Indiana Jones can do it, Crocodile Dundee can do it, why can't I fall asleep on command? ...Is it the hat over the face?
February 19, 2007 4:23 PM   Subscribe

If you have learned to be able to fall asleep on command where you once couldn't before, how did you do it?

No drugs, and you have to be able to do it literally any time and anywhere that's reasonable such as in a car, in your bed, and extra points for in public. Did you learn self-hypnosis, meditation, neurofeedback, something else? I'm talking about it's bed time and I'm going to get into bed and be asleep in 5 minutes, or it's going to be a late night so I'll go and catch an hour of shuteye right now and asleep in 5 minutes. I'm not really interested in generic helpful sleep tips; I have plenty of those. I'm more interested in specifically how someone figured out how to do this.
posted by who else to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
I can now do it. I never used to be able to do it. While I do use a baseball cap over my eyes when it is light in the room, that was not the "trick". The key for me was two things. The first and foremost was when I stopped thinking about it and worrying about it. When you attempt to sleep while worrying if you are asleep yet, you will never do it. Second was being truly tired. I do not get into bed with any intention other than to sleep. It has become a conditioned response. I do not watch tv in bed, read in bed or do any other task. Bed is for two things, one of which is sleep. I get in bed, my mind and body knows it is sleep time. I also have a favorite napping couch for short stints that I usually do not use for other purposes either. It is in an out of the way room in the house that I do not use often for anything other than sneaking a nap.

I used to take tyleno pm at night to sleep. I became mentally addicted. If I didn't take one I would worry that not taking it would keep me up all night. It was an excuse and a crutch. Now, in the rare circumstance where I have to sleep and I am not particularly tired, I will take a tylenol pm.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:58 PM on February 19, 2007

I do a type of meditation that allows me to go to sleep in about 5 minutes, usually. I started doing this during meditation at the end of yoga class to stop my mind from wandering, and had to stop after I fell asleep in class a couple of times! (Luckily I caught myself at that point between sleep and awake and didn't go all the way under.)

What I do is breath in for three counts and out for four while concentrating on a single word for the breath. I'll use that word for seven breaths, then move to another word, using four words in all. The four words I usually use are "me", "you", "open" and "one" but I've also had success with "earth" "fire" "wind" and "water." I rarely make it through the fourth word before I'm drifting asleep.

I've never tried this anywhere but in bed at night, however, except for the accidental naps in yoga class.
posted by found dog one eye at 5:32 PM on February 19, 2007 [10 favorites]

I wiggle and fidget alot, and trying to lie still just makes it worse. So I say 'self- if you don't fidget for thirty seconds, then you can fidget all you want.' At first it's excruciating, and then when I near the 30 second mark I don't want to roll over, move my arms, turn my head, or anything. But at 30 seconds, I can adjust if I still want to, and then start another 30-count. I can never remeber doing it more than about threee or four times, so it works reasonably well.
posted by conch soup at 5:58 PM on February 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

I created a pre-sleep routine that helps me fall asleep almost anytime I want to. It involves brushing my teeth, reading a bit, then climbing into bed and taking deep, even breaths until I feel very relaxed. It even works for daytime naps. Of course this isn't so useful for sleeping in public but it does help me adjust my sleep schedule when I travel across time zones.

Other things that help: melatonin 30 minutes before I want to fall asleep, eyeshades, earplugs. Also, getting exercise during the day so I'm nicely worn out.
posted by rhiannon at 6:14 PM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I joined the Army.

After that, I never had trouble falling asleep on any flat surface (and more than once, on non-flat surfaces, while standing/walking, etc.).

Once your body has gone without sleep for an extended amount of time, it seems to learn to appreciate it and be less picky about where it gets it.

