For many years I had problems falling asleep. Most nights it’s not too bad; go to bed at a regular time, read or watch TV for a bit, turn off the light, and fall asleep in ten-fifteen minutes or so. But some nights can be very difficult.

  • I get a song stuck in my head, or
  • I start worrying about something, or
  • Some idea or thought or remembered conversation starts rolling around in my head, or
  • I’m on the verge of sleeping, sleeping …, and then some sound or twitch in my leg or switch goes off in my brain and I’m awake, or
  • A dream will wake me in during the night, or
  • I just wake up. For a few months I was going through a sleep cycle where I woke up, fully alert between 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning night after night. I began to worry that I was becoming like my mother who for many years now wakes during the night, stays awake for hours, and then needs to nap during the day. At least she’s retired so she can keep this kind of sleep schedule.

When any of these things happen I know that I’m in trouble because my history tells me that it’s going to take me hours to fall asleep. And I need my sleep.

Recently my wife picked up a used book because she had heard that it has helped some people who have sleep difficulties but I told her that I didn’t need it. She asked me didn’t I have sleep problems? It was then that I remembered that I used to have sleep difficulties but now it’s become so manageable that I’d forgotten that it used to be a problem. I remember having all these sleep issues that I’ve listed above, but none of them have been a problem for me for at least a couple of years now.

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So how did I overcome my sleep problems? Maybe I should charge for the answer. It really has given me a lot more control over that part of my life; no more lying in bed feeling helpless, tossing and turning while agonizing over how difficult tomorrow will be because I’m going to be sleepy.

The problem with charging for this sleep aid is that I’d have to package it in such a way that it couldn’t be easily copied or I’d have to do it in person. For example I scored in the 99th percentile in the GMAT exam (99th percentile in qualitative, 95th percentile in quantitative) and I could sell techniques for prepping for the exam. If I did that in person so it would be a valid sale. I guess I could package my sleep technique into a live presentation too, but I think I’ll just give it away. My contribution to the freedom of the internets.

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Counting sheep never helped me, but the process I’m going to describe does work. It’s very simple, but it does have some requirements.

  1. You really have to want to go to sleep. It can’t be one of those times when some interesting fantasy or thought process is keeping you partially awake and oh, it’d be nice to sleep but hey, this is pretty interesting/useful stuff.
  2. It’s hard work. Once you understand the process you still have to mentally work at it for it to succeed.

Ready? Here’s how it works:

  1. Get relaxed and comfortable.
  2. Focus your vision straight ahead. I know; your eyes are closed, but when my mind is wandering my eyes and my visual focus wanders as well. Pretend that you are trying to see a floater in the center of your eye. Focus straight ahead.
  3. Now, count your breaths. One way of counting is to count to ten; one count on your inhale, one count on your exhale. Once you reach ten start from one again.

Essentially this is a form of zazen or meditation. One of the objectives of counting your breath during meditation is to stop your mind from wandering. Here the object is the same; stop your mind from wandering so that you can fall asleep. Don’t force your breathing. Don’t manage you breathing. Try to remain separate from your breathing and just listen and count.

Pretty simple, eh?

Maybe too simple. It’s not difficult to breathe and to count. You may find that random thoughts still appear. Try to focus and to still your mind.

  • One trick that can help is to visualize the numbers appearing before your eyes as you count. This helps to keep your visual processing units occupied.
  • If your mind still wanders, try counting in another language. Un, deux, trios; Ichi, ni, san; Uno, dos, tres; Eins, zwei, drei. If you can’t count all way to ten in this other language just go as far as you can, counting once only for each breath rather than counting for both the inhale and exhale.
  • If that seems too easy and your mind still wanders while you count, try counting backwards in this other language.
  • Or, take two languages and alternate language each time you restart the count.

It can be hard work. You really need to want to sleep. Keep visualizing, keep counting or counting backwards, but don’t tense your body. It’s all in your mind, let your body just lie there. Keep focused. Wait for your breath, see the number and count. Wait for your breath, see the number and count. Wait for your breath, see the number and count.