One of the most common complaints I hear from my students is that they regularly nod off whilst meditating. These poor souls worry that if they fall asleep then they won’t get the full benefits of their practice.
This is what I call a high quality problem. In fact, if you have difficulty falling asleep then this is probably the kind of problem you want.
Falling asleep with such ease is a dream for many people. And it often remains a dream — even after much desperate Googling — because much of the advice you’re likely to find online only makes matters worse.
Perhaps you’ve spent thousands of dollars on a fancy mattress, special pills and supplements or white noise machines. Maybe you’ve restricted your evening coffee intake and followed a regimen of onerous ‘sleep hygiene’ rules — all to no avail.
Or perhaps you find yourself medicated to the eyeballs — but still unable to function properly during the day.
Thankfully, there are simple things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep. They may not provide instantaneous results, but they do work, and once you’re familiar with them you’ll know what needs to be done for sleep to come.
However, there’s an important caveat:
To fall asleep quickly, you MUST be sleepy.
That might seem ludicrously obvious, but poor sleepers often ignore this simple but essential fact.
Worrying that they didn’t get enough sleep on the previous night, they go to bed early, hoping to ‘catch up’.
Then, because they don’t fall asleep quickly, anxiety about having another sleepless night escalates to the point at which sleep becomes almost impossible. If this is you, stop doing that now!
Habit 1: Get up earlier.
What? Wait! What kind of crazy advice is that? Not crazy at all. Do some research on Sleep Drive. This is the pressure you feel to fall asleep. Think of it as your sleep appetite. It’s powered by adenosine, a molecule that accumulates in the body whilst you’re awake. The longer you stay awake, the more you get.
By waking up earlier, you increase the amount of adenosine in the body’s cells. This makes it easier to fall asleep, even when your mind is spinning out of control.
There’s only one problem with this strategy: if you’ve been wrestling with the sheets all night and fallen asleep just 30 minutes before your alarm starts ringing, you’ll probably be reluctant to get up. You might start thinking: “Just another 10 minutes. That will make me feel better.”
Unfortunately, that’s not the way sleep works. How rested you feel depends on how much deep sleep you’ve had, not the number of hours you’ve been in bed. Deep sleep occurs in the first half of the night. By contrast, the sleep you get in the early morning doesn’t help much to make you feel rested.
To escape the trap of staying in bed thinking of the brief pleasure you might get from an extra hour of sleep, think instead of the long term gains you’ll get from regular deep sleep.
Also, do something to make getting up seem like an attractive proposition, even if you haven’t had the best night’s rest. Instead of rushing around and thinking about how late you’ll be for work, how bad the traffic will be and how many emails you’ll have to deal with, establish a leisurely and enjoyable morning routine. Go for a morning walk or swim, treat yourself to a nice breakfast at a cool café, or take the time to read, journal or meditate.
Getting outside for a walk has the added benefit of exposing you to natural light, which helps to reset your circadian rhythms, the internal ‘clock’ that governs when you feel sleepy.
Habit 2: Go to bed later.
Wait! What? You want me to get up earlier AND and go bed later? That sounds like torture!
Remember this: falling asleep fast is much more likely if you’ve given your body the chance to accumulate plenty of adenosine. Getting up early helps to maximise this Sleep Drive, and so does staying up later. In fact, once adenosine levels reach a certain threshold, it becomes impossible to stay awake. When your eyelids start to droop and your head starts nodding uncontrollably, you’ll know you’re approaching this zone. That’s the optimal time to go to bed.
If you’re sleeping poorly, you can start just by getting up at the same time of day, every day of the week. If things don’t improve after a few days, then try staying up an hour later as well.
If you commit to this (and don’t sleep-in or nap during the day), you’ll start to notice that you get pretty sleepy by the time bed time rolls around. You may even find yourself nodding off whilst watching TV. This is good. However, for best results, you’ll want to stay up a little longer, but without doing anything too stimulating.
In other words, you want to fall sleep, but you don’t want to fall asleep too early. You need to strike a balance. To keep yourself awake you may need to watch TV in a straight-backed chair instead of on the couch. Better still, go for a late evening stroll or take up knitting.
- To fall asleep fast, you must be sleepy (not just exhausted or fatigued).
- The longer you’ve been awake, the easier it will be to fall asleep.
- Restricting your time in bed increases your Sleep Drive.
- Plan enjoyable morning and evening activities to make getting up early and staying up late more attractive.
How to Fall – And Stay – Asleep Easily
A complete program for rest, relaxation, rejuvenation and peaceful sleep.
Seven guided meditations for help with insomnia.
Includes tracks to unwind after work, prepare for sleep, for falling and staying asleep, for when you’re awake in the middle of the night and for when you are worrying too much.
I have a very hard time falling asleep at night but man this meditation knocks me out… I have never made it to the end because it works every time. I’ve tried everything before this; sleeping pills, sound machines, herbs, etc. but nothing has worked as well as this. I’m so grateful.
Matt Young has changed my life. For years I have had sleep anxiety and insomnia. I have been using his meditations for months now, all of them, and nothing and no one can help me drift into an awesome, restful, rejuvenating sleep like he has. I want to give Matt my biggest thanks.