Note: it is almost impossible to get on the Ask Havi list. This person got in by a. being one of my clients or students, b. flattering the hell out of my duck, and c. making life easy on me by being clear about what the question was and what details I could use.
A number of people in my programs have been dealing with sleep-related stuck lately, from insomnia to nightmares to general not wanting to go to bed.
Then a couple of them asked me to weigh in with techniques and ideas and advice.
And to talk about how to approach this whole thing in a Fluent-Self-ified way.
So. First some recognition. And hugs.
Oh sweetie. So much hard.
Not being able to sleep — or not sleeping well — is really not-fun. And it makes everything else that much more impossible. I have way too much first-hand experience with this.
It’s hard on your body, your emotional state, your decision-making capacities. And pretty much everything going on in your life.
So we can’t really talk about this without stopping first to appreciate how much this sucks, and to send comfort and love.
Then the caveats.
What’s right for one person isn’t right for someone else. And we need different things at different times.
That’s why you try stuff. And you take notes for the big Book of You, so you can discard whatever isn’t your thing.
None of this is prescriptive. It’s about being genuinely curious about yourself and your relationship with yourself.
And while I’m caveat-ing here, please keep in mind that neither I nor my duck is a doctor, as stated in our boring disclaimer.
And then a bunch of things worth trying.
I’m intentionally not putting these suggestions in any particular order, hoping that you’ll mix and match to find things that suit you.
Left nostril breathing.
The short version: your body goes through various respiratory cycles through the day.
While you’re awake, there’s more breathing through the right nostril. And while you sleep, the emphasis is left nostril.
If you ever have a stuffed nose where it was your right side clogged up, you’ll notice that it’s almost impossible to fall asleep.
Breathing intentionally through the left nostril is a good way to jumpstart the process and get back on a relaxed, quiet, introspective cycle.
Gently close your right nostril with your fingers. Relaxed, comfortable, unforced inhaling and exhaling through the left side.
And at the very least it’s good for getting your mind off of everything else, and reconnecting to your body.
Stuff that always happens before bed.
You start small. And build. Adding new aspects every few days.
You might include something you say (like a poem or a prayer). Something you smell (lavender or chamomile). Something you drink (sleepy tea). Something you wear.
A tired mind makes you feel like a mess. But a slightly tired body worn out from (moderate) movement and exertion tends to be a happy one.
So that means stuff during the day. Like walking and dancing around the living room and stretching.
And gentler stuff in the evening. You might want to look for a restorative or a yin yoga class to learn some gentle, relaxing poses that are good for winding down before bed.
And incorporate some of that into evening rituals. Legs up on the wall. Reclining poses. Shavasana.
Talk to your sleep.
Write it little notes. And letters to your elephants. Or a Very Personal Ad.
Ask your sleep to take care of you.
Ask your body to process what it needs to process in a way that’s peaceful and healthy for you. Ask your dreams to give you information in non-disturbing ways.
Make a commitment to your body and your mind to find out more about whatever it’s trying to tell you.
Speaking of writing.
Writing before bed is a great way of processing stuff that happened during the day (and inviting your unconscious brain to help you out while you’re asleep).
Writing a note to yourself can also become part of your evening rituals.
Clearing space (symbolically and literally).
The point of sleep is to restore your mind and your body.
And it’s harder with distractions and reminders of awake-stuff all around.
Look at anything you can see from your bed, in any position you might be sleeping in. And if it’s not relaxing, you want it out.
You definitely don’t want your computer there (if it turns out you can’t sleep and you’re going to go online, you can always wrap yourself in a blanket and visit it). Same goes for piles of work stuff.
Also: clearing space and making dedicated space is something that happens both physically and in time. It helps to make time for rest and coming to bed.
Look for the patterns.
Doing Shiva Nata in the morning (I do not recommend practicing at night) will give you a ton of information about whatever patterns are at play in your life.
You can also make that your intention:
“What can I learn in the next 48 hours about my relationship with sleep and rest?”
Find the emotion. And meet the need.
