How to fall asleep in a short period of time?
April 26, 2015 3:58 PM   Subscribe

I've started a new job that requires me being awake CRAZY early. So it's more important than ever that I go to sleep at a reasonable hour. Challenge: My brain likes to keep me awake all night by never shutting off. Looking for tips on how to ease yourself into a restful sleep.

I've never been able to fall asleep easily - I've always been that person whose mind is racing until all hours of the night, only falling asleep once absolute exhaustion takes over. My wife, on the other hand, is a great sleeper, and can nap anywhere and anytime, just by closing her eyes for a few minutes. Me, I lay down for a nap and it takes me upwards of an hour to finally drift off, no matter how tired I am. Just can't shut off the mental noise.

There was one trick I found in an old book, and I guess I'm looking for more. The trick involved taking a deep breath, very slowly, then exhaling very slowly, then repeating this eight times. The writer of the article said he would always be asleep by the sixth or seventh time. This particular one didn't work for me ... but I'm wondering if there are others. Do you have any mental tricks that help your mind quiet the noise? Anything you think through to help yourself go to sleep, either at night for the evening or in the day for a short period?

Things I am not looking for: pills, drugs, drinks, herbs, anything external. I have tried all of those. What I am looking to do is train my mind to appreciate the chance for rest when it comes along. Thank you!
posted by jbickers to Health & Fitness (58 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
Do you drink a lot of caffeine? I always thought I was this way too, until I cut out caffeine and it turned out it was just messing with my sleep.
posted by gerryblog at 4:01 PM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

I make Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik play in my head. Very slowly.
posted by cooker girl at 4:01 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do you drink a lot of caffeine?

Hardly any, FWIW.
posted by jbickers at 4:03 PM on April 26, 2015

The trick that works for me is to focus my brain on one thing, and think only of it. I bore myself to sleep in minutes just about every time.
posted by COD at 4:05 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I do something similar to four-corner breathing. I visualize a square instead of looking at something with four corners, and then just go from one corner to the next with my breathing. I usually start inhaling for two counts on the first corner, exhaling for two on the second, inhale on the third, exhale on the fourth, and as my heart rate, breathing, and thoughts starts slowing down that stretches out to four counts.

The basic idea is to just occupy my brain with something monotonous to distract it from the whirling thoughts that otherwise occupy it until I fall asleep. (I also listen to boring podcasts. This technique is what I do when the 15-minute timer on the podcast has gone off once or twice and I'm still awake.)
posted by telophase at 4:10 PM on April 26, 2015 [9 favorites]

Does your bed suck?
posted by oceanjesse at 4:18 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I listen to podcasts on subjects that are sufficiently interesting to hold my attention just enough to stop my mind racing onto other things, but not so interesting that I feel compelled to stay awake to hear the end. The podcaster also needs to have a suitably dull voice. I usually use In Our Time for this, but ymmv. I also make sure to never listen to it at any other time, so my brain now associates Melvyn Bragg's voice with sleep.

(On preview, what telophase said.)
posted by une_heure_pleine at 4:19 PM on April 26, 2015 [16 favorites]

When I was a consultant, I had at least one day a week when I had to get up at 3:45am to catch a flight, and as a result, had to go to bed super early the night before. Here's what worked for me:

1 - Turn off the lights and electronic devices an hour before I needed to fall asleep. Read on paper, talk on the phone, all of that is fine - but I did it in a more peaceful environment.

2 - Do a pre-bed routine that touched on anything that might cause me to worry: Alarm set, morning schedule reviewed, bags packed, any logistics figured out, etc. I don't want to be thinking about that stuff when I'm trying to sleep.

3 - Figure out what bothered me about falling asleep, and address those issues. Personally, I needed my feet to be warm (still do), and I needed something under the small of my back (no longer - I was having some back pain at the time). Your issues will be different, naturally.

