your subconscious as a child that needs to be taught
The idea behind these tips is that subconsciously, your brain wants to be awake. This is not intentional, of course, but instead is similar to a young child who might be disobedient because he or she is curious. In the same way, your subconscious is either saying “hey, there’s too much going on in my brain, I don’t really want to sleep”, or “I’m bored! I’d rather be awake!”
To overcome this, the idea is to re-train your brain to sleep in the same way that you might train a child out of a bad habit. It can take around a week or more at first, so it’s not a ‘quick fix’ at the start… but it really works! The bonus is that once you have your brain ‘trained’ for sleep, the sleep tips will work in a much shorter term.
1. The alternative is boring
Decide that no matter how awake you feel, you’re not allowed to get up – or even turn the lights on – once you have gone to bed. This trains your brain that you have only two options: sleeping, or lying awake without anything to do. After several nights of this, your subconscious will soon realize that the intended activity (sleeping) is the better one and that the alternative is not very pleasing.
This approach is hard at first, but it will work, although works fastest if done in conjunction with the other sleep tips listed here. In contrast, getting up and doing something relaxing doesn’t work (like reading poetry or whatever) because if you get up, it only reinforces the subconscious notion that something more interesting can happen if you don’t go to sleep. Of course, a comfortable mattress makes this step a lot easier and more relaxing! Nest Bedding and Saatva Inc are two reputable options if you’re in the market for a new mattress.
2. Address worries in the morning
If there are concerns, stresses, plans, or worries that your brain keeps flitting to while you are getting to sleep, you need to address these by deciding that those concerns are only to be addressed in the morning, not now. Then stop thinking about it.
A helpful mantra when this happens is: “this may or may not be a valid concern, but now is not the time to think about it. I will deal with this in the morning after I am up.” Then try to go to sleep again. Repeat this mantra in your head each time a concern comes into your brain. After a while, your brain will give up sending you stresses and let you get to sleep!
This approach actually works, unlike the theory of trying to avoid thinking of concerns or of dismissing the concerns entirely. Both of those common misconceptions send your subconscious the message that your concerns are not valid – but that won’t help you sleep in the face of a valid concern!
In contrast, this sleep tip doesn’t invalidate your worries – although it’s true that they always seem worse at night – this tip simply retrains your subconscious that night-time is not the right time to deal with these things, which is why it really works.
3. Make sure you are actually relaxed – try this quick and easy fix
You can’t sleep if you’re not relaxed. For some people, whole body relaxation techniques can seem difficult and bothersome. If this is you, then to easily check if you’re relaxed while you lie in bed, wiggle your toes. The act of wiggling them will tell you if your legs are relaxed (if your legs are not relaxed, it will be almost impossible to have relaxed toes). The wiggling has a loosening effect on the toes and on your legs.
Next wiggle your fingers, using the same theory for your fingers and arms as you did for toes and legs. Next wiggle your jaw up and down. If you are not relaxed, the wiggling will relax you. Then wait for 10 or 15 minutes, and repeat the wiggle test. Repeat as needed. Eventually your body will stay relaxed and you can sleep.
4. Transition from cold to warm
For some reason, transitioning from a cold to a warmer temperature is sleep-inducing. Remove some covers until you begin to feel cold for about 5 or 10 minutes, then put the covers back on.
5. Put on a slow boring “thought track”
Lying awake as in tip 1 won’t help if your brain is still going at 100 miles per hour. Put on a “thought track” that is really slow and boring. It will help make sleep seem an even more attractive option to your rebellious subconscious to get away from your boring thought track.
A good thought track is one that doesn’t require much imagination or ‘upkeep’. Mine is the following scene: swimming underwater very slowly in greenish murky water with occasional dapples of light. There is a bridge up ahead over the water, and I swim underwater toward it very slowly and steadily. I eventually will swim under the bridge. This scenario is so effective that I have never once stayed awake long enough to get to the bridge!
It’s especially important to use your “thought track” even on evenings when you anticipate no trouble sleeping, in order to re-train your brain to associate that thought track with sleep. It is similar in theory to self-hynosis.
In contrast, the commonly recommended idea of thinking of a relaxing or pleasant place won’t work! This is because the upkeep and imagination required to think of a comfortable beach or other setting is way too high for getting to sleep. Furthermore, the interest or pleasantness of the relaxing place will make staying awake even more enjoyable and will sabotage your strategy of training your rebellious subconscious. This is why the slow, boring “thought track” is the way to go.