If you have trouble sleeping, how to fall asleep can become something can think about constantly. Falling asleep fast can seem like a distant dream when you toss and turn for an hour or more before you can fall asleep. You may have even had nights when you can’t fall asleep at all! After months or years of this, insomnia is no longer just one of a growing epidemic of sleep disorders; it’s something you experience night after night.
It just doesn’t make sense. You’re tired. Fatigued, You want and need to sleep. You may even be doing some or all of the right things, like practicing good sleep hygiene as suggested by your doctor or psychologist or the last magazine article or internet search you did. You have a regular bedtime routine. You switch off your phone or computer at least an hour before bed. You drink a cup of warm milk and honey or camomile tea or you have a prescription for melatonin. And sure, you get sleepy, often on the couch while you’re watching TV or in the late afternoon when you’re supposed to be concentrating at work. But the minute you hit the bed . . . zing! You’re awake!
Ironically, the harder you try to fall asleep, the more elusive sleep becomes. This is because sleep is the opposite of our doing, awake state. Sleep is a state of being rather than an event or an achievement. Sleep comes when we set up the right conditions and then stop trying!
Have you heard of the sleep/wake system? Triggered by light and stimulated by cortisol, our wake system is why we are naturally awake and alert during the day. There is a lull in the wake system mid afternoon, as if the curtains part to reveal how much sleep we need to catch up on. This is a great time to take a nap but unfortunately in our culture it’s more acceptable to wake ourselves up with coffee or sugary snacks. As sunlight wanes and darkness takes over, in the natural world this would cue our sleep system to take over. That’s why we get sleepy earlier when camping or when the power fails: our body’s natural systems are functioning as they should be.
Problems arise when we overstimulate our wake system and prevent the sleep system from taking over. Contributing to this are many parts of our modern lifestyle: caffeine and other stimulant drugs; the “blue” light of fluorescent lights, computer screens, television, phones; stressful thoughts or experiences (which result in higher cortisol levels); working, partying or exercising late at night.
Rather than trying to fall asleep, learning to “switch off” at night—literally and figuratively —is what we need to aim for. Switching off means turning off the computer, television and phone. Yes, there are programs you can get to filter the blue light of your screen. These can help, but it’s also important to disconnect our mind and body from the busyness of our lives.
To set the stage for good sleep, imagine you have a dimmer switch that you need to turn down an hour (or even better, two hours) before you want to fall asleep. Create an evening routine that is relaxing for your body and calming for your mind. A walk, gentle yoga, soft music, a warm bath or massage, reading or listening to a not very exciting book, whatever you find relaxing.
In my sleep coaching practice, I train people in special meditation-like techniques called The Sounder Sleep System. When combined with good sleep hygiene, sleep coaching to keep you on track, and a personalised program that works for you, The Sounder Sleep System relaxation techniques are like a secret weapon to help you fall asleep fast and fall back to sleep if you awaken. They also help you to reduce your stress levels during the day so that you can fall asleep more easily at night.
Once you have these tools and skills you will easily be able to quiet your busy mind and relax your body. If our mind is calm, and our body relaxed, then if we need sleep, sleep will come.
Rather than trying to fall asleep, training yourself to relax , as well developing good sleep habits, is the key to being able to fall asleep, and will mark the end of asking how to fall asleep and why can't I sleep.
We all need 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night in order to get the most out of our health and our lives. Learning to sleep better is possible for everyone, and sleeping well again is its own reward.
For a telephone or video sleep consultation to help you get on the path to better sleep, fill out the contact form or email [email protected].