4 - The deep breathing exercise you mentioned in your question (or some variant of it). I wouldn't say I was asleep by the sixth or seventh breath, but it absolutely calmed me down a bit and got me there faster.

Then, just let it happen, and don't stress about falling asleep (it'll stop you from falling asleep!).
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:22 PM on April 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

This is a meditation technique that I use sometimes when I'm having trouble quieting my mind enough to fall asleep: pick a word or phrase and use it to recognize when your mind is racing. For me it is the word "thinking"; if I find that I am starting to spiral away, I silently say "thinking" to myself and return to my relaxation/trying to sleep mindspace. It's not a punishment, but a way of acknowledging what my mind is doing and recentering it on my goal.
posted by telegraph at 4:22 PM on April 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

How much exercise are you getting during the day? For me that's a huge component of being able to sleep soundly.

NotMyselfRightNow's routine sounds a lot like mine (for similar reasons) and it's full of good advice. I also recommend the Headspace app for guided meditation which helps me calm a runaway mind before bed.
posted by canine epigram at 4:37 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I find that there's a feeling of about-to-fall-asleep that I get in the back of my throat. If I focus on it, I can drop off much faster.

I don't know if any other human being gets the same feeling.
posted by BrashTech at 4:38 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I often have trouble getting to sleep; bizarrely, I think installing a night light app on my phone has made it easier for me to doze off. It has a few settings, I use one that just displays a particular colour (sort of violet, in my case) for a predetermined length of time. While I'm settling down to sleep, I can sort of look around and blink sleepily, and before I know it, I'm asleep. I've never seen the light go out (I set for 15 mins).

Any of those progression meditation things are helpful, too. Focusing on warmth or feeling travelling from body part to body part is one I do. Sometimes it really just is about sort of tricking your brain that's it is busy, while actually you're winding down.
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 4:39 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nothing slightly interesting but not overly engaging podcasts. I usually fall asleep to Stuff You Should Know.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:39 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wear bluetooth Sleepphones and listen to a relaxation audio, or white noise. I particularly like one white noise setting from the free Calm app, and I'll set it to 30 minute timer. There are tons of free podcasts and Youtube videos for relaxation or sleep - I really like Lita Stone, I bought her Soothing Herbal Facial Massage audio and it knocks me out.
posted by radioamy at 4:39 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I often fall asleep by "watching" reruns of shows that I know well enough that I don't really want to pay attention but they prevent me from withdrawing into my thoughts. They are usually shows that are very formulaic: Seinfeld, Law & Order, CSI... their sounds are familiar and soothing (even if they are murder shows!).

Another thing I like to do is listen to an Audio book, but that can backfire if you get too into it. Sometimes I'll listen to a podcast - I find This American Life voices to be really soothing, and most Podcast programs have a timer so you don't miss too much if you fall asleep.

If I find my mind to be racing particularly fast, or if I don't have an audio book or a show, I like to imagine myself doing something very meticulous. I love to do origami and have memorized the steps to a couple of pretty complicated models. I try to mentally make myself fold a piece of paper going through all of the steps, imagining the folds, the texture of the paper, etc. It occupies my mind entirely, and it often weakens the hold of obsessive thoughts until I drift off. I don't know if you have something like that that you do - but I maybe you could do this by imagining cooking your favorite recipe (the order of the steps, visualizing the cutting, the measuring, etc), or something else that requires attention to motor skills.
posted by microcarpetus at 4:49 PM on April 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

I find Meditation Oasis' guided sleep app to be good. I am really sensitive to cheesiness when it comes to these sorts of things but I find this one works for me. I find her voice pleasant and I can turn it down low enough to just barely hear it. (The name is "iSleep Easy" and there's a free version that doesn't have as many options, but it works.)

I also find BBC World Service podcasts to be good (or well, I find hearing them on our local NPR station when I can't sleep to be helpful, but you can download them instead!) Certainly, your mileage may vary on that but I find something about the quality of their voices soothing.

