So you press play on Bridgerton season 1 episode 1, and five “next-episode-starting-in-15 seconds-later”, you’re wide awake and it’s 3 am. Or maybe you’re nervous about an upcoming exam and can’t sleep, or you’re scared of a horror movie you saw two weeks ago. Maybe this is your only sleepless night, or maybe all your nights are plagued by varying degrees of tossing and turning. No matter. This guide is not for resetting your sleep pattern, or learning how to regularly get 7 to 9 hours; it’s a quick and dirty set of tricks to get to sleep when nothing else is working. It is certainly not a one size fits all kind of thing, but I suggest giving everything a shot or two before swearing off my advice*.
The guide is organized in order of most to least feasible on a last minute basis.
*see note at end of article
One: The Starfish
This is my number one trick to getting to bed. It takes lots of focus and commitment, but is do-able pretty much anywhere you can lie down. The basic method comes from the savasana pose in yoga. Lie on your back, and just like a starfish spread your arms and legs out a bit, not so you’re stretching them or anything. Try turning your palms out and relaxing them, then relax your knees, feet, and back, pressing yourself very gently into the bed (or couch, floor, campground, whatever). While you are doing this, slowly breathe in and out through your nose, ideally puffing your stomach up when you inhale, not sucking in. Now you are savasana-ing.
You should look something like this, but feel free to use a pillow, and try to relax your hands more than she is doing:
Now the next part of the starfish is key, especially if you need to quiet a buzzing mind. It’s essentially the more grown up version of counting sheep. As you are breathing deeply, start counting backwards from 1000. Do not count too fast, and though it takes a good deal of discipline, don’t do anything but count. If you lose your place in counting and your mind starts to race again, start back at the top.
Now please note: the most critical part of this method is to lie still, breathe, and distract your mind by counting. If you prefer to lie in some other position, feel free to, just as long as you commit to lying very still and breathing deeply. If you want help finding a comfy position, consider how you are positioned when you last woke up and took forever to get out of bed, and try lying like that. I personally always wake up with the blanket pulled all the way up to my chin, but never considered going to sleep like that, and when I tried I was surprised at how much it relaxed me!
This one is pretty basic. Masturbation (especially to completion) is a great way to relax your muscles and mind! It’s best to stay very low tech, not use any screens, and keep the lights off, and make sure you don’t get too overheated –– i.e. this does require the very hard work of only using your imagination (and any on hand instruments you can operate in the dark).
P.S If you suffer from shame around this activity, try reminding yourself it is for your health and your sleep! And it is very commonly practiced by everybody, not just by cis men! If you have deep religious objections, or are having trouble getting turned on, no worry now, just slide on down to my next tip.
Three: Actually get up and do some yoga
There’s nothing I hate more than when I’m at a low point and some happy, high functioning individual tells me that the key to happiness is to go outside and exercise, or at the very least try some yoga and meditation. So let me be clear that is not how I am trying to sound. This method only works for me 50% of the time or so, and often works best followed by another method, such as #1. Basically, get up and strike some very mellow yoga poses, holding each position for as long as you like, and skipping over any you feel unsure about, or that you find too strenuous. I highly recommend the bunny yoga flow found here [cw: shows calories burned by this yoga sequence]. Don’t worry about doing it right at all! In fact some nights I literally just get on top of my covers and do the child’s pose and call it yoga. Still, getting up and doing multiple poses/a full sequence might help distract your mind and tire out your body. Like with all of these methods, I encourage you to keep the lights off and screen usage minimal.
Four: Shut the World Up
Sometimes the silence really is deafening. Putting on some light background noise can really help you fall asleep. You can easily find a free app or youtube playlist to play some classic white noise. If that doesn’t work for you try instrumental music, studying playlists, Hogwarts ASMR, or any sounds that bore you to death. Consider investing in a white noise machine if this method works!
…And then other times the neighbor’s (or heaven forbid roomates’) party/sex/screaming match is always deafening. If that’s the case, you’ll have to have blaring speaker capabilities, or headphones. You could also try stuffing your ears with some toilet paper for makeshift ear plugs if you dislike loud noise.
Also, for the record, you can try asking any noise makers to pipe it down a little– in more polite terms of course. Though that isn’t the focus of this section because, as any good therapist will tell ya (and, too, so shall I), you can’t control what others do, you can only control how you respond.
Five: Embrace the Cold and The Dark
The thing about night is that it’s darker and colder than the day, but the thing about the modern world is that it allows us to pretend that the night isn’t that dark or cold. So you might have to do a little work to remember it actually is night, try tricking your body into remembering that and it just might trick you into sleep!
So how do you get cold without getting too cold? Turn the heat down/off, wear lighter/no PJs, wet your hair, take off a blanket, turn on a fan. But make sure you’re not freezing (shivering probably suggests you’ve gone a little too far)! Turning the heat off or having a fan is probably the best method, even in winter, because your external environment is cool as a cucumber but you can then get cozy under blankets.
Creating darkness means the obvious, turning off lights and computer/phone screens, but also unless you’re living on a farm on an island miles away from any population center or in a windowless room there’s likely some serious light pollution. I find that covering your eyes with a sleep mask, as dorky or London Tipton-esque as it can look, is the best method for blocking out light (again because it’s you controlling the one thing you can, instead of your larger surroundings). If you don’t have a sleep mask, you can improvise by tying a long dark shirt or towel loosely around your eyes. Once in a particularly needy moment I covered my eyes from a broken street lamp by wearing a stretched out black sports bra around my head. Whatever works works!
Six: Over the Counter Sleep Aids (a last resort)
I put this item last on the list for a few reasons, but please note there’s no shame in knocking down a sleep aid if you are really truly desperate. My top choices are Advil P, Benadryl, and melatonin for a more mellow issue, and Zquil for a really seriously desperate situation. Now this method comes with many caveats; the first being that I am writing this article assuming you have googled how to fall asleep right now, and you may very well not be in possession of any such medications. Another caveat is that if you have to be up by a certain time in the morning, it may be daunting to take a pill that might leave you drowsy. If this is the case I recommend melatonin or masturbation (which causes an increase in naturally occurring chemicals that chill you and zonk you out, so yes I suppose masturbation is a kind of sleep medicine in my book).
The most important caveat, though, is that you do not become a repeat user of this method. You do not want to develop a dependence on sleep aids (I have on more than one occasion developed a rather terrible benadryl tolerance), especially without discussing their repeated use with a doctor or two. I suggest this only as a last minute, once in a while kind of measure. If you want to consider using sleep meds, please consult a trusted physician or psychiatrist.
Alright, there you have a list of things to try! Even though I got pretty painfully detailed there, you can feel free to only loosely follow my advice, taking what works for you and leaving the rest on the page! My most important piece of advice is my first: to lie still! And finally, if you can’t get to sleep because of some highly persistent anxiety or insomnia, at least settle on lying down awake and resting your eyes. A little rest is nothing compared to a full night’s sleep, but is world’s better than staying up and active all night*.
*Please note that this guide doesn’t apply very well to hypomanic or manic episodes. If you find yourself completely energized or jumping off the walls after sleepless or mainly sleep-lacking nights, it’s best to consult a physician/psychiatrist/trained professional.