I’ve never been a good sleeper. Even as a young child I struggled falling asleep. Until this day I can’t take naps and I can only sleep when lying down. And even then I struggle. For me this is caused by my autism, which caused a melatonin deficiency. Melatonin is the substance your body produces when you’re going to bed. It tells your brain you’re going to sleep. My body doesn’t produce enough of it, so when I don’t take my melatonin pills it takes me up to two hours to fall asleep. Even with the medication it often takes an hour, and I’ve had countless of sleepless nights. But I learned a lot from those nights, and I want to tell you what I’ve learned.
1. Don’t look at your phone
Now, I’m not gonna tell you not to use your phone an hour before you go to bed, because most people do this anyway. What I mean by this is that if you can’t seem to fall asleep you shouldn’t look at your phone again. By doing this you expose your eyes to light, which will only wake you up more. Also, if you’re going to tweet or message people, your brain goes from its resting state to having to do things that require focus. So once again you’re activating yourself more. So if you can’t fall asleep, don’t look at your phone.
2. Don’t look at the time
This trick I learned from my parents. Often when you can’t sleep during the week, you’re gonna look at the time and think “Oh crap, I have to get up in 5 hours!”. If you do this you’re gonna stress yourself out, and what happens when you’re stressed? Right, you’re more alert. So turn your alarm clock the other way so you can’t look at it. Just try not to think about the time.
3. Get up briefly
If you’ve been in bed for an hour and stil feel wide awake, get up for a minute. Go to the toilet (only use minimal lighting in the bathroom), drink a bit of water, go watch the stars briefly, and lie back down. I’ve found that after I’ve gotten up I fall asleep not long after. I’m not sure why, but I think it kind of pulls you out of that “I gotta sleep I gotta sleep I gotta sleep” mindset and sort of resets it for you. Kind of like a second attempt. A fresh start.
4. Exhaust your mind
Apart from a melatonin deficiency, I also have ADHD. This causes my mind to be extremely active all the time and sometimes my body as well. Often I can’t sleep because my head is so full and active. My thoughts go rapidly and I can’t seem to clear my head. So over the years I developed techniques to exhaust my mind a little. The one I used most when I was younger was to read (with dim lights). By reading I had to focus on something. Eventually I would quit when I found that I could barely focus on the words anymore. After that I usually fell asleep within half an hour.
The second trick, and my most used one to date, is to count backwards from 100 while lying in bed. When doing this you ask your mind to focus on the counting. I do this slowly and usually the beginning is easy. It’s when I get to 40 that I really have to try very hard to focus. I always make sure to make it to 0. If it went really easily I repeat it as much as necessary. Usually this calms my mind and I fall asleep about twenty minutes later. I think the most important part here is to find something to focus on. Sometimes I make myself focus on my breathing. You just need to distract your mind from your thoughts.
5. Check your breathing
I just said that sometimes I focus on my breathing as a distraction, but what I’m actually doing it applying meditation techniques. This helps you relax. Breathe through your stomach (so to say, just make sure your stomach rises and falls and not your chest) and focus on that. Focus purely on breathing calmly. If you can’t sleep because you’re stressed about something, this will help you feel more relaxed. But in any case it’s a good thing to do.
Do you have any tips? Comment them below!