I also play the "alphabet game" -- I'll pick a topic (girls' name! produce! movies!) and I'll begin to name one for each letter of the alphabet, repeating the whole list as I go (so like "Ashley; Ashley, Beverly; Ashley, Beverly, Cassandra; Ashley, Beverly, Cassandra, Deborah" -- and so on). If my mind wanders a bit, it gives me something to come back to and focus on. (Or, reciting entire movies I've seen many times back to myself or anything you know and love by heart.)

Sometimes, though, the only thing that works is just lying there and chilling out -- not putting the pressure on myself to sleep, but just letting myself be comfortable and relax and be still. Sometimes not worrying about going to sleep is the only thing that lets me go to sleep.

And it may be that you'll just need to get into the habit of going to bed earlier or making your pre-bed routine longer. Good luck to you -- sleep has been a life-long struggle for me.
posted by darksong at 4:56 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

There was one trick I found in an old book, and I guess I'm looking for more. The trick involved taking a deep breath, very slowly, then exhaling very slowly, then repeating this eight times. The writer of the article said he would always be asleep by the sixth or seventh time. This particular one didn't work for me ... but I'm wondering if there are others. Do you have any mental tricks that help your mind quiet the noise?

Do this. And keep doing this. And while you're doing this, run 99 bottles of beer on the wall through your head.

inhale 99 bottles of beer on the wall
exhale 99 bottles of beer
inhale take one down pass it around
exhale 98 bottles of beer on the wall

I've found that if I keep the breathing up and my mind wanders, I'll come back to the bottles of beer, not at the place I left, but where I should actually be in the sequence. It works. Rarely do I ever get below 50.

I confess that I somehow adult adapted this about 15 years ago from a half remembered part of Bedtime for Frances where she goes through the alphabet and names things in the house. That is too much active mental work and the bottles of beer song was perfectly mindless and repetative for it.
posted by asockpuppet at 4:56 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

A few recommendations:
1) Be sure not to drink caffeine less than 8 hours before you sleep.
2) Don't spend a lot of time looking at your laptop or phone before you sleep. The light from these devices messes with your sleep chemistry.
3) Exercise at some point during the day.
4) Read a book!
posted by watrlily at 4:56 PM on April 26, 2015

Guided meditation mp3s were helpful to me when I was going through a stressful period and needed to be able to shut the brain off to fall asleep. The trick was doing slow, abdominal breathing exercises during the same track every night. After a while my body was like, ah, this is the sleep cue.
posted by you're a kitty! at 4:57 PM on April 26, 2015

I've never actually been able to commit to this idea over a weekend to see if it works, but supposedly waking up at the same time every day, including weekends, can set your sleep clock up such that you'll always be getting tired around the appropriate bedtime.

It would probably also help to install a program like f.lux on your computer to help keep light from messing with your circadian rhythms too badly. There's also Twilight on Android phones, which is really helpful. Definitely look into managing light levels in the evening.
posted by Gymnopedist at 4:57 PM on April 26, 2015

I do dumb little games like learning to say the alphabet backwards, learning all fifty states, and I play an alphabet game like the ones referenced above--an herb for every letter of the alphabet. A tree for every letter of the alphabet. Flowers. You could do chemicals, fast food chains, kind of anything.

I rarely make it to L. I often do it out loud, or make Mr. Llama do it with me, which he does not enjoy particularly but like I said, making it to L is rare and half the time H is enough to put me out. It has to be just hard it helps if you have to think a little -- that's the point where you fall asleep, when you're trying to remember the botanical name for a flower starting with 'h' and zzzzz.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:03 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Managing lighting helped me a lot. Definitely look into f.lux as linked above — it's available for Mac and Windows and I believe there are analogs for Android and jailbroken iOS devices.