Possibly not the most practical suggestion to do yourself, I understand. :)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:26 PM on February 19, 2007

My trick is to retreat into fantasy. Any sort of external entertainment like headphones or whatever will keep me awake. Just pull the brim of that hat down over your eyes and think up a story, think about your day or something. USE YOUR IMAGINATION! Works pretty well.
posted by shanevsevil at 7:37 PM on February 19, 2007

I was chronically sleep deprived for 4 years straight during my medical training. I learned to lie down, close my eyes and sleep at any time that it was possible to do so.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:53 PM on February 19, 2007

I learned something somewhere at some point which is kind of a meditation. But really my problem in falling asleep involved being mentally active while laying in bed and thinking too much while trying to sleep. My method involved counting breaths (in counts as 1 and out counts as 1) until you get to 10 and then starting over at 1. It forces you to concentrate on counting instead of whatever else is going on in your head. It usually only takes me a max of 10 cycles of counting my breaths to 10 before I drift off (about 3-5 minutes). And I seriously used to suffer from major insomnia. Try it.
posted by greta simone at 9:03 PM on February 19, 2007

Biofeedback. In college, I got a biofeedback monitor (not this one, but one like it) to help me learn how to shut off my mind so I could go to sleep. I would lie down and try various relaxation techniques (deep breathing, picturing myself on a beach, etc.) until I found the one that worked for me (relaxing my muscles from my toes upward) and the beeping from the biofeedback monitor would reward my efforts.

Ever since then, I can do the same thing to relax or sleep, but I don't need the monitor. I usually fall asleep as my plane is pulling away from the terminal, and wake up when the wheels touch the ground.
posted by seymour.skinner at 9:18 PM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I do the self-hypnosis/alpha state thing, pretty much the same way it was taught to me by my 7th grade health teacher, Betty Brown.

Lie down on your back, and relax every muscle. Breath slowly and deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Start with the toes and tense the muscles as much as you can, then relax them while visualizing the muscle fibers relaxing and the capillaries opening. You can also visualize a cool fog enveloping your body gradually. Moving up, do this gradually with all the muscles of your body, ending with your face. If you haven't already nodded off by this point, take stock of your entire body for points of tension, muscles you may have inadvertently tensed and hit them again. When you first start using this technique, address small muscle groups at a time. Eventually you can do it all in three or four steps.

If sleep is your goal, just keep focusing on your relaxation and you'll go under. I always find that, even for a short nap this makes me feel exceptionally rested. You can also use the time before sleeping to plant suggestions or engage in visualization. I've used this method often to sleep in distracting environments, such as a busy beach in bright sunlight. Sometimes in such scenarios I'll wind up in a lucid dream state, experiencing a dream, but also distantly aware of my environment and able to wake up when desired.
posted by Manjusri at 10:38 PM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am very pleased with the quality of the answers so far. It is very interesting to read people's firsthand experiences with this. I realized at some point in this thread that hypnosis, meditation and neurofeedback are all really tapping into the same thing. And of the 3, meditation seems like the most feasible one to get into as well as having the widest array of practical applications. I think it's time I gave meditation some serious attention!
For the people that mentioned having their circumstances force their bodies take sleep when they can get it, I wonder if that has any connection to the principles of polyphasic sleep where you instantly fall into REM sleep rather than going through the different sleep stages to get to REM. But your stories seem to suggest that you retain that function indefinitely or something... something to chew on, but still it looks like meditation is my best bet!
posted by who else at 11:12 PM on February 19, 2007

I also learned to do this in the Army. I was in the TA (like the reserves) but we would go away for two week camps and be pushed pretty hard. On five hours sleep a night with lots of exercise, you will very quickly gain the ability to zonk out whenever you're in the same place for more than three or four minutes. I have very fond memories of sitting in the back of four-ton trucks driving out to ranges and seeing my entire platoon fast asleep on each other's shoulders.

Even now, I can go to sleep pretty quick. My sleeping habits are awful, though slowly getting better, and I do toss and turn in bed a lot. But if I just sit up against a wall or lie flat on the ground, I'm out. Like muscle memory or something.

