Sleep Hack: Fall Asleep in 2 Minutes or Less

sleepyhead_zzz_sleeping_sticker-p217605557908976893qjcl_400It’s great to sleep better, but it doesn’t matter much if you toss and turn for hours before falling asleep.  There are plenty of “typical” suggestions for falling asleep better (don’t drink alcohol or caffeine within at least 4 hours of going to bed, take a warm shower before bed, turn out the lights about 20 minutes before bed, don’t read or watch anything interesting before bed, etc.).  These are all great tips, but they largely skip over the most important part of falling asleep: the mind!

 

We’ve all been there: you’re laying in bed hoping to sleep, but you just stare at the ceiling.  Then you start to stress out because you’re not falling asleep.  Or maybe your mind is racing, thinking about all the things you need to do the next day.

 

Want even more sleep tips? Check out the ultimate guide to sleep hacking

 

Recently I have trained myself to fall asleep in 2 minutes or less every single time I get into bed (including naps, according to the Zeo Personal Sleep Coach; before this technique my time-to-sleep was in the 15-30 minute range).  The secret isn’t melatonin or any other drug.  It’s not sleep deprivation, and it is very sustainable and repeatable.  In fact, it sounds so simple you’ll dismiss it when I tell you:

 

Pretend you’re extremely tired.


What I mean is to engage your mind in thinking about the physical sensation of tiredness.  Not falling asleep, not how nice it would be to sleep, not the next day.  I mean visualizing the physical sensation of tiredness.  Do your eyes droop and your mouth hang open?  Do your arms feel heavy and useless?  Do you feel like you’re sinking into your bed and falling into darkness?  Research has shown that the simple act of smiling can make us feel more happy, visualizing sports events can aid athletes’ performance, and so on.  Why not put this power to use?

 

I like to think of a weight pressing evenly across my entire body, as if some unseen hand was “pushing” my consciousness out of me and into the depths of the bed. Think of the phrase “falling asleep:” there’s a reason the verb “falling” is used. We’ve all felt the sensation, and the power of the mind-body connection is such that simply imagining it is enough to help induce it.

 

The first time I tried pretending I was tired I really didn’t expect it to work.  In fact, I still don’t.  Every time I get into bed I have to forcibly convince myself to do it because it feels silly.  But, lo and behold, the next morning I wake up and I barely remember lying down at all – and the Zeo confirms that I was asleep in seconds, not minutes. Early on, there were times that I woke up to loud noises in the street and could not get back to sleep for hours, even after taking melatonin… but then I remembered the technique, and was asleep in minutes.

 

Of course, this is exactly what most people will scoff at about the technique: there is no pill involved! Many people will try this technique once and dismiss it as something that will never work for them (at best) or a wild fancy (at worst).  This sort of visualization requires a fair bit of control over your mind and will most certainly require practice.  If you’re a student of meditation or if you’ve ever used visualization techniques successfully before you will have an advantage.

 

The key to success, though, is finding the right mental state.  The first handful of times that this technique worked for me, I actually woke myself up because I was so shocked at the physical sensation.  I would right on the cusp of sleep and I’d feel my body go completely slack and my mind disengage – very strange, to say the least!  Once I realized what it felt like I found I could induce the state more and more quickly and reliably – and fall asleep in no time at all.

 

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Zane Claes
I post twice-weekly about using self-experimentation in order to find out what can improve your life the most. If you liked what you just read, why not subscribe via RSS, Facebook or Twitter?You'll find plenty of charts and data from my own experiments, handy resources to start your own, and general findings to boost your quality of life.
  • http://www.facebook.com/validatorian Jon Hughes

    Hey Zane, this is definitely something I’m going to immediately implement.

    I’m curious about your thoughts on anxiety-related sleep issues. For example, I can _never_ sleep on Thursday nights. The only variable I can think of is that this is the only night that I have my kids sleeping over on a school night, and must get them ready for school Friday morning. The thing is, I don’t mind getting them ready.. it’s not a difficult/anxiety-producing task, so I just can’t figure out why my body (read: mind) won’t allow me to sleep. The only hypothesis I have come up with is that the first time I had to take my kids to school, I was anxious, so I didn’t sleep… then I thought to myself, “How will I ever sleep on Thursday nights?” and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Thoughts?

    • http://LifeByExperimentation.com Zane Claes

      Very interesting problem. Clearly your environment is okay (unless the kids are causing noise) because you’re able to fall asleep on other days. Still, I would start by implementing a sleep routine (turning out the lights a bit before sleep, maybe a cup of warm milk and a bedtime story).