Second, I have dimmers on all the lights in my bedroom and, when I'm nearing sleeptime I start to slowly turn them down. When you're getting ready for bed make sure all your lights are in a chill situation and when you get into bed turn everything off but your bedside light. Keep it low for a bit while you read, maybe, or do what you will. Keep turning it down slowly until you're ready for sleep for real and then turn it off.

Getting my body and mind into the sleepy mindset slowly via lighting has been a huge boon to me.
posted by wemayfreeze at 5:06 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

An ex-coworker gave me this nugget, for when you're well past crunch time: So what if you only get 2 hours of sleep? Moms, soldiers, and ER doctors push through on less than that, and you can do it too, if you have to. (This idea sometimes relieves me of a bit of the anxiety that comes with watching the numbers on the clock edge closer to the time I have to get up.)

Then, I try to remember this one, from my mom, which also helps take off the pressure: If you can't sleep, just shut your eyes and let yourself rest. (Usually, this lets me relax enough to get whatever sleep I'm going to get, because it helps me feel like it's no big deal. Trying to sleep makes it that much harder.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:40 PM on April 26, 2015 [17 favorites]

If you just lie still with your eyes closed you'll get the equivilent of 75% sleep. So you don't need to actually "sleep".

Close your eyes, breathe slowly like we did when we were kids and wanted our mom to think we're asleep.

I listen to audiobooks with a timer and just do the "pretend I'm sleeping" routine. Even if you don't fall asleep you'll feel rested
posted by Coffeetyme at 5:53 PM on April 26, 2015

Try 4-7-8 breathing. Some people claim it puts them to sleep near-instantly. It's not that dramatic for me, but it does a great job of calming me down when I'm stressing out (right before a test or public speaking, for instance.) Definitely worth a try for you!
posted by estlin at 5:58 PM on April 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

My weird trick is to close my eyes and roll my eyeballs up, like I am trying to look out the center of the top of my head, and kind of focus on that spot a bit as I breathe slowly and steadily; I'm usually out in no time.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:04 PM on April 26, 2015

I can't recommend the Sleep with Me podcast highly enough. It's designed to occupy your mind and stop the racing thoughts, but to be boring enough to put you to sleep. It works like a charm for me - to the point where I'm off sleeping meds I took for a decade, and feeling more energetic than I have in ages. Give it a try.
posted by southern_sky at 6:05 PM on April 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

I have found progressive muscle relaxation to work really well in the past, where you breathe and focus your concentration on one body part at a time, then exhale and relax those muscles, starting at the feet and moving to the head over the course of 1-5 minutes. I found this webpage which helps describe the process.

Actually this method is explained well in the book "Relief Without Drugs" by Dr Meares (1994).
posted by Under the Sea at 6:06 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I also do the alphabet games, too, but mostly I remind myself that resting peacefully is nearly as good as sleeping, so if I am laying resting peacefully I will be ok.
posted by vunder at 6:11 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Like you, for many years I've had problems falling asleep in a reasonable amount of time, like, I was happy if I could fall asleep in an hour. My brain always seemed to see bedtime as an opportunity to race around as frantically as possible. But, over the last year, I've tried some different things to fix this, and after some experimenting I feel like I've finally made some progress.

I used to drink way too much coffee, stare at screens right until I jumped into bed, try to force myself unsuccessfully to fall asleep - and eventually pass out from exhaustion.

Now, I'm caffeine free, I try not to look at any screens an hour before bed, and I try to spend at least 15 minutes before bed in some quiet meditation. My go to activity after the screens go off is reading a book thats not overly stimulating.

You said you don't drink much caffeine - so my question is what are you doing right before you get into bed? If its screen time with a TV, PC, or phone, my suggestion would be to turn them off an hour before you try to go to bed (as others have suggested). This has made the biggest difference for me by far. Now when I slip up and say, spend my time playing a video game right before I hit the bed, I have a much harder time falling asleep. Combining this with some quiet meditation time has made my sleeping experience so much different than it used to be.

