How do you fall asleep when you're not tired?
October 3, 2005 7:37 AM   Subscribe

SleepFilter: How do you fall asleep when you're not tired?

I know all the stuff about exercising, not eating late, and sticking to a regular sleep schedule, but what about those times when, for no reason at all, you just can't get to sleep. Nothing seems to work for me - I count sheep, breath deeply, use relaxation techniques - but still wind up tossing and turning for hours. Any non-drug related tips for falling asleep quickly?
posted by bjork24 to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Chamomile tea really seems to work. Reading in bed always puts me to sleep. Sex is always good.

Sex works better than tea or reading.
posted by iconomy at 7:39 AM on October 3, 2005

Two things I've seen mentioned repeatedly in books as I've researched my own sleep problems: keep an interesting but difficult book (Proust, for example) handy; and keep a pad of paper handy so that you can perform a "braindump", writing down everything that's on your mind. I've used both techniques with some success, but melatonin is my real friend.
posted by jdroth at 7:42 AM on October 3, 2005

I turn on the TV, specifically QVC (a home shopping channel) at a volume so low that I have to lie perfectly still to hear it. Really low.

Then I try to picture what they're selling on TV without opening my eyes. The combination of concentrating, listening, lying still, and the distraction from any other thoughts puts me to sleep within 10 minutes every time.
posted by kdern at 7:44 AM on October 3, 2005

Smoke some marijuana an hour or two before going to bed.
posted by baphomet at 7:44 AM on October 3, 2005

Well I was going to say use Nyquil, but you've asked for non-drug related ideas so...

A hot bath, especially with a glass of wine or Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time tea will put me right out. Do try to get out of the tub and into bed before actually dozing off. Supposedly getting right into bed (while still toasty and minumum amount of toweling) after a bath is especially soothing. Reading in bed also helps if I get right under the covers and it's a small print paperback.

Sex is a good suggestion, don't take it to mean you need a partner either.
posted by nelleish at 7:49 AM on October 3, 2005

My tried and true method:
1. Cold Shower (I read somewhere or have convinced myself that cold is better because the energy it takes your body to warm itself up tires you out) using Johnson & Johnsons Nighttime Bath (the stuff in the purple bottle for cranky babies)
2. Masturbate
3. sleep sleep sleep
posted by jodic at 8:00 AM on October 3, 2005

Marijuana makes me "sleepy" but not enough to feel rested after sleepimg. Almost like I hadn't slept at all.

Second the sex and masturbation. Natural sleep aid.
posted by Makebusy7 at 8:05 AM on October 3, 2005

As above - train your body to associate orgasm with falling asleep twenty minutes after.

If all else fails, Ambien (requires a prescription).
posted by Ryvar at 8:11 AM on October 3, 2005

Clarification: if all the natural methods fail you and you do wind up taking something, ask your doctor for Ambien. I mention it because of the various sleeping drugs I've tried it's by far the most 'natural' feeling.
posted by Ryvar at 8:20 AM on October 3, 2005

I know you said you tried counting sheep and deep breathing, but have you tried them together? I lay in bed, and start counting back from 100, very slowly (a number for each breath). I concentrate on the number I'm saying. If I start thinking about something besides the number, I start over. I usually don't have to start over more than 5 times, and I've never made it lower than 67.

*on preview* Oh, and do it right after you masturbate. Definatly.
posted by nadawi at 8:21 AM on October 3, 2005

I like to use previously-listened audiobooks for this. It backfires horribly on new ones though, since then I'm too deeply interested in the content.
posted by I Love Tacos at 8:22 AM on October 3, 2005

I typically have no problem falling asleep (I wouldn't consider myself an insomniac by any means). But once in a great while, I just can't get to sleep... there's just no explaining it.

Therefore, doing anything before I go to bed would be out of the question, since I never know when a sleepless night will happen.

Either way, the tips are all great! Keep them coming, if there's more.
posted by bjork24 at 8:23 AM on October 3, 2005

I often suffer extended bouts of insomnia. For me, the remedy that works depends on what is causing the problem. If it's stress-related I use the braindump technique mentioned upthread, usually in combination with some sort of medication.

