How to Fall Asleep Even if You Can’t Stop Thinking

I was chatting to one of my friends a couple of days ago who was having a little trouble sleeping, and it got me thinking that there’s probably a few other people with the exact same issue right now. 

Being unable to sleep is something that affects all of us from time to time. Luckily, there are some very simple steps anyone can take to maximize your chances of having an amazing night’s sleep. All you have to do is change around how you do a few things during the day, learn a couple of easy tools, and apply a simple process after you go to bed to send yourself to sleep. In this article, I’ll cover exactly what to do and how to do it.

Once you appreciate how sleep works, it can be easy to send either yourself or someone else to sleep.

How to shape your day for an amazing sleep

If we want to have a good night’s sleep, there are a handful of things we need to deal with. We’ll cover the physical side first, because for a lot of people, this is the easiest step.

The truth is that when our bodies and minds are tired and are working well, sleep becomes almost effortless. So if we want to have a good night’s sleep, the first step is to do what we can to make this happen.

We Tend to Sleep Better When We’re Fit

First up, it’s very well known that when we are fit, we sleep better. What’s less well known is just how little exercise is necessary. Did you know that even just walking around the house and doing the chores you have to do anyway counts as exercise? 

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A while back, some psychologists ran an experiment in which they did nothing more than tell a group of cleaners at a hotel that cleaning was a form of exercise. When they measured the results against a control group, it was discovered that the group of cleaners who had been told that their job counted as exercise were measurably fitter than the control group.

And nothing was different between the two groups except that one group believed the cleaning was exercise. Naturally, this belief was helped along by the fact that it happens to be true. But even so, just setting that frame can help you to become fitter.

So your first task if you want to have an amazing night of sleep is to spend a few moments going through your days in your mind’s eye, and notice what tasks you are doing that could count as exercise. As a hint, it’s anything where you move. Even if it’s just fetching yourself a cup of coffee from the kitchen.

Take a few moments to run through your day in your mind’s eye, and notice when you move. Realize that this is a form of exercise, regardless of how tiny it might seem.

When We Go to Bed, We’re Reminded of Everything We’ve Ever Done There

Next, did you know that your brain associates stuff with other stuff all the time?

In hypnosis, we refer to this process of association as anchoring.

And it has an interesting consequence. You see, when we do something in a specific location, our brain automatically attaches that location to the something that we’re doing.

Which means that the next time we find ourselves in that location, we are much more likely to remember that specific thing we did there.

If we always read the news on our phone each time we get into bed, our brain will attach everything around that to the process of getting into bed. And each time we do this, the effect is magnified.

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The end result of this is that when we do things in bed that are not absolutely required to be in bed, we start to build the habit of unconsciously thinking about those things when we go to bed.

With reading the news on our phone, this can have dire consequences for sleep, since even if we don’t look at it on one particular night, we still have a vast store of previous news articles in our head for us to think about.

Right when we want to sleep.

Use Your Bed Only For Things That Must Be Done In Bed

So what can we do about it? The answer is surprisingly simple: Do your very best to only carry out sleep-related activities in bed. Do not read your device. Do not read books. Don’t plan the next day.

Now I appreciate that sometimes these things just happen. The important thing is to be aware of exactly what it does to your brain when you do those things, and limit them enough that you have an amazing night of sleep.

At first, you might find it’s easiest to cut all non-sleep activities out from the bed completely, then when you’re sleeping well every night, experiment a little to discover what you can get away with without impacting your sleep too much.

Reserve your bed solely for those things that have to happen in bed, to the greatest extent you can manage.

Go to Bed and Get Up at The Same Time Every Day

And third, it’s extremely important to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

If you’re like most people these days, you’ve probably traveled between timezones and experienced at least a little jetlag. This is where our internal clock becomes slightly desynchronized with the daylight outside, and we feel poorly rested until we recover. Typically this takes a few days.

