There are lots of techniques you can try if you want to fall asleep faster. But when the conventional approaches aren’t working, it’s time to give these two unconventional methods a try.
Sleep. A solid night’s sleep. Don’t I wish! Insomnia is an equal-opportunity condition. A quick Google search produces about 71 million results. And while it’s estimated that it effects 30% of the population, knowing that you’re not alone doesn’t make it any easier when you’ve looked at the clock at 1:20 am, 2:40 am and 3:45 am (you get the picture).
If you’re suffering from a chronic illness, insomnia may visit you more frequently than the average person. A sleep survey by Patients Like Me, a patient network and research organization, reported that insomnia is a common problem for people who are coping with medical condtions.
Insomnia and chronic illness – Why you can’t sleep
It’s not surprising: medications like prednisone can make it difficult to sleep. Other medications may cause daytime drowsiness.
Many chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases come with a super-sized side order of chronic fatigue. But a nap will take care of that, right? Wrong! Because then you can’t sleep at night.
Pain interrupts sleep, too. I’ve had chronic pain for nearly twenty years and I spend many nights trying to reduce the pain just enough to sleep.
I’ll re-position myself in my bed. I even bought a new mattress – but it didn’t help as much as I’d hoped. So I move to the couch when I can’t fall asleep in my bed. I’ll also try getting out of bed and stretching. On more than one occasion I’ve slept with an ice pack and ended up with a painful burn.
But sometimes I surrender. I just give up and watch You Tube cooking videos at 3 am to distract myself. (If you want to know how to make bologna salad with a meat grinder, I’m happy to send you a link.)
Stress and anxiety can be the biggest barriers to sleep
But often times the bigger culprits are stress and anxiety. It’s damn stressful to be sick. All of the time. And it always seems like anxiety comes barrelling into the room when the house is quiet and dark and everyone else is sleeping soundly – and pain free! – in their beds.
Why isn’t there an off switch for anxiety?
When I’m feeling anxious or stressed I can’t seem to get out of my head. I can’t escape my thoughts. And I don’t know about you, but for me EVERYTHING is worse in the middle of the night. I’m pretty good at catastrophizing, if that’s even a word. (I think it is.)
What’s a girl to do?
Six common ways to fall asleep faster
When you’re in the throes of persistent insomnia, there is no shortage of strategies to try. Chances are that you’ve heard of many of them, and they often help:
1.Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule.
2. Make sure you’re room is a comfortable temperature. (According to the National Sleep Foundation, 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.)
3. Get some fresh air and exercise during the day.
4. Watch what you eat: limit caffeine and sugar intake and don’t eat heavy food before going to bed.
5. Avoid screen time an hour before bed – read a book instead.
6. Wear socks when you sleep. (Apparently you’ll fall asleep faster when your hands and feet are warm.)
Really, these are just a few. But I’m going to share two unusual methods that have actually worked. And they might sound crazy.
Two crazy ways to fall asleep faster – and they work!
Would it surprise you if I admitted that I came across these on You Tube… when I couldn’t sleep?
I was desperate, as I often am when I’ve laid awake for a couple hours in bed. It’s crazy, I can be falling asleep reading (see number 5 above) but as soon as I get ready for bed and tuck myself into my appropriately temperature-controlled room, I’m wide awake. Or my body is exhausted but my brain is in beast mode.
1. Reverse blinking
Say what? It doesn’t sound logical but this technique is designed to get your mind to relax – essentially to fall into a trance-like state.
Here how to do it:
Close your eyes. Wait five seconds and then open them briefly – just long enough to focus on something in the room. Close your eyes again. Repeat this process over a period of about five minutes or so.
I’ve found that counting the seconds helps – largely because when I’m counting I can’t be focused on anxious thoughts at the same time. This method has definitely worked for me.
2. Drumming… without a drum
This method was developed by Jim Donovan, a professional musician and educator. Jim is the former drummer of Rusted Root, a rock band that was popular in the early 90’s.
Jim says that the key to falling asleep is rhythm. He leads drumming workshops and one of the opening exercises he has his students do is to simply drum a steady beat for a few minutes.
Jim recalled that his students would often tell him how relaxed they felt afterwards. That’s when it occurred to him that he could do the exercise without the drum.
Here’s how to do it:
Sit on the edge of your bed and pretend that you’re drumming on your thighs – with your palms flat, gently tap your thighs, alternating left and right.
Breathe deeply and slowly – counting to four for the inhale and four for the exhale and continue the tapping for about five minutes, gradually slowing the rhythm.
When you feel relaxed, lay down.
Apparently, the brain loves repeating rhythmic patterns. And it seems to make sense. Maybe that’s why the the reverse blinking technique works, too.
I didn’t follow the instructions exactly. I chose to lay down while I did this. I’m a back sleeper anyway.
Did it work? YES! I was shocked at how quickly I fell asleep. I’m not sure if I even made it to the three minute mark.
Fighting insomnia by trial and error
I’ve tried each of these techniques numerous times and have had success with both. But they are less effective if I’m having trouble managing my pain. Overall they work more often than not. And when I’m really struggling to sleep I’ll try more than one method.
I’m still researching different ways to fall asleep faster – and many of them are also helpful for managing general anxiety. More on those in another post down the road.
For now, I’ll be reverse blinking, drumless drumming, wearing my socks and whatever else I need to do all in the name of a good night’s sleep.