I hope you find something that works for you, its totally worth the effort to figure it out.
posted by ajax287 at 6:17 PM on April 26, 2015

Wow, I am just like you! I am the kind of person who can be exhausted, lie down for a nap and still be wide awake when the alarm goes off 30 minutes later.

But! The following things have proven to work surprisingly well:

1) Listen to a podcast or audiobook that is interesting enough to keep me listening, but not interesting enough to keep me awake. I get free audiobooks from my library (mp3 and CD). If I wake up I just start the audiobook up again from where it left off, set the sleep timer to turn off my iPhone in 15 minutes, and I'm usually asleep again long before that.
2) Give myself permission not to stress out about staying awake. So...if I am able to fall asleep, great; if not, oh well, I tell myself, lying down breathing slowly and feeling relaxed is better than nothing. Of course, as soon as I tell myself this I usually fall asleep. (On preview, jinx vunder.)

And although I do like reading e-books for the convenience, I do find a difference between my ability to fall asleep with the iPad or reading a paper book. I've gone back to reading paper books only before bedtime, and I think it helps. (But I think I will check out f.lux, because e-books are so darned convenient while travelling!)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:24 PM on April 26, 2015

My funny little trick is to count backwards from 300. It is hard enough that part of my brain has to concentrate on the task, but isn't so easy that I can do it without thinking about it.

It's not a magic bullet, but it tends to put me in the right direction.
posted by gregvr at 6:35 PM on April 26, 2015

I mentally walk through a peaceful, well-loved place from my childhood, trying to remember every detail... The carpet, the knick - knacks, the wallpaper. For me, it is my grandma's rambling old house, but a favorite climbing tree or my old first grade classroom works, too. Other types of meditation weren't engaging enough... I'd find half my brain "cheating" and thinking of something else while I was ommmm-ing or whatever. The mental walk through is the perfect balance between engaging and soothing.
posted by Ausamor at 6:41 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I take a little over the counter sleep aid or melatonin. If I'm at all achy I take a tylenol.

I use podcasts, audiobooks, or sitcoms on my iPhone ... I set the screen on the lowest light possible and watch until I get sleepy, then I put the phone beside my pillow and listen to the dialogue as I drift off.

I used to regularly have nights where I would lay awake for hours wondering why someone dumped me 3 years ago, or why my boss looked at me funny the other day, why I'm not a better person, etc. My mind would just keep turning over sad and worrisome things. Listening to something mildly interesting but not fascinating gives my mind something to do, and lets me fall asleep.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 6:58 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

+1 melatonin.

I also made this site to stream my own favorite going-to-sleep material 24/7:
posted by The Ted at 7:04 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I like the Headspace sleep meditation - an explanation is here.

What was counter-intuitive for me about it was reviewing the day. Generally I tried to not think about the day I'd just had, assuming that would stress me out and keep me ruminating on everything.

It turns out a mini-recap helps me let go of the day instead.
posted by hilaryjade at 7:17 PM on April 26, 2015

Math in my head works for me. 456+789, that kind of thing.

Dr. Seuss' Sleep Book really really worked on my kids. It's all about how various creatures are getting ready for bed or already sleeping and how delighted they are/were to be getting into bed after their long, exciting days. There's a lot of talk about yawning, to which we humans are very suggestible. Maybe the grownup version of the Sleep Book could be looking at images of people yawning or snuggled into comfortable beds. I have the gift of instant sleep most of the time so I haven't had to try this kind of creative measure.
posted by lakeroon at 7:27 PM on April 26, 2015

Do you have a favourite classic novel? I have a series I've read so often that the audiobooks, read in a pleasant light voice, are my go-to sleep soundtrack. I just turn them on wherever I last fell asleep, set for 8-15 minutes and then I'm asleep almost immediately. It doesn't work for a new book, only an old favourite. Juliet Stevenson is my favourite narrator for this - her voice is very soothing
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:28 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you just lie still with your eyes closed you'll get the equivilent of 75% sleep. So you don't need to actually "sleep".

