It’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.
This post is one of my self-experiments where I test out crazy ideas on myself. If you like learning new things, like foreign languages, traveling and general self-improvement check out my other experiments.
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.