What’s going on when you can’t sleep?
Each emotion showing up (sad, lonely, frustrated, annoyed, frightened) hides a need (security, comfort, love, reassurance, acknowledgment).
Figuring out what you need so you can get better at giving it to yourself is a huge part of any destuckification practice.
As is acknowledging your pain and your right to have it, and meeting yourself where you are with it.
Things that engage your mind.
I have a lovely hypnotism CD (in German) that I listen to when I can’t sleep.
Many of my students use my emergency calming techniques audio recordings as their sleepy-relaxed pre-bed thing.
Remove pressure, ease pain.
If you head to bed thinking “I’d better get some sleep this time, dammit”, it’s all that more miserable if it doesn’t happen.
So you want your objective to be rest and observation, not sleep. It takes some of the pressure off.
If you’ve rested your eyes and your body, points for you. If you’ve observed stuff about yourself and your stuff, points for you. That’s what gets you closer to resolving this.
Sama vritti pranayama.
This is the breathing technique I use when I can’t sleep.
Sama means even. Vritti are fluctuations or vibration. So it’s just even breathing.
Inhale on a count of four. Exhale on a count of four.
As your breathing slows, you can expand the count as long as you keep it even. Inhale six, exhale six. Or inhale eight, exhale eight. Even.
This is something I got from Hiro.
Pure Land, in the sense that is relevant to this conversation, is a buddhist concept of a place (or state of being) that is empty, quiet, pure, zen.
And you can ask your body or your soul, whether in writing or in meditation, to take you to a place like this while you sleep.
So that while you sleep, things can be taken care of. Without you being a part of it.
Taking it easy on yourself.
When you can’t sleep, nothing works.
Everything you feel (sad, anxious, annoyed, etc) is exacerbated and heightened.
It’s really easy to blame yourself for all of it. From stubbing your toe because you’re so tired to getting in an argument.
Permission to feel like crap! It’s normal. It’s not going to be like this forever.
Back to the Book of You.
When you look at what you know from the Book of You, you’ll be able to keep adding information about what’s helpful and what isn’t.
For me, watching a movie before bed is not helpful.
For me, doing yoga nidra is helpful.
You notice. You take notes. You keep adding to the collection of Useful Information.
And comment zen for today…
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Not even slightly.
You may have found all sorts of things that are helpful for you. Awesome. Do what works for you. Discard whatever doesn’t feel like a good fit.
We’re all working on our stuff in our own way, at our own pace. And we can let other people have their process too.
Big love to all. Comfort and hugs to all the schleepy mice. And wishes for happy sleeps.
What an important subject and great things to try. I love the idea of having a “Book of You.”
And I want to add a little personal experience that might be useful to someone.
I struggled with sleep for years … tried various things, including some you’ve mentioned. Blamed myself because nothing worked.
Finally I got so tired of being tired that I asked my doctor for a sleep aid. (I mean a pill. Hey, lack of sleep can make you desperate.)
Wise woman that she is, she sent me for a sleep study instead, and probably saved my life. Previous doctors had dismissed my insomnia and fatigue as perimenopausal, or stress-related. Nope, turns out I have sleep apnea — a physical condition that’s serious, even deadly, and hugely underdiagnosed and misunderstood.
Six months into treatment (which is not as bad as some people think) and my life has turned around. I sleep like a baby, 7 or 8 hours a night. Fatigue is gone, health is returning.
So every time I see sleep mentioned, I feel compelled to encourage people: If you’re having sleep problems, and you’re not getting results with other approaches, please see a sleep specialist and get evaluated. It literally could save your life.
End of soapbox. I do get a little passionate about this.
Love your blog, Havi.
And stay away from more then 2 cups of coffee a day. I immediately recovered a full hour of sleep per night.
No breathing techniques or other things, just no coffee.
Havi, this is such a beautiful, valuable offering of tools, techniques and wisdom about how to deal with that wide-awake-at-2-a.m. feeling. Thank you!
.-= Hiro Boga´s last post … Playful Discovery: The Cure for Internet Hangover =-.
