I normally sleep very well, and if I don’t get enough sleep it is usually by choice, because something else seems more interesting or important. But there are times when I have trouble falling asleep as well. (Although that too is usually self-afflicted, through not having questioned beliefs coming up for me, resisting experience, lack of physical activity, and so on.)
So here is a list of what I find helpful, which includes some of the excellent conventional advice on the subject.
While in bed.
- Use ear plugs. Even if it is quiet, I find this helps finding even more stillness, auditory and of the mind.
- Bring attention to sensations of the body, either the whole or one particular area. In a relaxed way, allow the mind to be interested in the sensations of the body, gently bringing it back when it lives its own life and temporarily goes somewhere else.
- Allow thoughts to come and go on their own, as guests, living their own life. No need to go on the inside of them. No need to fuel them. This becomes easier with practice, including different forms of formal stability and insight practices. (Stability of attention, which helps quiet the mind. And the insight of seeing a thought as just a thought.)
- Allow experience, whatever it may be. Can I be with what I am experiencing right now? Invite in a full allowing of the experience, in a wholehearted, heartfelt way, whatever the content of experience happens to be. This one can be especially helpful if there is some discomfort or stress.
- Explore the sense fields. Bring attention to what appears in each sense field, one at a time.
- Find enjoyment in just lying in bed relaxing for a while. This gives many of the same benefits as sleep anyway.
- If sleep doesn’t come in a while, find some enjoyable or useful use of the time. Inquire into beliefs. Do different forms of stability or insight practices. Listen do an audio book or a talk.
- I used to do this one, but haven’t in a while: Right after going to bed, go through the day’s events, as watching a movie, in segments starting with the most recent ones, w/out going into evaluations (from neutrality). This helps the mind process the ordinary stuff and feel more complete with it. Neutrality is the key here. (No need to fuel evaluations, what I could have done differently, and so on.)
During the day before going to bed.
- Create a quiet, clean, comfortable sleeping environment.
- Physical exercise. Engage in enough vigorous physical activity – not too close to bedtime – to get that nice, relaxed physical tiredness feel. This one works very well for me. (Sex works great too.)
- Take a nap during the day. If we easily fall asleep while taking a nap, but not at bedtime, it can help us notice some of the differences. Is it easier to fall asleep if I don’t have much expectations about it? How can I bring that to my night?
- Eat well. Eat nurturing meals of whole and less processed foods, and not too close to bedtime. I find that processed foods, especially those with additives and sugars, does funny things with my body that makes it more difficult to fall asleep. (Or sometimes gives a comatose like sleep which doesn’t feel that nurturing.) I also usually have my main meal in the early afternoon, when the body needs the energy, and a lighter meal in the evening when it doesn’t.
- Some time before bedtime, eat smaller amounts of food that is sleep inducing, such as fish. Drink herbal teas that does the same, such as chamomile.
- Slow down activities before bedtime, both physical and mental. Avoid movies and news that gets the mind going.
- Do something nurturing before going to sleep. Nurturing conversations, nurturing company (including an animal), a good book, nice cup of (non-caffeine) tea, some relaxing yoga, receive a brief massage. (Breema is great, either giving or receiving a brief bodywork session, or Self-Breema.)
During the day, if I am tired or exhausted.
- During the day, if you feel tired from lack of sleep, notice how you relate to the tiredness or exhaustion. Is it a problem? An enemy? Something you want to go away? What happens if you fully allow the experience? Befriend it? In what ways does it help you? Does it invite in relaxation, stillness, calmness? How does it support you? (I find this one very helpful as well, especially when I use my Breema principles in relating to exhaustion.)
- Inquire into stressful beliefs, especially those who may keep me awake at night, and find what is already more true for me. (The stress comes from holding onto stories that, somewhere, I know are not true, and also from their friction with reality.) This includes stories about sleep itself. I have to get a good nights sleep. I won’t function without enough sleep. And so on. Is it true?
- Exploring tiredness and exhaustion through the sense fields. Notice how thoughts combine with the others to create gestalts. Explore what tiredness or sleepiness is. What is it, in my own immediate experience? Is it just a sensation combined with a thought? When I see that, the gestalt falls away and only sensation remains. My body still needs and will benefit from sleep, but my identity is not caught up in the exhaustion.
- Explore the difference between who and what we are, through for instance headless experiments. This one can also be especially useful during the day, if we feel tired or exhausted. As that which this human self, its tiredness, and all content of experience happens within, I am clear, awake, untouched by it. I find myself with one foot in awakeness, and one foot in this human self, which may or may not be tired.
And finally, as any tool, these only work if we actually use them. If you don’t, see that you choose to stay awake, and explore how to find peace with it, or even enjoyment in it. (As I often do.)
So we can do simple practical things during the day or before bedtime, such as exercise, nurturing meals, slowing down, eating some sleep inducing foods later in the day, having a quiet, comfortable sleep environment.
We can do things while in bed, such as allowing experience, avoid fueling stories, see thoughts as thoughts, bringing attention to the sensations of the body, exploring the sense fields, and so on.
We can make use of the time if we don’t fall asleep, such as reading a good book, doing the practices mentioned above, inquire into stressful beliefs, and so on.
And if we get tired or exhausted during the day, we can explore our relationship with these symptoms. What happens if I resist them? If I allow them? How do they support me?