How to Fall Asleep When You’re Just Not Tired
Fed up counting sheep? Here are some things that you can do to help you fall asleep when you are just not tired.
So, let’s just imagine that you’ve got a long day ahead of you come the morning, and you know you must get those 7 to 8 hours of sleep to make sure you are at your best and ready to cope with whatever life brings you.
When 10pm comes, you are in your bed, lights off and ready to sleep. You lie there with your eyes closed waiting to nod off to sleep. The problem is that no matter how long you lie there waiting to fall asleep, you still feel wide awake. You are just not sleepy. You know you need to be sleeping, but you are just not in that zone. You start to feel anxious and this just makes you feel more awake. What do you do?
Over the years, in my work as a yoga, meditation and wellbeing coach, this is a question that I get asked about a lot. It seems that, although sleep is an essential part of our daily routine so that we can stay healthy, many of us have problems falling to sleep each night.
I am one of these people. Even though I could sleep like a log as a kid, when I became an adult, my sleeping patterns became so disturbed for one reason or another, that it eventually had an impact on my ability to sleep.
I have lost count just how many nights I would lie awake and wonder, wouldn’t it be great if we had a physical on / off switch at the back of our heads? Then we could completely make sure that we had at least 7 hours of shut down time each day!
Sadly, we don’t this switch. I wish we did, but we don’t.
We do have an internal switch, however, and this is what you need to learn to trigger. Sure, it’s not as simple as using light switch, but with a change in your habits overtime, you can do this.
Just like everyone else, my ability to sleep still gets disturbed now and again. Each time this happens, however, I have learnt ways to stop the insomnia and trigger my internal switch allowing me to fall asleep naturally.
This is something I go into in more detail in my book, Sleep, and you can find details about this book at www.gillianmduncan.com/books
In this podcast, however, I will focus on the scenario of what to do when you are lying wide awake, attempting to count sheep, but all you are really doing is getting more and more anxious that you are not sleeping!
Let me start by pointing out the obvious. We, as humans, are complicated beings. This ultimately means that it’s not just one factor that will affect your ability to fall asleep.
Several things will have happened in your day to influence your ability to sleep later that night. Your inability to sleep will unlikely be the result of one isolated factor.
Also, if you have changed your routine in order to grab extra sleeping hours on this one particular occasion, your body and mind will no doubt rebel like an moody teenager.
Just because you have physically gone through the motions of getting ready for bed, your being will not necessarily have the same plans in mind.
You can guarantee that it will decide to get restless and your mind will decide that now is the time to worry about Christmas, even though it is the middle of August.
The thing is, your normal daily behaviours affect your ability to sleep, so how can you influence your inner wide-awake-teenage-being that it really is time for bed?
Firstly, don’t be tempted to grab your phone or e-book reader. Leave them be. The back light that phones, computers and TVs have help to trick your brain into staying awake. These devices are one of the main reasons why more people are finding it harder to sleep. It’s best to keep the use of them to a minimum in the evening and try to stay clear of them for an hour before going to bed.
There is a possibility that this has contributed to your wide-awake scenario on this particular occasion, so make sure you avoid using them if you can’t get to sleep.
The longer the period you have without being exposed to this type of light should help your mind register that it is time to sleep.
The main hurdle, if you can’t fall asleep, is that you need to try to get your mind and body into thinking that it’s time for them to switch off and sleep. Your living environment contributes to this signal.
If you are using bright lights, just like the tech I just mentioned, and listening to loud music or a programme on the TV, you are not giving your mind the right signal to switch off.
Use lamps in the evenings instead of overhead bright lights and use a low light setting where possible.
Again, the brain can believe it’s still daylight if you keep using bright lights up to the point of going to bed, so start reducing your exposure to light at least an hour before bed.
If your mind seems to be jumpy and far too engaged for sleep, try listening to some relaxing music. Meditative music is great for this time of night. This type of music tends to flow easily and soothe the mind rather than stimulate it.
Another way to create a calming atmosphere is to use an aromatherapy diffuser. Aromatherapy oils are a great way to help your body and mind relax. You can use calming oils such as lavender, chamomile and bergamot.
If your body feels restless then try doing some gentle stretches.
Yoga stretches are great for preparing your body for sleep.
Make each movement super slow and just relax as you stretch, letting go of tight muscles. Remember to breathe nice and deeply. Start by relaxing your shoulders and moving your neck very slowly from side to side.
Always compliment forward bends with backward bends and try to make sure that if you stretch one side, then you stretch the opposite side in your next movement. Keep your movements slow.
Don’t try to do a full work-out and stick to gentle stretches as you don’t want to energise the body too much. Just listen you your body and you will soon work out what you need to stretch.
Another thing that you can do to help you to sleep is to go for a warm shower or a bath.
Sometimes this contact with water can help to calm you and reset your stress levels.
If you combine this with using some soothing aromatherapy products, then this can really help you to feel more relaxed and sleepier.
Just remember not to make the water too hot. Having a really hot bath or shower will make you uncomfortable afterwards as your body tries to cool back down. Likewise - no cold baths or showers! Just a nice temperate soak will do the trick.
Don’t take too long either. You want to get to sleep, not spend all night in the bath turning into a prune!
Just take long enough to enjoy a relaxed bathing session, then come out, feeling nice and fresh before going to bed.
Now, what if you are hungry?
Sometimes, by the time we go to bed, several hours may have passed since we ate our evening meal, and then our stomachs start to rumble just before we are about to fall asleep.
My advice is; Don’t ignore it. If your body is hungry, feed it or it will keep disturbing you all night!
This isn’t the time to raid the fridge and opt for a full out meal. Remember that you will be lying done again shortly after you eat, so don’t choose anything too heavy or greasy!
I find the best thing to eat is a bowl of cereal and if you like them, bananas - they are great to eat just before bed.
Bananas have an amazing sedative response on the body. They contain magnesium and potassium which help to relax your muscles and lower your blood pressure. They also contain a chemical called L-tryptophan, which gets converted into serotonin and melatonin - two important chemicals required by the brain for sleep.
So, to sum it all up, if you are having problems feeling tired and you are not able to fall asleep;
Keep away from your phone, TV or e-book reader, and reduce your exposure to bright lights and loud noise at least an hour before you go to bed. If you are lying awake in bed, try to resist the temptation to use your phone.
Try practising some gentle yoga stretches or go for a warm shower or bath to help relax your muscles.
If you are hungry, make sure that you eat something light that will keep your energy levels up until you wake in the morning.
The things that I have suggested may mean that you have to get up out of bed, if you are already lying there. You may think that this is counter-productive as you should be in your bed in order to fall asleep - but there really is no point lying there waiting for sleep to come. It will only make you feel more anxious and more awake.
Take a few minutes - anything up to half an hour - to try out these sleep-inducing ideas. It’s far more productive than lying in your bed for a couple of hours feeling wide awake and stressed out.
If you are interested in finding out more on how to improve the quality of your sleep and tackle insomnia, then visit www.gillianmduncan.com where you will find details of my latest book; Sleep. Cure Your Insomnia, Improve Your Health and Feel Better Now.