Health and Wellbeing
Falling Asleep With Greater Ease
How long did it take you to fall asleep last night? Did you fall asleep as soon as your head hit the pillow, or were you lying in bed tossing and turning for ages, unable to switch your mind off or get comfortable?
The amount of time it takes you to fall asleep is called the sleep latency and this can be an important indicator of how efficiently and well you are sleeping. A healthy sleep latency period is typically between 15 to 20 minutes. If every night you are falling asleep much quicker than this, this could be a sign that you are simply too tired. Taking too long to fall asleep – again, night after night - could be an indication that you have insomnia. Ideally, you should be able to read in bed for around 10 minutes or so without falling asleep and then start to feel relaxed and sleepy. Rather than trying to keep reading and then falling asleep with the book on your face, you want to catch this ‘sweet spot’ of sleepiness and turn the lights out. This is the perfect moment to drift off into restorative sleep.
So, what affects our ability to fall asleep easily? Here are just a few of the top reasons:
- Carrying the stresses and worries of the day into bed with you
- Eating too late and heavily
- Exercising too late
- An overly warm and stuffy bedroom
- Drinking caffeinated drinks late in the day, or smoking or drinking alcohol (yes, alcohol is also a stimulant)
- Scrolling on your phone or tablet in bed
- Falling asleep in front of the TV in the earlier part of the evening
- Having a hot bath too soon to getting into bed
- Watching the news or over-stimulating TV programmes before bedtime
- Not having a good wind down routine (don’t forget to read our previous blog about the importance of winding down and the value of having a relaxing bath)
- Napping for too long during the day and too soon to going to bed
Hopefully, this is giving you some ideas about some of the unhelpful habits that might be affecting your ability to get to sleep. And now, here are some simple but powerful techniques that you can use to help let go of the day and fall asleep with ease:
Journal your worries away
This is a simple but effective tool for helping you to let go of the stress of the day. Get a notebook and pen, set a timer for 10 minutes, put your pen on the paper and write solidly – and without thinking – about all the things that are worrying you. Aim to not lift the pen off the page. No one needs to read what you’ve written (including you) so it doesn’t have to be grammatically perfect or even make sense. This ‘stream of consciousness’ writing helps you to get all of the worries out of your head and onto the page. If you want to, you can even crumple the page into a ball and throw it away when you are finished. You are completely letting go for now so that you can get the sleep you deserve.
Write a to-do list
Going to bed feeling overwhelmed with thoughts of what you need to do the next day is a recipe for sleeplessness. Similar to the previous exercise, simply write a list of everything you think you need to do the next day. Get it onto paper so that you don’t need to ‘carry’ it in your head all night.
Research shows that feelings of gratitude can put the body into a state of safety and trust that is vital for getting good sleep. It is the opposite of going to bed with stressful, worrisome thoughts. Place one hand over your heart and one on your belly, close your eyes and think of everything that has happened in your day that you are grateful for. It could be tiny things like a smile from a stranger in the supermarket, or a nice chat with a friend. It could even be enjoying relaxing in your bath in the evening. Slowly going through your day saying ‘thank you’ is a powerful way to drift off. You can even do this as a journalling exercise before you turn your lights out. This is a powerful technique to return to if you wake up during the night too.
A powerful breathing exercise
Simply following your breathing can be an easy and effective way of getting to sleep or back to sleep. Turn your lights out, get comfortable in your bed and then place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest over your heart. Simply follow the IINNNN and OUTTT of your breathing. See if you can make your breathing soft so that you can’t hear it. Ideally, your mouth is closed, and you are breathing through your nose. You can also experiment with BOX breathing in which you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the inhale for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, hold the exhale for 4 seconds. A few rounds of this will have you asleep in no time at all.
Do you share your bed with a noisy snorer or live in a noisy area? Or, does the sound of your own thoughts keep you from falling asleep? Having a simple form of white noise in your room such as a fan can stop noise intruding and even distract you from the noise of your own thoughts.
A loving meditation
This is one of my favourite and simplest exercises that I created and have been teaching my clients for over 20 years. I sometimes use it myself when my busy mind stops me from falling asleep. Turn your lights out and get comfortable in bed. Silently repeat the following words to yourself to put yourself to sleep:
I LOVE MY LEFT FOOT
I LOVE MY LEFT BIG TOE
I LOVE MY LEFT LITTLE TOE
I LOVE ALL THE TOES OF MY LEFT FOOT
I LOVE MY LEFT ANKLE
I LOVE MY LEFT LOWER LEG
And so, you keep going up one side of the body until you end up on the top of your head and then down the right side of your body until you end up with ‘I LOVE MY RIGHT FOOT.’
You make it up as you go along, and you can even have some fun with it! You will start to fall asleep (especially as it’s not the most exciting exercise). The important thing is that as soon as you lose your train of thought, you go back to the starting point I LOVE MY LEFT FOOT. Go back to this starting point every time you start falling asleep and lose your train of thought.
Repeating these words simply gives your brain something to think about while boringly – but lovingly – putting you to sleep. It’s almost a form of self-hypnosis.
And finally, a little note for those of you who might be overly measuring your sleep data and getting worried about how long it is taking you to fall asleep…
If you are measuring your sleep using a wearable device such as a Garmin or Fitbit or even just clock watching, you can sometimes gather information that is not helpful or even accurate. In fact, it could just fuel your anxiety making your sleep issues even worse – a disorder called orthosomnia. The fact is, we all experience nights when we don’t sleep so well - this is normal. What might be more helpful is to pay attention to how you feel in the morning – are you waking up feeling energised or exhausted? This is probably the best indicator of how you are sleeping.