Get a load of exercise, that seems to be the trick.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:06 AM on February 20, 2007

My trick is to retreat into fantasy... Just pull the brim of that hat down over your eyes and think up a story, think about your day or something. USE YOUR IMAGINATION! Works pretty well.

Agreed. I conjure up some imaginary situation that somehow "fits" with where I'm trying to fall asleep (maybe the cold tile floor of the airport is actually the cold stone floor of the evil queen's dungeon or something... whatever flexes your little-kid imagination muscles). I'm usually out before I even finish constructing my character's backstory.

Imagination (in the fantastical, little-kid sense) is severely underrated as an adult survival skill.
posted by somanyamys at 6:45 AM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I used to be able to do this, but I can't anymore, or rather, I haven't tried to do it in years.

My trick was to trigger my brain into that hazy, warm, free-association mode that happens right before you fall asleep--a lot like the fantasy-imagining described above. I'm not sure how to describe it: Instead of forcing myself to turn my brain off (which never works) I would just free-associate words until my sleep brain took over. What was crazy was not only that I could sleep pretty much instantaneously, but also that I would always wake up ahead of time, no matter what time my alarm was set for. I've never forgotten my magical sleep phase (it lasted about 3 years), but until this thread I'd forgotten that I actually had a technique.

I figured it out after my doctor prescribed me Ambien for insomnia. I don't recommend Ambien but it really puts you in that delicious state of sleepy incoherence while you're still conscious. I loved the feeling and so I would try to recreate it for myself everytime I went to sleep, with or without Ambien. After a while it just became the way I slept, which is probably why I forgot about the process.

The magical sleep phase ended when I got a stressful job that replaced the random word association with a "Havetodothis--I'mgonnagetfired--needtocallhimback--shitIforgotthis" association that has been keeping me up nights ever since. I can't wait to try this tonight.
posted by chelseagirl at 10:09 AM on February 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

A bit similar to some of the other suggestions so far, but one method is to just close your eyes and let your mind's eye wander. The idea is just to observe whatever random thoughts or images or words are coming up without making an effort to engage in or understand them. Eventually you should just drift off.
posted by god particle at 11:56 AM on February 20, 2007

If I start listening to something I know by heart, I can fall asleep almost immediately. (If I don't do that, my mind can wander and keep me awake for what feels like forever.)
posted by allterrainbrain at 6:01 PM on February 20, 2007

medical school, military training and (for me) architecture school basically force your body to adapt. If you're not truly dog-tired when you're learning to do this, you won't be successful. For me, the act of passing out within a minute or two (even in uncomfortable spots or public places) works best if I close my eyes and simply stop thinking. Soon I can't move my arms or legs and the world just fades. For a long long time, though, you will need to be sleep-deprived enough to literally pass out.
posted by Chris4d at 6:12 PM on February 20, 2007

Zen center did it for me. I also tap into that drifty dreamy state by relaxing control on my eyeballs, letting them bounce around in a semi REM state.
posted by pointilist at 10:47 PM on February 20, 2007

i've had success squaring numbers in my head. i haven't tried it in years but for a while i would fall asleep before 17 squared without fail (which was good because calculating 17 squared in my head when i'm almost asleep is too hard for me). the more you do it the better it works because your brain associates the "two squared is four, three squared is nine, four squared is sixteen..." chant with sleeping.
posted by nevers at 1:47 PM on February 26, 2007

There may be a tradeoff to the exhaustion methods—I never did anything so extreme as medical school, but after college and a two-year mission in Eastern Europe, I found I had lost the knack of falling asleep before the point of exhaustion. (And since, without heavy exercise, a full night's sleep plus enough waking to be exhausted makes more than 24 hours, I have been contemplating moving to a planet with a more relaxed rotational schedule.)
posted by eritain at 9:39 PM on March 18, 2007

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