I know you said no drugs, but you might want to take a look at herbals. I've had good luck with Valerian root. Here's a link to a study from the American Family Physician on its efficacy.
posted by missmerrymack at 8:26 AM on October 3, 2005

I know many people who swear by the Alphabet Game. Pick a category, such as film titles, food that comes in cans, bands, etc, and start naming one for each letter of the alphabet (asparagus, beans, carrots, d...olmas?, eggplant, and so on). I don't always remember to use it, but it's done a good job when I do remember.

I also use a visualization exercise that involves throwing [all the things on your mind] into [a trash/storage container], with an emphasis on creative symbolism. I especially enjoy throwing money worries (the guy from the Monopoly cards, or Donald Trump) into The Luggage from Discworld. Nobody said the exercise couldn't be amusing.

Minor tips include a small carb-up before bed, gentle yoga, clean sheets/neatly made bed, lavendar oil or spray on the edge of your pillowcase, a cool room, and recycled audiobooks. Actually, any audiobook in bed will knock me out almost as fast as yoga, even if it's good, but you do feel obligated to wake up and turn off a new one before it gets too far ahead.

I also prefer not to take drugs, but I will take a children's chewable benadryl for a nudge when I really feel like I'm never going to get to sleep.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:53 AM on October 3, 2005

I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. Here's what my doc recommended. I swear by it, it works great:

Get out of bed. Go to a darkened room. Lie down. Do nothing, get bored. I usually start feeling sleepy in 20-30 minutes.

Trying the same thing in bed doesn't work for me at all. similarly, doing anything, particularly anything involving light (reading a book, watching TV, using computer) guarantees I'll be up for hours.

Oh, and while you're doing nothing, you might find some time to masturbate.
posted by daver at 9:08 AM on October 3, 2005

1) Count backwards from 1000 by 3's (997, 994, 991, 988, etc.)

2) Listen to BBC World Service on NPR with the timer set to turn off after 30 minutes.
posted by matildaben at 9:25 AM on October 3, 2005

Put a pillow between your knees.
posted by futility closet at 9:35 AM on October 3, 2005

Have you tried melatonin? I don't know if that would fall into your non-drug category -- I don't consider it to be a drug, as it is the body's hormone that tells it to go to sleep. You can buy it over the counter and you just take one pill about 30 minutes before bed. I never get a hang-over or drowsy feeling the next day and it keeps me asleep all night. Many people use it to reprogram their body's clock -- say after jet lag for example.
posted by dhammala at 9:40 AM on October 3, 2005

I'm a movie buff, so I play Six Degrees. The game is supposed to be played using Kevin Bacon as one of the actors, however I find it much more interesting to just lie in bed and randomly come up with the names of two different actors.

Usually by the time I get around to the third of fourth set of actors, I get drowsy and pass out:-)
posted by invisible ink at 9:55 AM on October 3, 2005

A relaxation method that I use (and please, look into meditation) is that I will tense up a muscle in my foot for five seconds and then relax it. Then the other foot. And I'll work from my toes to my face this way. One muscle at a time. Slowly, controlled. By the time I get to my face, my body is significantly relaxed.
posted by filmgeek at 10:08 AM on October 3, 2005

decaf tea and a warm shower.

I saw someone say above that a cold shower works, but my physics professor told me that it's the opposite. The warm shower causes your individual molecules to excite, which actually robs your body of the same energy you'd use to do your every day tasks.
posted by shmegegge at 10:32 AM on October 3, 2005

Ditto to filmgeek's response about the relaxation technique, as well as a hot shower (as hot as you can stand). Having some milk (warm or cool) might help, since it contains tryptophan. Also, I just read in a magazine yesterday that drinking half a glass of water, then putting a pinch of salt on your tongue and allowing it to dissolve, does something to your brain's electrical charge that is supposed to make you sleep more deeply. No personal experience with this yet, though!
posted by justonegirl at 12:12 PM on October 3, 2005

I keep a crossword puzzle or two by the bed and start doing it just before I want to fall asleep. Usually solving 3 or 4 words are enough to let my brain unwind and relax, thus allowing me to fall asleep.
posted by Lynsey at 12:13 PM on October 3, 2005

Drink a glass or two of milk. Doesn't have to be warm. Milk, as it turns out, has tryptophan in it. It always helps me sleep when I need it.
posted by Gator at 12:15 PM on October 3, 2005

My (half)brother once gave me the advice that his father had given him: Once your head hits the pillow, it is *you* time. This means that worries are not permitted to invade, and it is time for fantasy (not just sexual, but that's ok, too). For me, this has often meant envisioning how I'd decorate my apartment if money weren't an issue, what kind of house I'd design if I could, what kind of vacation I'd like to take...etc. A sort of, "what would I do in X area if there were no constraints?" Sometimes I think like this for 10 minutes or more, sometimes I'm asleep almost as soon as I've chosen what to "dream" about.

