Sleep Lessons Learned

Image by Noah Mugan

Insomniatic Cat, by Noah Mugan

When it comes to falling sleep, we’ve all seen the advice about not drinking caffeine after noon and not having screen time an hour before bed. In this post, I wanted to share four principles that I’ve discovered over the years that have helped me to be a little less insomniatic. Maybe they can help you.

Principle 1: Falling asleep isn’t like waiting on a train. I used to think that when you tried to go to sleep, you just waited for sleep to come, and it didn’t matter what you thought about while you were waiting. But after about 35 years (I’m a slow learner), I realized that some of my thought patterns can actively keep me awake. While I can’t always control what I think, I can run a little less enthusiastically down certain rabbit holes.

Principle 2: Trying to be comfortable is more conducive to sleep than trying to sleep. Falling asleep is stressful. Instead, I just try to be comfortable lying in bed, in the dark, with my eyes closed.

Principle 3: Being one step away reduces pressure. Another trick I use to reduce the pressure is to start my night one step away from how I sleep. I like to sleep with three pillows, but I find that if I start out with just one, it isn’t like I’m trying to fall asleep. Instead, it is more like I’m implementing Principle 2. Then, once I get comfortable, I grab the next two pillows. Similarly, one could start out with a light on or music playing.

Principle 4: Tossing and turning is surprisingly restful. This principle is the most important. I used to become stressed out when I couldn’t sleep because I kept worrying about how tired I was going to be the next day. At some point, I noticed that as long as I stay in bed and keep my eyes closed, I don’t feel terrible the next day. It must be that some amount of useful rest is happening while I toss and turn. This realization prevents me from spending anxious nights checking the clock every 40 minutes.

Thinking about sleep isn’t always helpful for sleeping. For instance, I’ve learned that I’m starting to fall asleep when I see random images and think nonsensical thoughts. Unfortunately, recognizing those nonsensical images and thoughts immediately wakes me up. On the other hand, I love how these thoughts seem to tie into the subconscious, random chaotic firings and patterns in my brain. I can almost hear phrases from the day and see the kinds of information my brain is trying to process and assimilate. But it’s like seeing a distant star; I can’t look directly at it and instead have to look just next to it. Otherwise, I become too conscious, and I’m back at Principle 1.

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3 Responses to Sleep Lessons Learned

  1. I was a chronic insomniac. Then someone once told me that when you lie down and rest you are already asleep. So you don’t have to stress about going to sleep. Changed my life.

  2. Thanks for this, I often have trouble sleeping, since childhood. Years ago I aquired a set of Guatemalan worry dolls, the idea being to tell each one a worry before trying to sleep so to allow you to not lay there thinking about them. I’ve also read advice (I think in some book or other) telling you to imagine a filing cabinet into which you file away your troubles in the knowledge that you can open it in the morning and deal with them then and still more advice that you should write them down, which is what I tend to do now. I like that I’ve taken the first step to properly dealing with them by writing them down, they can then be (and I take an inordinate amount of pleasure in this particular terminology) dissected at leisure. 😉

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