Not to derail, but I really want to hear more about this. Do you have any source to back that up? Just Googling "how to fake sleep" brings up stuff about getting an energy boost after a night of insomnia, along with a surprising number of articles about how to fool people into thinking you're asleep.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:01 PM on April 26, 2015

You could try poetry - read a shortish poem through slowly, really letting it sink in. If you're not dropping off after a few times through, you'll have it fixed in your head enough that you can turn off the light and keep chewing on it. I find that fairly cerebral, abstract poetry works best for me.
posted by yarrow at 8:03 PM on April 26, 2015

Following up on my previous comment, I Googled "lie still with your eyes closed" and it took me to this article, which also links to a Reddit discussion. It appears lying in the dark all night without sleeping doesn't help much. Too bad. As a lifelong insomniac, I wanted to believe!

Back to the OP: Did you see this previous thread of mind games to help you fall asleep?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:15 PM on April 26, 2015

When I had the same problem, I made a playlist. and I swear that playlist is magic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 PM on April 26, 2015

My husband has been trying an app called My Sleep Button. It's an app that reads short descriptions of scenes that you are supposed to close your eyes and imagine, and the scenes change every 20 seconds or so. I think it's supposed to mimic dreaming. So far, so good.
posted by biscuits at 8:45 PM on April 26, 2015

I have tried a million techniques... making sure my jaw is relaxed actually helps a lot. But I invented a variant on progressive relaxation that finally works for me. I mentally tell my body parts to go to sleep. "Go to sleep feet... go to sleep ankles... go to sleep calves..." and I'm usually asleep by the time I reach my chest.
posted by Threeve at 9:32 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another thing that helps me is reading. It occupies my brain and tires out my eyes. I often find my book or magazine flopping in my hands (gotta watch those heavy books from smacking my face) and then I know it's time to put them away and go to sleep.

I haven't tried this at night yet, but listening to podcasts (whatever show I normally listen to, not a sleep podcast) has helped me nap a few times. I have a much harder time napping than I do falling asleep at night. Recently I've thought "I'll just lie down and listen to this podcast, so at least I can chill out and lie down if not sleep" and then after the podcast is over I'm able to get in a short nap.
posted by radioamy at 9:42 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lavender oil. Put a couple of drops on your chest or pillow while lying in bed. Works miracles.
posted by hazyjane at 9:56 PM on April 26, 2015

I listen to reruns of shows I know well enough that I don't have to pay attention to them. They occupy my mind enough that it doesn't focus on whatever my daily anxieties are and I'm able to pass out. It's taken different forms over the years; currently I listen to shows on Netflix via my phone/headphones. Its not a great solution and unfortunatly I'm heavily dependent on it; I'll be re-reading this thread with a lot of interest tomorrow when I'm more awake.
posted by vignettist at 11:00 PM on April 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Find something short that you would like to learn inside and out, set your player to repeat, and listen to it until you fall asleep. Try a short story you want to enjoy and examine thoroughly, one or more poems you want to memorize, a short article on a subject you want to know off the top of your head, a dialogue in a language you are learning.
posted by pracowity at 12:14 AM on April 27, 2015

My return-to-breathing phrase of choice is "sleeping matters more than that right now." The racing bits of me truly loathe being told that, but they can't argue with the truth of it, and they do eventually cede the field.
posted by flabdablet at 1:15 AM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have been a racing-mind insomniac for 30 years. I took trazadone for awhile, but I don't recommend doing that. (I did sleep like the dead, but I also developed obstructive apnea and became terrified the drug was going to kill me because I wasn't waking when I wasn't breathing. Also, constipation for years ain't a great thing.)