It might sound corny, but I haven't had trouble falling asleep since I started doing this. And it's wonderful to have this time to think without worrying what else I really *should* be doing.
posted by CiaoMela at 12:16 PM on October 3, 2005 [2 favorites]

I had trouble falling asleep last night, so I read about 20 pages of Dostoevsky's The Idiot, and that did the trick. So maybe just keep some Russian literature by your bedside.

I'm actually not kidding.
posted by Dr. Wu at 2:05 PM on October 3, 2005

If all else fails, go to the vitamin section of your drugstore and pick up some 5-HTP. 100mg about 20 minutes before bedtime usually does the trick. I prefer it over melatonin. Best part is, it makes my dreams much more vivid.

Be careful about taking too much though. At about 300mg, 5-HTP can make it impossible to sleep.

posted by wezelboy at 2:16 PM on October 3, 2005

My favorite technique: I choose an English word (e.g. PARTRIDGE, FLETCHER, ORISON) and imagine it built at great size on a hilltop. Then I imagine, in as much detail as possible, that I am climbing over it, letter by letter. (There are usually rungs, but sometimes I opt for climbing gear instead.) It is rare indeed that I make it to the end of the word.
posted by redfoxtail at 2:27 PM on October 3, 2005 [3 favorites]

Move slowly. If you have to toss and turn, do it without jerking around in bed. Act like you're sleepy, and you will get sleepy.

Try to keep your eyes open as long as you can. They'll close by themselves. Open them again, and try to keep them open. They'll close by themselves. Repeat.

If you can't get to sleep after about an hour, get up, get a drink of water, and get back in bed.
posted by Hildago at 3:50 PM on October 3, 2005

I know you said it's only "once in a great while," but if it becomes chronic, eat less chocolate and refined sugar during the day.
posted by Alt F4 at 4:01 PM on October 3, 2005

I used to think Ambien was a godsend, because it does get you to sleep fast. But I've found that it often makes me wake up in the middle of the night, especially if I'm anxious about something. Its short half life, which makes it easier to wake up in the morning, may have something to do with this, combined with the fact that it produces a different, lighter type of sleep (at least for me).
posted by walla at 4:41 PM on October 3, 2005

I read this a long time ago and it works quite well: breathe slowly, as if you were meditating. After each exhale, clench your stomach, buttocks, and lower back muscles. This will cause you to inhale deeply, so for a couple of breaths after slow down the breathing again...and clench. Do it 5 or 6 times, then continue to relax, and 10 minutes later you'll be out like a light. Sounds strange but it works every time.

Doing the opposite, BTW, is good for waking up. In the morning, do the clenching after you inhale. This forces more oxygen into your blood and wakes you up.
posted by zardoz at 6:39 PM on October 3, 2005

nadawi writes "I lay in bed, and start counting back from 100, very slowly (a number for each breath). "

This is what I do but I find it only works if I visualize each number hanging in space, the concentration needed blocks out everything else without winding up my mind.
posted by Mitheral at 6:41 PM on October 3, 2005

I have this method which basically involves fantastical thinking.

You have to imagine things totally at random. Here I go: you're flying through the sky ... on a flying banana ... which changes into a tiger ... and the tiger is eating a chocolate mudcake ... and eating the chocolate mudcake makes him pregnant ... and he gives birth to ... Nancy Reagan.

It's a little hard to get into that totally fantastical state, but once you 'let go', it really works. My theory is it prompts the production of Alpha waves or something.

Oh, and you shouldn't be tossing and turning for hours in bed. If you try to go to bed and sleep, and after half an hour or so you're not asleep, don't stick it out. Get up, go to another room, read a book, wait for drowsiness to come then try again.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 11:01 PM on October 3, 2005

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