Author: Duncan Price, Hypnotherapist & Sleep Specialist
You may already understand the importance of sleep and some vital things you can do to create the right environment for sleep. If you’re doing all the right things before bed, getting settled for the night and then struggling to drop off to sleep, this is the article for you!
If you haven’t yet looked at the improvements you can make to your sleep routine and environment, I’d highly recommend doing so first. You may be amazed how easily you can drift off to sleep when you do the pre-sleep work but everyone is different and there’s no one, simple answer, so the following tips could make all the difference.
Why should I use these techniques?
For some people, the main thing getting in the way of drifting off to sleep is habit. Humans are creatures of habit and routine. It could be that you have ‘learned’ and ‘practised’ not being able to go to sleep for so long that it has become established. Maybe there was a good reason at the time (young children, for example) but that’s no longer a valid reason not to sleep (eg: they may be grown up now). In this case, the act of doing something new, something different can make all the difference. The following ideas will be something different enough to change your outcome and will help to improve the quality of your sleep too.
How to Get to Sleep
Hide your clock
One of the most common distractions at night is worrying about not getting enough sleep. There is a temptation to keep one eye on the time – you’ve done it, right? The late night maths, “If I fall asleep in 10 mins that’s 6.5 hours sleep,” then 20 minutes later, you’re calculating it again. One of the best things you can do is to hide the clock. Then when you lay there, anytime you find yourself wondering what the time is, see that as a reminder to re-focus on relaxing. Maybe even using one of the other tips below.
This will also help if you’re someone who has disturbed sleep. Often people get far more sleep than they realise. Looking at the clock multiple times, it’s easy to remember all those times and not even realise that you were actually sleeping between those moments. The perception that you slept worse than you did leads to feeling more tired and confirming your expectation of not being a good sleeper.
You’ve heard about counting sheep to get to sleep, right? Does this really work? Possibly not but the principle behind it is sound. The idea is that counting sheep gives you something to focus on, other than sleep, which doesn’t take a lot of attention. Clearing your mind can take a lot of practice, so having something to focus your mind on instead is much easier. Each time you find your mind drifting from that focus you get more practice refocusing and as such, improve your ability to overcome and reduce invasive thoughts.
My suggestion would be to count slowly and calmly while focusing on your breathing in a relaxed way. Count a number on every (or every other) out breath, noticing the change on every count as you relax more.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Tensing each muscle in turn, working up from the toes. Tense for five seconds and then relax for thirty before moving to the next muscle group. It’s a very simple technique and one that can be really helpful. It’s even recognised by the National Sleep Foundation. Personally, I find it works even better when combined with one of the other methods in this article. The tension helps you to enjoy and notice the relaxation more.
Imagine yourself in a relaxing place (real or imaginary). Take your time to really enjoy noticing everything that you notice. Involve all the senses – what can you see, hear, smell, feel or even taste in the air?
You can do this for yourself. You could even create an imaginary journey to repeat each day, knowing that by the time you reach the end, you will drift off to sleep. Some people prefer to use a guided visualisation where someone talks them through it. One of the benefits of this approach is that it really supports the next point.
Don’t try to sleep
One of the most common barriers to sleep is trying to sleep. Partly because when people ‘try’ to do something, they are already expecting to fail. Also, focusing on attempting to sleep just reminds you of the frustration of not sleeping. Focusing on one of the techniques here, can help with this. A fundamental change to your thinking that will have a huge positive impact is to accept that if you don’t sleep, you can at least enjoy the time spent relaxing rather than stressing about not sleeping. When you just embrace the relaxation, you are far more likely to drift off to sleep anyway, just without the effort and frustration along the way.