Skills for Falling Asleep

There are many ways a person could experience insomnia. It could be difficulty falling asleep at the beginning of the night, or being awake for an extended time in the middle of the night, or waking too early.
Whatever time it is, being awake in bed can often lead people to feel frustrated, angry or hopeless about their sleep. As you can imagine, these feelings do nothing to help a person fall asleep. Let’s talk about some strategies to use to help yourself fall asleep.

An ‘Over-active’ Mind
Frequently people tell me that their mind is going a mile a minute once they are awake in bed, that they have ‘buzz brain.’ In this situation, you want to establish boundaries with yourself that bedtime (from lights out to wake time) is not a time to think things through.
So first of all, schedule time 2-3 hours before bed to jot down the thoughts that arise at night, and put them to rest. Spend just 10 minutes on this, so you don’t get further entrenched in those thoughts. You can use any format that works for you – a To Do list, journal, problem and solution brainstorming list, calendar system, or any other format.
Second, if thoughts arise in the night, tell yourself that you already thought about it, and will have time tomorrow, now is time to rest. Putting your thoughts aside like this is a skill, and like all skills, you will get better the more you practice.
Follow this up with purposefully substituting thoughts that help put you to sleep. Some strategies are: a sleep promoting visualization (think dozing on the warm sand at the beach), or slow deep breaths, or repeating a prayer or mantra. For people who are also physically restless, doing progressive muscle relaxation starting with the feet can help still both the body and mind.

Concluding Thoughts
Almost everyone has difficulty sleeping occasionally, and these strategies can help quiet the mind and promote sleep. Establish with yourself that during your sleep time you are “off duty” from all types of thinking or planning. You will feel better for having a good nights sleep, and be better able to think things through well during the day.

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2 Comments on “Skills for Falling Asleep”

  1. Nancy Ulrich Says:

    Dr. Darley, I’m so glad that you mentioned progressive muscle relaxation. But for me, my feet tend to cramp up when I do this. This may happen most often to people who are on their feet all day. So I just start with my calves and work my way up. I’m usually asleep by the time I’ve gotten to my neck, where I carry most of my stress.


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