Things to think about
November 4, 2018 2:01 PM   Subscribe

As soon as I start going to sleep (or waking up) my brain starts planning and ruminating on work stuff. I would like to give my brain something else to play with. I have plenty of external distractions but would like to gather suggestions of visualizations, thoughts etc that are basically mental fidget spinners.

I’m not wonderfully imaginative so I would be more thinking low-stimulans things like watching trees moving in the wind than planning how I would furnish a dream house but suggest whatever, it might inspire something else.
posted by Iteki to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Treehouse was my go-to as a kid.

Painting- imagine the brush strokes.

Apparently thinking about exercise has benefits, so imagine those movements.

Cuddling a dog or a cat.

posted by freethefeet at 2:04 PM on November 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I like to create elaborate family trees in my mind, with first, middle and last names for everyone in the "family." It usually sends me off to sleep very quickly but if it doesn't I'll also assign names to their friend circles as well. It's something I've done since I was little and it really works to distract me from my worries.
posted by cakelite at 2:12 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite] out erotic stories. Not like porn but more like bodice ripper stuff with a strong emotional component, except that it‘s full of the things that do it for me specifically.

I mean, you have to get the mellowness right if the aim is to fall asleep, but it‘s definitely more enjoyable than mentally rearranging the sock drawer (which is the kind of thing my brain would do if I let it get into running-in-circles-mode.) YMMV.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:28 PM on November 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

I try to compose limericks.
posted by The Toad at 2:40 PM on November 4, 2018

I picture building something mechanical, step by step. I also explain it to myself.
posted by Splunge at 3:09 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Water does it for me, imagining waves against a rocky shore, or rain on the surface of a lake. Really picturing how the water is moving, the repetition and patterns. I'm often listening to a 'nature sounds' recording of waves or rain and I just try to visualize it.
posted by buildmyworld at 3:13 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I terraform the moon.
posted by prefpara at 3:31 PM on November 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I actually do the same thing as Omnomnom, and have done since I was a kid (obviously when I was young they were not erotic so much as romantic). I will often fall asleep before even finishing a scene - and yet, imagining conversations with people I actually know doesn't help at all and I find myself awake at 3am.

Basically it needs to be interesting enough that my brain doesn't jump off elsewhere, but not so related to my life that it feels like a problem I'm solving.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:35 PM on November 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'll do exponentials in my head. (Not sure if that's the right word... .) Like, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, etc. It takes up more brain power as the numbers get higher.
posted by Weeping_angel at 3:37 PM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Breathing slowly, try counting backwards from 100 every other breath or so. Usually I'm asleep in the 80s, or if very restless, the 60s. I have never made it to zero.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:38 PM on November 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I learned breath counting when I started meditating so I often will do that. Count every exhale until you get to 10, then go back to 1. Counting can become so automatic that you can do it while also ruminating about the big work presentation you have tomorrow or whatever BUT having the rule of starting over at 1 after reaching 10 means you do actually have to focus on the numbers to the exclusion of other stuff.

(Really though, I bought a pair of sleep headphones and listen to boring history podcasts. I know all about the first third of so many historical events because that's about the point at which I fall asleep.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:33 PM on November 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Combine saying the alphabet forwards with counting backwards: A100, B99, C98 . . .

Or 1Z, 2Y, 3X . . .

Or 100A, 99B, 98C . . .

Or you can alternate letters and numbers: 1, B, 3, D, 5, F . . .

This is the best way I've found yet to put myself to sleep. It's complicated enough to keep me from other thoughts but not interesting enough to keep me awake.
posted by Redstart at 4:50 PM on November 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I normally listen to a low-key audiobook or sitcom, but something like the 7s times table will keep my mind fairly pre-occupied (I'm not great at math, so I have to think about it a little bit but I don't have to get out of bed and find paper and pencil).
posted by bunderful at 5:07 PM on November 4, 2018

I do “A my name is Alexa and my husband’s name is Aaron, we live in Alaska and we sell appetizers” throughout the alphabet. Obviously I’ve been doing this since I was a kid and you can make it slightly more engaging by only choosing names that work for men and women or using cities in a certain state or only selling fruits or whatever. It’s been my go to for this purpose for like 30 years.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 5:17 PM on November 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is kind of what zen koans are for.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:18 PM on November 4, 2018

I have a few things I do.