Ooh! Good stuff! So many excellent ideas.
Can I add? It’s right in line with all of this…
Progressive muscle relaxation. It’s great for releasing tension that you may not have even known you had, as well as for bringing your awareness back to the moment, away from all those distracting thoughts that won’t let you sleep.
Also, because circadian rhythms are so tied to the light/dark cycle, it can be helpful to shut off (and out)all light. This can even mean the tiniest little lights you never thought of. Melatonin production, which regualtes sleep, relies on darkness, so many people find it helpful to darken the room (or wear an eye mask)
Peaceful zzz’s to all. . .
I love these techniques, many of which would also be useful for moments of daytime stress or frustration, or just to get more focused. Clearing Space. Taking it Easy on Yourself. Find the emotion. And meet the need.
Ah, mantras to live by, day or night.
For what it’s worth, I second @Martijn’s comment re: coffee. It’s easy to overlook firmly-entrenched daytime rituals, like drinking coffee. And yet just as this wonder beverage can add comfort and pleasure to your day, it can also be a surreptitious culprit in losing precious sleep at night. There are likely other sneaky things that seem okay, but that may be affecting sleep, such as being driven by high-energy/stress, which can *feel* motivating, but can also drain you so that you’re tired but still wound up at night. These are just my own observations based on personal experience.
Looking forward to hearing everyone else’s thoughts on sleep.
.-= Dawn´s last post … Deserving vs. Entitled =-.
This was awesome. As a dreamer sleep is important to me and all of these are lovely helpers into the dreamland. But the best gift you’ve given me here is the reminder to be gentle with myself..with my lack of sleep…with the monsters that keep me away from my beloved dreaming. Thank you magical Havi! You rock, as always.
And thanks everyone else for your other tips. Yay sleep!
Wait … you’re living at my house? Or you’re clairvoyant?
How did you do that?
I’ve been away (crushed actually) for a few weeks and just when I make it back, you write about insomnia?
I know you don’t advise Shiva Nata before bed but I find it very relaxing – like white noise for hampster-wheel brain and I can just go to sleep.
This is an excellent list. I plan to work my way through it (in no particular order). Thank you. (and pleasant dreams.)
Thank you, Havi. This is exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time. I’ve never, ever been able to sleep well, but these last few days I swear the entire world has been against me getting any sleep at all.
I try to be very aware of my body – I know light, temperature, and sound all have a big effect on whether I’m able to get any sleep at all or not, as does how recently I’ve eaten and how my body as a whole is feeling. I sleep better when I’ve exercised, worse when I’m overly sore. But there’s still something elusive about a good night’s sleep… I’m definitely going to try some of these techniques and see how they work for me.
.-= Allison Day´s last post … One Ringy-Dingy… =-.
I’m dealing with the same sorts of sleeping issues now.
Here is what has worked:
– progressive relaxation. It was hard at first, but I can now relax my entire body. I just keep doing it until I fall asleep. Make sure you relax your tongue, which is something connected to the involuntary system.
– telling myself that “it’s ok to go to sleep”. Since I’m usually sleep deprived, my default is to keep myself awake, despite my fatigue. I guess I need some reminding.
Stuff that I need to try still:
– hypnotic induction. Repeat 1 time: “relaxing into sleep”. Then repeat 2 times: “relaxing into sleep”. then 3 then 4 all they way until you stop because you’re asleep. Good to do it with the breath.
.-= Eric Normand´s last post … Investing in real value =-.
Thank you for the wonderful suggestions. Here’s my unsolicited 2 more…I’m sure this will be unpopular, but I attended a conference recently re: sleep cycles and effects on mental health.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but these two vices did come up and here’s the quick n’ dirty:
–Caffeine–more than 8 oz. per day, and ingested after 12 pm will affect the deep sleep cycle (the most important for mind and body to recover)
–Alcohol–while it may help to fall asleep, it’s a main culprit in disturbing deep sleep, as well.
Not to say that I always follow this advice, though….and bags under my eyes prove it.
