Getting started

It is not easy to get on a good sleep schedule, but it is worth it.  It may take a while and may be difficult at first.  It may be tough to get to sleep or stay asleep, but your body will re-learn.  Figure out a schedule that works for you and stick with it.  Have an appointed time to go to sleep each night and a time to wake up.  The most important thing is to stick with it.  Small deviations are fine, but don’t get too far off or you’ll end up back where you started.  Now that doesn’t mean no Friday nights or Sunday sleeping in, but beware of excess.  I would avoid deviations of more than 1 hour once a week.  If you don’t, you’re threatening to throw of your body’s rhythm and it may take several nights to get it back.

Techniques for sleeping #1

Getting to sleep is often a tricky thing, especially if you have a lot on your mind.  There is a technique I use that I have found to be the most effective method I have ever used.  Now beware, it usually takes a while to get used to it.  After a while though it becomes second nature.  Like learning a new sport, at first you are clumsy and think about everything you do.  After a while you do it effectively without actually thinking about it.  This technique was actually developed by my good friend, James Okarma.  He’s quite brilliant and came up with the technique on his own after learning about how the brain shuts down prior to sleep.

The first part deals with background noises.  All of us have had times where sounds drove us up a wall while we tried to sleep.  James’ technique includes listening for these sounds.  Maybe it’s a car driving by, a cat meowing, or someone shutting a door.  The idea is to purposely listen for these sounds. Why?  Eventually you sort of trick yourself into liking sounds that normally would keep you awake.  This step is really hard.  The theory now is that sounds are actually part of your sleeping process and therefore help you sleep.

The second part involves shutting down your brain.  When you are asleep your brain is working at a very low level.  Everything essentially shuts off except vital functions like heartbeat.  The idea here is to speed up the process.  None of us are capable of not thinking about something, but thinking as simplistic as possible is closer to nothing.  If you’re laying in bed thinking about work or other activities your thoughts are relatively complex.  Simplifying your thoughts is closer to a state of sleep.  So what should you think about?  The answer is the simplest thing possible: a dot.  When you are sleeping, focus on an imaginary dot in your mind.  Just stay focused on it and NOTHING ELSE.  Focus on that dot and think about the dot.  If you truly are thinking about that dot, you won’t be able to think about anything else.

This is ideal and it is very difficult to focus on that dot all the time.  Your mind will drift, but that’s OK, just come back to the dot.  We’re simply trying to put our mind in a state as close to a sleeping state as possible.  You can only think about one thing at a time, so if you are thinking about the dot, you aren’t thinking about other things like work or the hockey game tomorrow.

Parts 1 and 2 are meant to work in tandem while you sleep.  When you become skilled at it, you are subconsciously listening for random sounds and focusing on the dot at the same time.  While you focus, the sounds just come and sort of blend in to environment.  Eventually, you won’t even need to think about doing it and may not even need to focus on the dot anymore.

Techniques for sleeping #2

Although the above technique works best for me, I occasionally use other techniques in conjunction with it.  The main one is a deep breathing method to help relax my body.  There are 2 ways I use this, both of which I often use in combination with the above method, especially when I am having a particularly hard time not thinking complex thoughts.

The first involves focusing on letting each body part “fall asleep” individually.  I start by lying down in a comfortable position with my eyes closed.  I take a deep breath, and as I slowly exhale, I let the tension of my feet “float away.”  I repeat this if I feel the need, but then I move on to other body parts such as lower leg, upper leg, groin, abs, chest, neck, face, head, arms, etc. until my whole body is relaxed.  Many times I fall asleep before even finishing.  The idea is to eventually get your whole body to feel asleep.  It helps you release tension and focus on something relatively simple.

The second technique is very similar to the first.  The difference is that I let the tension from my whole body “float away” over and over with each breath.  It’s more of an all at once approach.  With each breath it feels like only a small amount of tension leaves, but that small amount leaves my whole body instead of each body part separately.  So, little by little, the tension I am holding onto leaves and I become more and more relaxed.

Integration

As I mentioned before, my technique has become somewhat second nature because I’ve done it for a so long now.  I also integrate multiple techniques.  I breathe deeply and let my body relax as I focus on the dot in my mind and subconsciously listen for sounds around me.

Everyone is different, so remember these techniques aren’t a catch-all.  Experiment and learn what works best for you and what doesn’t.  Just don’t dismiss an idea too soon.  It takes time to get used to, especially the listening for sounds part.  You may not be impressed at first, but once it becomes part of your routine, falling asleep gets much easier.