Instead, I've taken two tacks: One is to listen to boring podcasts set to turn off in 15-30 min. As mentioned above, I too recommend In Our Time. Also, old time radio shows, esp. detective shows turned so I almost have to strain to hear them. The only drawback to them is that a few of them have gunshots and screaming. I have also fallen asleep to scanner broadcasts from big cities I don't live in. The key is to give your mind somewhere to go that *isn't* all your typical run-through of things you're supposed to have done etc.

Also, I always ... *always* ... wake up again between 2-3am. The recent chatter about how before electricity people did two-phase sleeps really helped me not to get anxious. I pee if I need to, get back into bed and listen to another short podcast and don't stress about getting enough sleep.

Also, I stopped being a youngster and insisting on staying up til midnight. These days, I'm in bed reading a (paper) book by 9:30 at the latest. This way, I always have enough time for real sleep, despite the 3am wakies.
posted by RedEmma at 9:25 AM on April 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Per BrashTech's suggestion about focusing on a sleepy feeling in the back of your throat: I read that right before bed last night and thought, "Wow, that's weird," but then I kind of tried it and it got me way sleepy way fast. Who knew!
posted by Andrhia at 10:09 AM on April 27, 2015

I have the same problem, thinking in words about specific, literal concepts. The technique I learned and use is to shift the thinking from words to images. It works about 60% of the time. When it doesn't I listen to one of two podcasts I've saved because they're intensely boring.
posted by Homer42 at 1:09 PM on April 27, 2015

I used to lie awake for at least an hour or two, sometimes three, before I could fall asleep. I've made the following changes:
  • Using Twilight and f.lux for light therapy
  • Adding a memory-foam mattress topper to my bed
  • Putting an electric blanket on top of that
  • Listening to a white noise app on my phone
  • Wearing a night mask
Now I fall asleep within about ten minutes. Life is much improved.
posted by webmutant at 3:37 PM on April 27, 2015

Can't believe I forgot this....petting, very consciously, a cat or dog friend.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:06 PM on April 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

My counting trick that I read somewhere is this:

Count up from 1 and back from 200, simultaneously. Like... 1, 200, 2, 199, 3, 198, 4, 197, and so forth.

I have never made it to zero.
posted by raspberrE at 6:26 PM on April 27, 2015

two of the things that were helpful for me was

1. realizing that sometimes it may take extra effort to nudge my mind away from the things I want to think about (I LIKE thinking, I want to keep doing it, sleeping is hard) but that it was worth it. I always used to think that I just had to get tired out and/or bored but really I had to sort of concentrate on sleeping. This was especially true if I woke up in the middle of the night. I would get up and then have to be all "HEY I AM AWAKE" lying to myself when really I was tired I just needed to ignore my brain which was lying. A noise machine is good for this because it can help distract your tired brain from thinking it's awake.

2. Sometimes two-phase sleeping can be helpful. If you're really a night owl, sleeping four hours and then having another nap when you get home might be okay. Consider that as an option if anxiety about sleep is part of what is keeping you from sleeping.

Otherwise for me it's routine, lack of screens (I read for 30 min before bed, at least), no caffeine after 5 and I can now sleep reliably most nights. That said, part of this is "know thyself" and if I need to get to sleep before midnight for some reason, it's PILLS. I know that's not a suggestion you wanted, but after 45+ years I've found that I just can't shift my schedule more than a few hours in a reliable manner. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 8:39 PM on April 27, 2015

In addition to programs like f.lux and Twilight, I find it helpful to remove blue light from my room altogether.

I turn off all the lights an hour or two before I plan to sleep, and turn on my orange party light for cozy orange times.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 4:36 PM on April 28, 2015

One thing I do that I haven't seen mentioned above is a gratitude exercise. I do this every night when I go to bed. I think of at least three things from the day that I'm grateful for. Any little thing. It's pleasant, kind of monotonous because I have to review what I'm grateful for to make sure I've gotten up to the count of three and usually helps me fall asleep. It's another version of focused but not too active brain activity.
posted by purple_bird at 3:22 PM on April 29, 2015

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