      As you pointed out, it seems the problem is primarily a mental one. It is very possible for the body to experience an emotion on a subconscious level only. For example, researchers have shown that the body will display a physiological fear response (heart rate, perspiration, etc.) to certain “threatening” situations – even though it is not actually a dangerous situation and the person does not report being a afraid. For example, if I hold a knife to your wrist your subconscious brain will cause a physical response even though your conscious brain overwrites this and says “hey, Zane is your friend, he wouldn’t hurt you!” and you are therefore not consciously worried.

      I suspect something similar is going on here. If we hooked you up to an EEG, monitored your blood pressure, perspiration, etc. I would hypothesize we’d see abnormal data on Thursday nights.

      So, what to do? I’d start with a good book on meditation. Despite all the “new age” stuff surrounding the practice of meditation, it is fundamentally a solid technique for learning to control your body with your mind. If you’re losing just an hour per week due to this problem and you manage to correct it, it would translate to 20 saved days you have available in the next 10 years. It seems worth the time to read a book or two and try it out for 10-20 minutes a day :)

  • http://profiles.google.com/ronmurp Ron Murphy

    Interesting blog you have here. Looking forward to dropping by regularly.

    I tried several meditation related techniques, listening to soothing sounds, controlled breathing, counting breaths, etc., and though they helped I could still wonder off sometimes and find myself thinking about stuff, and that moved me on to restlessness.

    I’d been reading some stuff about language and the brain, and the importance of language in formulating thoughts and concepts. As I thought about what was going on in my head I decided I’d try to shut off all thinking; and that included trying not to visualise stuff, going for a blank mind visually. But more significantly I tried to stop any language dead in its tracks before it got to the stage of thinking anything that might start me on a stream of thought. The moment I spotted myself visualising anything, or ‘hearing’ or ‘saying’ mentally or thinking anything in words, I’d try to blank them. I even got to the point where I’d stop myself from thinking, in language terms, “Stop thinking”.

    This seems to work quite well. I often don’t remember straying into thought, and the sleep seems to be pretty sound.

    I don’t use it every night, as I don’t mind falling asleep thinking. But When I need to I use it.

    This is a pretty anecdotal report of course, so I’d be interested if anyone else found it useful. Remember, it’s the stopping of all forms of language I found to be significant.

    • http://LifeByExperimentation.com Zane Claes

      Well said. Turning off the internal dialogue is one of the most important parts of this technique, and if you have practice with meditation it will be a lot easier.

      I don’t always even use these techniques myself, as sometimes I like planning the next day and falling asleep with ambitions in mind. There have been times when I tossed about for a good 30 minutes or so full of ideas, then decided to go to bed and was out like a light. When I properly apply this technique it has a success rate of well over 90% even if I’ve been lying in bed.

      The most interesting thing though is that I now feel like I can recognize the physical/mental sensation of sleep and summon it.

      By the way, there’s a new sleep post coming on Monday :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/stealthanugrah Fiel Mahatma Sahir

     Like I mentioned, I love this hack and I’ve been using it everyday since I read your post. Thanks a lot man! This is frikkin legit! How do you find all these things out! 

    I wanna experience the waking up sensation once more in my life, that was crazy! I’ve been recommending this to friends quite a bit in the last two weeks or so. One of my friends jumped when he heard about waking up 3 times and said, wow… that sounds like a mental roller coaster! 

    Good stuff man! Thanks! 

    • http://LifeByExperimentation.com Zane the Experimenter

      Glad it is continuing to work, and thanks! 

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  • Tanapon-ray

    Good day. You’re technique seems legit. I’m going to try it tonight.

    one question: you did mention you were awake in the state where you couldn’t move your body but you were aware of everything. Was that sleep paralysis?

    I’ve been studying about sleep paralysis. Thank you.

    • http://LifeByExperimentation.com Zane the Experimenter

      Good question. My understanding of sleep paralysis is that it stems from the brain not “turning off” the production of the chemicals that keep us still in our sleep. Thus, it generally happens in the morning.

      In this case, I’d say the experience felt similar (if not identical). If it is true that I was inducing sleep paralysis, then it would imply that I had managed conscious control over this (generally) subconscious system. I do not think it is an absurd proposition (it might even be the most logical one), but I am hesitant to make any claims without having evidence to support them ;)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/H6NAWBONZ7PG22OALCPUT6SOXM Nikki

    what i just do is close my eyes then just forget about everything at just thing about sleeping (with your eyes closed) and when you open your eyes you find your self in the next day and you dont even rember going to sleep

  • Rachel

    this really works! :) i do it when i can’t get to sleep at night either because i am not tired, or i just have too much on my mind. what i do is just close my eyes and then focus deep into the darkness. i tell myself to sleep, and staring deep into the darkness behind my eyelids has a hypnotizing effect, and i don’t remember when i fell asleep when i wake up!

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