Pam, I have a couple of friends who have sleep apnea and were helped incredibly by getting the right diagnosis and treatment, so I appreciate your mentioning it. Thank you.
Also, on the off chance that anyone else in this situation is around, I live in a room. My bed, my desk with my laptop, my bookcase with all of my work, all my hobby-related stuff, everything, is in the same very small space. It really does make shutting off extra hard. So, since I can’t make a physical space separation, the time separation is that much more important. The night I don’t treat the going to bed process in a deliberate way inevitably turns into the day I’m a sleep-deprived mess.
I love all of the new ideas here and look forward to trying them. Thank you Havi!
Lurker-mouse peeping in to say thank you for this. As someone who has always had trouble sleeping, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about how I sleep (and how I don’t) – enough to fill a good portion of a Book of Me.
But the single biggest thing? Giving myself permission to take the hour and a half to two hours my body needs to transition from wakefulness to sleep. Accepting rest and observation when sleep doesn’t come has also made a difference.
The breathe in for four, breathe out for four… it works for me every time. I love that technique.
I love how there are so many different things to try in this list!
One more thing, that may be TMI. Orgasms can make you really sleepy. So, going there can make going to sleep easy and pleasurable. Not for everybody, but a great tool for some of us. 🙂
.-= Bridget´s last post … Destiny the purpose porpoise shows us how the pattern loops =-.
The writing tip really works for me. I tend to have trouble falling asleep because my mind refuses to slow down. Too many thoughts! I’ve found that if I take some time to write down every idea I have swimming around in my head that I think may have value, my mind seems ok to let the thoughts go without fear of losing them.
.-= Marilyn´s last post … Writing reviews: Is it for me? =-.
These are wonderful suggestions Havi – and what I love the most of all is the acknowledgment at the beginning that not being able to sleep is HARD (and the giving of hugs) and the reminder at the end to be kind to yourself.
I have quite a few new yoga students who start practicing mainly because of sleep problems and I think letting people know that I know how hard it is to be sleep-deprived and reminding them to be extra, extra gentle and forgiving of themselves when they are sleep deprived is as important as the fabulous breathing and relaxation techniques yoga offers.
This post is a powerful gift. Thanks Havi.
.-= Marianne´s last post … Facing your fears in five (relatively) easy steps =-.
This is just one more example of your brilliance in action.
Yes, people vary as you say.
Yes, the Book of You on this subject is incredibly valuable.
I love the tip about breathing out of the left nostril and how that’s relaxing. Tried it at my computer and noticed a shift right away out of my logical mind.
One thing that really tips the scales against sleep is being on the computer too late at night – I’m almost sunk if I’m still on the computer after 9PM and though I disregard that, it’s something I’ve been working on with the book of you.
I also really appreciated the caveats about sleep apnea – I have insomnia and have not had the courage to have a sleep study done nor have any of my providers suggested it. I really took to heart what your first commenter said about her provider and may ask for one at my next visit.
Thanks for this.
Excellent stuff. Sleep is so important. My sleep issues are mostly around not feeling rested and sleeping the entire day rather than not being able to sleep. Here are some of my notes on sleep:
Everything is hard when you don’t sleep.
Napping doesn’t work for you. Read, watch a movie, play games, but stay awake until bedtime.
Bedtime is 9. Remember how awful things were when you didn’t have a set bedtime? Things are better now because you get sleep. Get thee to bed.
Absolutely absolutely be in bed by 10. Fire will rain down from the sky if you don’t. No, really.
As you can see, I’m a total party animal. 😛
Those are some wonderful things to try, Havi. Maybe I’m schleepy right now because my right nostril is blocked. (And because I’m recovering from a mega-short night two nights ago.)
In the Book of me, I have some notes on sleeping that might help others.
– No artificial bright light for at least 30 mins before bed. TV and computer screens mess with melatonin production.
– When I lie awake because I’m worrying about something, I turn my mind to some pleasant memory and purposefully remember with as many details and senses as possible.
