Not being able to fall asleep is a really common experience. It can happen at the beginning of the night, during the middle of the night, or even at nap time. Here’s my no-nonsense guide on how to expedite the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep.
The first important thing to understand is that if the mind is tired, it will naturally fall asleep once it’s sufficiently relaxed.
So how to get the mind sufficiently relaxed?
At the core, the mind is relaxed when it doesn’t want anything.
When it doesn’t want to to think more thoughts about work/lovers/friends/kids/future, when it doesn’t want to be more comfortable, or, most importantly, when it doesn’t even want to fall asleep.
Let’s zoom-in on that last one.
Often, people lie down and they really want to fall asleep. The wanting itself has a tense feel to it. It’s very serious and goal-oriented. In turn, if five minutes or an hour passes and they’re still awake, they easily become frustrated or irritable. These mental states are definitely not mental relaxation, and instead keep people up even longer.
So here’s what I do to get sufficiently relaxed for sleep to happen all-by-itself.
When I lie down in bed, instead of trying to fall asleep, I practice lying down meditation.
This involves a huge perspective shift.
I actually get excited when I can’t fall asleep, because this means I get to log more minutes of meditation! If I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m wide awake, my first thought is, “sweet! Now I get to do some lying down meditation!”
If the thought comes up, “oh man, I have to be up early tomorrow, I better get to sleep soon,” I remind myself that meditating is nearly as restful as sleeping (it’s true!). And I just keep meditating.
The “life hack” here is that because I’ve stopped wanting to fall asleep, my mind gets pretty relaxed, and I actually fall asleep rather quickly.
Although, sometimes I don’t, and I get in a good hour or two of lying down meditation—bonus!
How exactly to do lying down meditation?
Personally, I like to start by feeling every ounce of my body sinking & relaxing into the mattress. I totally release everything—my muscles, my tensions, my thoughts, my emotions, my whole world.
Often times, I maintain a loose awareness of sound and body. Other times, I just do more of a global “letting go” practice, and open to the flow of whatever is there.
Most importantly, whenever I notice wanting-something, I release more deeply.
Of course, you can do any meditation practice you like, but I generally recommend something gentler and low effort. Stay away from mantras, visualizations and intense breathing practices—these can often amp the mind up instead of calming it down.
In summary, you don’t actually do falling asleep. Rather, falling asleep happens when your mind is sufficiently relaxed.
One good way to arrive there is goal-less lying down meditation, where you are actually enthused to just meditate, for however long you are lying there!
2 thoughts on “What To Do When You Can’t Fall Asleep”
Great advise David! I love meditation and to look at sleeplessness as an opportunity to meditate until you naturally fall asleep is brilliant. I now won’t be frustrated when I wake up at 3am and see it as a gift.
Hey D’Alene, that’s awesome you found this post useful! It’s such a small shift to make, seeing sleeplessness as an opportunity to meditate, but it can make a big difference. Soooo, may you have many sleepless nights, haha!