First, I taught myself the alphabet backwards: (Zyxwtuvsrqponmlkjihgfedcba)

Then I could recite the US states backwards: Wyoming, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Washington, Virginia, Vermont, Utah, Texas, Tennessee, South Dakota (etc). Basically any list you happen to have memorized in alphabetical order works. I learned the states in 4th grade.

Geography: Visualize where things are: for example, I spent some time learning the countries on the African continent and then I visualize where they are, starting in Morocco and going roughly counter clockwise, but also jumping inland as necessary. (Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia...). I have also done this with the US states, Asia, and Europe, but Africa is my fave.
posted by Stewriffic at 5:28 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I listen to bedtime stories from the Calm app or Harry Potter on Audible.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:34 PM on November 4, 2018

Best answer: My mother always advocated taking a word ending - say, "-ate" - and run through the alphabet making words. So, in this instance, it would be "bate" "date" "fate" "gate" etc.
posted by DrGail at 5:41 PM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I like to plan what to wear tomorrow by mentally flipping through the clothes in my closet. I never finish. I think you could do this with any collection in your, pots and pans, plants, pictures on the living room wall...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 5:42 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well this is totally random, but as a kid I used to imagine I was going somewhere really really cold and had to plan what clothes to wear. The trick was they had to be clothes I owned and they wouls have had to fit, so any extra large clothes went on last. Tights and tighter stuff first. I usually fell asleep before imaging more than a couple layers.
posted by aetg at 6:09 PM on November 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

I pick random letters and then think up words that start with that letter and visualize them. To add a level of difficulty, add vowels and consonants in order. For example, if the first letter is T, I would think of words starting with Taa, Tab, Tac, Tad, etc. Generally I'm asleep before I have to go back to the next vowel (i.e. Tea, Teb, Tec...).
posted by Preserver at 6:49 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another tool is listening to a meditation. I think I listened to the “Body Scan for Sleep” on this page for a solid year when I was having a lot of anxiety. Sometimes, now, I just think of the beginning lines of it and feel more relaxed and I can fall asleep.

Another I’ve had bookmarked and listened to a bit of is this Yoga Nidra for Sleep.

I like counting things when all else fails. I came up with one where I dress gooses in full outfits until I can’t think of any other accessories, count it and then sweep it away. Goose in a tam o’shanter, matching plaid vest with a tie...1. Goose in a tutu with a fascinator...2. Why gooses? I don’t know.
posted by amanda at 7:23 PM on November 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, first I love this thread It's like I can see inside the brains of other MeFi users and they are strange and wonderful.

You might not like this, but the best that has worked for me is to try and do a body scan relaxation and then think of nothing - for a very short time - but as much (little?) nothing as I can. Visualizing things might be less stressful than thinking about work or ruminating but it has never helped me to fall asleep.

This kind of made sense after reading articles about Air Force training in how to sleep in 120 seconds.

The two big takeaways focusing on relaxing the facial muscles, especially the eyes: "Your eyes are shut, but you want to make sure they are totally limp. Do this by letting them fall deep into your socket. There are six muscles that control your socket; feel them relax and go lifeless."

Step two is then to clear the mind:

"The last step is to clear your mind for 10 seconds. That’s it. No thinking about what went wrong that day, or what time you need to get up, or when you’ll get to call your partner. Doing these things all involve movement. Which means just thinking about them is enough to make your muscles involuntarily contract."

The aha moment for me was the connection between the two - the eye muscles, and the connection between thinking about actions even passive actions like observing and involuntary activation of the muscles, especially the facial and eye muscles.

So even imagining passively viewing something, say geese wearing tam-o-shanters, somehow subconsciously activates my eye movement muscles and keeps my musculature in the alert state. With the muscles firing or being ready to fire, sleep might eventually overcome me but I could never go to sleep.

If I can relax enough to breathe with a blank mind, even for just ten seconds, that usually puts me off to sleep, though never on the first go. I am not a meditator and can at best go 20 seconds without major trains of rumination. But it only takes 5-10 seconds to fall asleep so if I can keep trying it eventually works.