For a little longer than a decade I worked for corporations, and every week many of my co-workers at those corporations would look forward to getting to sleep-in at the weekend. They would also be perpetually exhausted. 

When we decide to sleep-in at the weekend, we are effectively guaranteeing that we will have jetlag on our next workday. It takes a few days for jetlag to clear, so if we do this, we are virtually guaranteeing that we will not be well rested for most of our working week.

Decide what time you will go to bed and what time you will get up, and stick to it, regardless of whether it is a workday, a weekend, or even a vacation.

Think about it logically for a moment. In practical terms, if we have nothing we have to do at a set time, it makes no difference at all to our day whether we wake up when the sun comes up, or three hours later. So long as we are consistent and get enough sleep, we will generally feel well rested. 

How food and drink affect our sleep

Just as the way we arrange our days can have a massive effect on the quality of our sleep, so too can the things we consume.

Caffeine And Alcohol Are Bad For Sleep

It’s very well known that caffeine inhibits sleep. That’s kinda what it’s for. What’s less well known is that alcohol can do the same thing. Not only that, but both alcohol and caffeine can cause us to have a more restless sleep.

If you want to have a good night’s sleep, limit the amount of alcohol, coffee, and other caffeinated beverages that you consume throughout the day.

No surprise here… coffee and alcohol mess up our sleep.

Many Herbal Teas Can Help With Sleep

When you look around the supermarket, you will notice that in the tea section, there are a number of herbal teas that claim to do things like help you to relax and help you to sleep better. If you are not already familiar with these, it is worthwhile experimenting with them in place of your late night alcohol or coffee to discover what happens.

Did you know that when we eat or drink, our blood sugar spikes and we are temporarily more alert? Depending on what we eat, this effect can last for a few hours, so if you want to have a good night’s sleep, it tends to be a good idea to not eat or drink anything too close to bedtime.

How close is too close? As with the other things we’ve talked about so far, the way you find that out is through experimentation. Once again, if you’re having trouble sleeping, start out by not eating or drinking anything after dinner, and then once you are sleeping soundly every night, add things back in, only if you want to, and notice what happens.

Why it’s important to avoid naps and what to do in their place

Over the years I’ve talked to more than a few people who are constantly tired. And because they are constantly tired, they decide to have naps throughout the day. Sometimes it will be just 15 minutes here and there, other times a full 90 minute sleep cycle.

Naturally, when they do this, they then report that they can’t sleep at night, and this confuses them because they’re always tired.

Naps Trick Our Brain Into Thinking We’re Rested When We’re Not

I’m sure you can see where this is going, right? If you find yourself tired during the day, do everything within your power to get to your regular going-to-bed time without sleeping or napping first.

When we take naps, our brains and bodies rest for a while, which means that we’re less likely to sleep. That is literally the purpose of the nap. So it should come as no surprise that when we take a nap, we are intentionally messing up our ability to sleep later.

As luck would have it, there is something you can do in place of napping if you really need to.

Use Micro-MindfulNess Instead of Napping

Find something you can focus all of your attention on for a few brief moments. It can be anything at all. Maybe you’ll pay attention to the way water sloshes around in a glass when you jiggle it. Or perhaps you’ll allow yourself to listen intently to all the sounds around you, identifying each of them. You might even move your hand over a surface and notice the textures.

Only for a few moments at a time.

I refer to this as micro-mindfulness, and when you do it, you are teaching your mind how to be fully in the moment, which is important not only for the process we’ll go over shortly for getting to sleep, but also for lucid dreaming in case you want something to do while you’re sleeping.

Practice micro-mindfulness for a few moments in place of taking a nap.

Not only that, but as an added bonus, for most people it is a slightly different activity to whatever you usually do, so you’ll generally feel a bit more rested after doing it even though you aren’t. Which means that you get the benefit of feeling rested without the cost of ruining your sleep.

Micro-mindfulness is so powerful that it can even be used to expand your mind outwards and become one with the entire universe.

