The Sleep Guide Part 3: How to Fall Asleep Quickly and Stay Asleep Longer

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This is Part 3 of SamaCare's Sleep Guide. In Part 1, we discussed how to perfect your sleep environment, and in Part 2, how to cultivate a great pre-sleep routine.

You’ve perfected your sleep environment, you’ve nailed the ideal pre-bedtime routine, so what could possibly be next? Drumroll please…

Actually falling asleep!

In some ways, this is the most challenging to master, because it’s not directly in your control. Unlike changing your bedroom, or changing what you do before bed, you can’t fully determine how quickly you fall asleep; for better or worse, your brain has to turn itself off. That can be challenging, given what some people call our “monkey mind” – our brain, leaping from one thought to another like a monkey swinging on the branches of a tree. However, the suggestions from Part 1 and Part 2 can grease the wheels, and you can use the techniques we outline below once you’re in bed to fall asleep quickly and deeply.

Techniques to try once you’re in bed:

·      Progressive Muscle Relaxation: this involves tensing and then relaxing each muscle of the body. Start with the muscles in your feet, then gradually work your way up your legs, abdomen, arms, shoulders, neck, and even the muscles in your face. If you want to learn more, check out our Chronic Pain Program, where we go into more detail about Progressive Muscle Relaxation and the next two techniques, Diaphragmatic Breathing and Visual Imagery.

·      Diaphragmatic Breathing: your diaphragm is the muscle underneath your ribcage above your abdomen. We often breath with our chests, rather than our diaphragm, which means we get less oxygen into our lungs. Focus on slow deep breaths that push out more with your stomach instead of your chest – this will open up your lungs and slow down your heart rate.

·      Visual Imagery: pick a set of mental images and sensations that you associate with a feeling of calm, like a scene in a forest, beach, or mountain. Focus on the sites, smells, sounds, and feelings of the place.

·      Cognitive Reshuffling: the purpose of this technique is to get your brain forming random images that facilitate dreaming, as outlined in this article. First, pick a word that has more than four letters. Using the first letter of that word, imagine other words that start with the same letter. If you can’t think of any other words with that first letter, move to the next letter of the chosen word and repeat. The inventor of this technique has also created a mobile app to make this process easier.

What if you’re still not falling asleep? Here are some ideas to help troubleshoot:

·      If you find yourself in bed for more than 15 minutes, leave your bedroom and let your mind race in a chair in another room in your home until you start to feel sleepy.  You might find a non-stimulating book or gentle music also helps. Make sure not to turn to activities that involve screens – e.g., a TV, computer, or smartphone – as those can stimulate you more.

·      If you have a lot on your mind, try writing out a list of things you need to think about and commit to coming back to that list the next day.

·      Remind yourself that getting less sleep in one night is not going to be the end of the world. You can make it up by sleeping a bit extra on another night.

At times when we have trouble sleeping, we can get frustrated by a feeling of lacking control of the situation, which can in turn make it harder to fall asleep. The point of this Sleep Guide is to illustrate that you do have some control. Use these strategies to fall asleep quickly, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling more refreshed.

Have you found any strategies that help you fall asleep and stay asleep? Please share those in the comments!

 

Sources:

Kotz, D. (2010, August 04). Sleep Deprived? Here's How to Recover. Retrieved July 24, 2017, from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/managing-your-healthcare/sleep/articles/2010/08/04/sleep-deprived-heres-how-to-recover

MacLellan, L. (2017, May 07). A cognitive scientist has devised a drug-free sleep trick for your restless mind. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://qz.com/977182/a-cognitive-scientist-has-devised-a-drug-free-sleep-trick-for-your-restless-mind/

Swedish Medical Center. Importance of Sleep When Living with Chronic Pain. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2017, from http://www.swedish.org/services/pain-services/pain-management-guide/sleep-and-pain