Because I'm terrible at meditation, and hate doing it, the very direct physiological task of damping down muscle movement sounds like a more attainable goal, than say, arriving at nirvana and oneness with the universe, so it's more likely that I'll try it.
posted by sol at 8:31 PM on November 4, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I recap plots of books, movies, especially TV series. Sometimes I do explainers of who's who in them. It works about 50% of the time.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:54 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I learned on the Ologies podcast episode about sleep that the host's trick for falling asleep is to pick a category (names, fruits, cities, etc.) and start naming things in that category alphabetically (Anne, Beth, Caroline, etc). I try to combine this with deep breathing and do one item per breath. It really helps me.
posted by radioamy at 9:03 PM on November 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh, I also like the sleep stories on the Calm app. Also sometimes I will listen to a podcast like Fresh Air or Judge John Hodgman.
posted by radioamy at 9:04 PM on November 4, 2018

Response by poster: These are great, so many wonderful concepts! I’ve no particular problem falling asleep thankfully, it’s more relaxing/mental stillness. Patting a cat and hiking were really nice little visualizations. Keep em coming if you’ve got em!
posted by Iteki at 10:20 PM on November 4, 2018

I also do the "plotting out a story" thing, but the trick for me is to make it the same scene night after night. I have a few opening scenes that I've used for over a decade, just playing through them in my mind in real time, with maybe some variations in detail creeping in but usually the same events and interactions.

This works much better for me than trying to imagine something still and soothing like the examples you just mentioned, which is interesting - maybe it means I need more distracting distractions than you do to stop ruminating!
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:32 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I'm not playing Q (or some other non-corporeal obscenely powerful being) and toying with humanity... I just watch the back of my eyelids. It's sorta like a lava lamp or some other 60's psychedelic blob show. It's always a purple blob that appears and changes shape and fades and comes back and does it again. You can almost control the shape for a moment, but it quickly goes back to doing whatever it is that it's doing. I figure I'm just picking up on blood flow or some other bodily ebb and flow.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:18 AM on November 5, 2018

I visualize a deck of playing cards, trying to fully picture each card and each suit. Ace of clubs...two of clubs...three of clubs...zzzzz. It knocks me right out.
posted by zoetrope at 8:02 AM on November 5, 2018

Best answer: I visualize autumn leaves gently falling in a forest, often with a song called "Falling Leaves" as a soundtrack. Even if I'm wide awake, if I imagine the opening of the song it makes me kind of droopy.
posted by JulesER at 9:22 AM on November 5, 2018

I do an alphabet thing: songs from the hymnal, countries of the world, names, foods, world capitals. Then I try to think of everything that would fit in that category. For example:

World Capitals - A:
Asunción, Paraguay
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Ankara, Turkey
Antananarivo, Madagascar
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Accra, Ghana
Athens, Greece
Algerie, Algeria

World Capitals - B:
Beijing, China
Budapest, Hungary

And so on. It's the right amount of mindless and focusing that it puts me right to sleep.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:59 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I mentally walk through places I feel nostalgic about- my parents' house, my childhood park, school, playground, etc. Try to imagine walking through sequentially and creating a detailed and accurate map/tour of the place.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:53 AM on November 5, 2018

I‘m just gobsmacked about how showbiz_liz and stillnocturnal described it because YES THAT IS IT EXACTLY!!!
posted by Omnomnom at 12:59 PM on November 5, 2018

I also imagine bodice-rippers or adventure stories, but set them in whatever TV show or movie has my attention at the time, so I don't even have to think up original characters.

Sometimes I run through my archery shot-process. It's really boring but calming and actually good homework. My feet are like this, my knees are like this, my weight is disbursed like this, I nock the arrow, grip hand (yawn) anchor hand (yawn) set... check my back tension... set up... zzzzzz
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:30 AM on November 6, 2018

Very late reply, sorry, but my go-to for this is to pick two four-letter words and transform one into the other, one letter at a time. E.g. PATH to HOME: PATH, PATE, PALE, HALE, HOLE, HOME. Requires just enough focus to engage the parts of my brain that want to ruminate, and not enough focus to keep me awake.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:15 AM on December 12, 2018

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