How to send yourself to sleep

Now we have all the building blocks in place and we know exactly what to do and what not to do throughout our days in order to have the best possible chance of sleeping.

And you know what?

We do all that stuff, and we find that we still can’t sleep!

Everything I’ve said so far is common sense.

It was important that I mention it, and it is important that you do all of it, because that sets you up for the best possible chance of having an amazing sleep. But you’re probably already doing most of it.

What you’re probably not doing is organizing the last part of the day in such a way that it virtually guarantees a good night of sleep. At least, so long as you’ve done all the things we’ve just talked about.

So how do we do that?

How to Prepare for Sleep

First, let’s go over a couple of problems that people typically have. We’ve already mentioned not doing things like using our phones in bed. And we can go further than that. Because we both know that it’s not enough to simply not use your phone. We’ll still end up with all those unwanted thoughts running around in circles keeping us awake. And sometimes they’re wanted thoughts. Just at an inconvenient time.

What’s needed is a tiny bit of understanding about how minds work, and a plan.

And the plan has only a very few steps. For our purposes here, all you need to know about minds is that we can only hold on to 4 things at once, and that any emotional state we are in can only persist for less than 2 minutes unless we do something to keep it going.

Our minds can only think about 4 things at once. And any emotional state can only persist for less than 2 minutes, so long as we don’t do things to keep it going.

So without further ado, if you want to have an amazing sleep, follow these steps.

Get Everything That’s Not Sleep Out of The Way

First, do all the pre-bed activities you would normally do. Brushing your teeth and anything else. If you normally shower right before bed, do this in the step below where you unwind.

Next, before you go to bed, take a few moments to write out on a sheet of paper or in a diary whatever is running through your mind. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just write it all out. When you do this, it gives your mind permission to stop thinking about those thoughts for a while, because it knows that they’ve been stored somewhere safe where they won’t be forgotten.

Then, take a few moments to unwind. You can do this in any way you might choose, so long as it works for you.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned how you can use micro-mindfulness to build your ability to be fully in the moment, and you can use this here.

All you have to do is focus on your breathing. Choose just one part of it. Maybe the way your shoulders rise and fall. Or the way your ears move. Or the sensation against the back of your throat as you breathe in and breathe out. It doesn’t much matter which part you choose. Focus on that for just 2 minutes, and notice how much more relaxed you’re feeling now.

Once you’ve offloaded your thoughts onto paper, and you’ve calmed whatever state you were in right down by focusing on your breathing, it’s time to go to bed.

Go to Bed With A Clear Mind

Climb into bed, close your eyes, and think of something pleasant. It’s a good idea if this is something you’d like to dream about. If you’re into lucid dreaming, this is your dream planning phase.

Shape Your Dreams With Intention

Get a real sense of whatever that thing that you’d like to dream about is like. Bring up the images in your mind’s eye and see them as clearly as you can. Focus on all the details. Notice the colors and the textures and the sounds and the smells.

Be curious.

I know this probably sounds like a lot of work, and it’s exactly the kind of work that’s going to send you to sleep. When you put enough detail into this, you consume all of those 4 things you can think about at once, quite literally forcing any remaining thoughts from your mind.

Decide that you’re going to have that dream tonight.

Count Down to Sleep

Count down from 100 to 0. Sooner or later you will lose track of the numbers, and when you do, allow your thoughts to drift back to that pleasant dream you planned. And if you get to 0, just start again. I’ve never known this to take more than 2 cycles, even on the most stressful of days.

You can also use any other form of self-hypnosis that you might prefer.

And allow yourself to drift into that wonderful, blissful dream.

That’s really all there is to it.

When I do this, I find that I enter into sleep very quickly and have amazing dreams.

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If you need extra help overcoming insomnia so that you can sleep, please feel free to book an online session with me.

In your session, we’ll go through what’s been keeping you from sleeping, and we’ll put together a plan designed to help you to overcome it.

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