Much of my advice on how to improve sleep is focused around preparation. What you do during the day, how you wind down before bed, setting the right environment for sleep, nurturing positive sleep routines and so on. All of these things make sleep much easier to achieve and will improve the quality of that sleep bringing many benefits. For more help with that please do check out my other thriveologie articles.
In this article, I want to cover some practical things you can do once you've got all of that right and and are in bed ready to get to sleep. Of course, I imagine some of you reading this will have come here for a quick-fix, without wanting to put the time in to the other things, or working to improve your routines. The good news is, these techniques (or at least the one/s that suit you best, personally) WILL still have a positive impact, even if you are cutting corners. The full story though is that for real beneficial sleep and positive health improvement, there is no substitute for consistent, positive choices and beneficial lifestyle changes. Your health and wellbeing is essential and sleep plays such a vital part in all aspects of it.
Below are a few different techniques you can use at night to fall asleep more quickly. It's important to remember that we are all different, so find the one/s that work best for you and enjoy. I would suggest that you may be surprised at what works for you when you put it into practice so don't just assume that a technique won't be right for you. Test them out and if you find one that works, stick with it.
It's also worth noting that our brain works well with consistency and routine. It naturally builds associations and expectations. For all of these techniques that work for you, the more you repeat it, the more effective it is like to become. For some techniques that's even more important and it's about repeating and practicing the technique over time and enjoying how much more effective it grows over time.
The Military Method.
There are some elements to this method which I personally disagree with. It's definitely not my preferred method but it's been reported to work for 96% of people who try it. That's 96% of people who stuck at it for 6 weeks. It's suggested that 6 weeks is how long it takes to maximise the benefits of the technique but I do wonder if those people that it worked for were more likely to see it through for the full length, and report positive findings, whereas those that didn't see any benefit would be more like to drop out of the study.
Either way, If you're going to give this one a go, I recommend sticking to it for at least 3 weeks and don't be disheartened if you don't see any benefit even within the first 2 weeks.
- SIT on your bed with your legs over the side. Ensure your phone is off or on 'do not disturb'. This technique encourages you to leave a desk lamp on but I would personally advise not to unless you are practicing this process with an aim to use it in situations where you have less control over the lighting etc. (Remember, this was designed for the military so they would want this to work in settings where they wouldn't have that level of control.
- Relax your face. Start by clenching and then relaxing your face muscles. Allow your tongue to relax and rest whichever way it falls and relax your jaw.
- When your face feels relaxed 'like putty' allow your shoulders to drop as your arms hang loosely by your side. Focus on one arm at a time as you feel them relax.
- While doing this, take calm, deep breaths listening to your breathing. As you exhale, allow your chest to relax more each time.
- Relax your legs. Let gravity gently pull your thighs and calves down and relax them more.
- Once your body feels relaxed spend 10 seconds 'clearing your mind'. If a thought enters your mind just let it pass. If it helps to have something more to focus on, just think about the relaxation throughout your body and remember to enjoy the calming breathing.
- Imagine a relaxing scene. They suggest a calm lake and clear blue sky, or a gently swinging soft hammock. It's up to you, just enjoy the calmness and think about what you can see, hear, and feel, in that calm setting. They suggest doing this for just 10 seconds.
- If you struggle to visualise then it is suggested that you simply repeat to yourself: "Don't think, don't think, don't think." For 10 seconds. This is a point I disagree on. I would suggest replacing this with something more positive than focusing on the thing you don't want to focus on. I would choose something like "I'm relaxed and relaxing more, relaxed and relaxing more, relaxed and relaxing more..." instead.
- Once you've done that, if you are not yet asleep, you can just lay down and continue relaxing until you drift off. Repeat it again the next night and you should expect to see an improvement each night until eventually you find yourself falling easily to sleep. Repeating the process will help to embed it as part of the process of falling asleep and your mind will know what comes next.
There are a few different ideas on what the best breathing pattern is for sleep and again, I advise you to find what is best for you personally. The important thing is that you feel comfortable and relaxed with it. Though it may take a few attempts if you are not used to focusing on your breathing, it is worth trying a few to see what is best for you. Just focusing on enjoying your breathing in your own way is a perfectly acceptable and beneficial process and can reduce the pressure some people feel when focusing on breathing in a specific way. If you prefer more guidance though, here are some good options.
This is particularly useful if you have a ticking clock that you can hear in bed (Though I would normally advise against such a thing given the choice). Breathe in for 5 seconds, and then out for 5 seconds. It's that simple really. You may chose to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth but this is optional. Maybe even allow yourself to make a gentle 'blowing' sound as you breathe out and let that sound clam you too.
Allow your lips to part slightly and make a 'whooshing' sound as you breathe out. Close your lips and breathe through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breathe for a count of 7. Exhale again (with the sound) for 8 seconds.
Continue this cycle 4 times, allowing yourself to stop and fall asleep if you feel so inclined at any point.
Feel free to pause for a while and repeat the process as necessary.