– The hours of sleep before midnight count double: it is better for me to turn in early and get up early to finish something than to finish work at night and wake up late or unrested. Especially since I tend to not compensate for turning in late.
– The recovery time of a short night: it is so not worth the time gained. The price I pay is days of wandering around in zombie-like condition. Not worth it!
– I don’t sleep if my feet are cold. Before bed, I do some walking or stretching to get the blood circulation going, or I take a warm shower. If I’m already in bed with cold feet, I have warm socks within reach. I tend to take them off in my sleep if I don’t need them anymore.
– I second Bridget’s TMI tip, very effective.
Sweet dreams, all!
I had a terrible spate a while back of waking suddenly from 2:30 – 4 am. I was desperate to figure out why and fix it. I started keeping a sleep journal to see what was going on. At first it seemed like nothing was making a difference but then it slowly showed that the things that were helping were
– a cool room, but a warm body.
– regular yoga practice
– herbs from the acupuncturist
– a hematite stone that I sleep with (not sure if this actually works, but I like holding onto it while I fall asleep.)
It’s astounding how hard everything gets when sleep isn’t right, and how good things are when we sleep well.
What a wealth of loving suggestions. Thank you, Havi!
While working with fluent-selfified “technologies” external supports may also be an expression of kindness to yourself.
I tend to reach for homeopathy. I know it doesn’t work for some, but it’s been heaven sent for me. Moon Drops is my favorite. (I should have stock in this company!) Calmes Forte and Passiflora Plex are also good.
Flower essences, aromatherapy, healing stones (Hematite, Laine. Amethyst is good for settling mind chatter.) Any kind of vibrational medicine can be a gentle support and a life saver.
Hope this wasn’t too advice-y for the Crew. Offered with intention of being a helper mouse for some Hard.
.-= Mahala Mazerov´s last post … Testing the Benefits of Meditation… in the Emergency Room =-.
I was apparently born with sleep problems that were shrugged off by doctors for years. Let’s face it, sleep just isn’t properly understood, and it was way worse nearly 40 years ago. I came down with glandular fever [mononucleosis] in my teens, which spiralled into ME/CFS, and my sleep problems just got totally out of control. It wasn’t until 5 years ago that a doctor said, “Hey, no-one should routinely have several days without sleep followed by sleeping round the clock. Here, go to a sleep centre.” And I did. And I discovered that the best guess is a total lack of circadian rhythm, which is apparently pretty rare (somewhere, I am written up in the literature under some pseudonym or other). Aside from melatonin (optimal dose is 0.25mg, not the huge doses you generally find it sold in) and light therapy, I discovered that these things help:
* No caffeine after noon
* Wearing yellow-orange lenses after 7.30pm if I’m being exposed to blue-spectrum light or natural light
* Having a REGULAR bedtime and wake time – and sticking to it (trust me, with ME + a sleep disorder + other chronic health problems, this was not easy, but it was essential)
* Not sleeping in on weekends. No, really. It just throws the internal clock out of whack, if you’re lucky enough to have one. And those of us who seem not to, it’s even worse. Also, getting up at the same time means you have a longer weekend, which is rather groovy
* Keeping a sleep log until you’re sleeping well helps to identify patterns so you can work with them:
Time to bed/wake? How long you lay awake for. How many times you got up in the night and when. Whether you took medication, food, drink you don’t usually. Rate your quality of sleep 0-5 (it’s all subjective and what each value means will change over time). Any deviations from routine
* Writing down 2 lists before bed: The FIRST is the things that are bothering you or need doing; the SECOND is the things you’re happy about and grateful for. Get the junk out of your head first, then reinforce how happy you are
* Warm shower before bed (side effect: faster getting ready in the morning)
* Having a set routine of getting things ready for the next day before crashing out – takes a load of worry off your mind
Sleeping properly on a regular basis for the first time in my life made a MASSIVE impact on my health. Still had the other chronic illnesses, but I could cope better, didn’t cry/freak out at the slightest thing, stopped being paralysed by depression, stopped having bouts of suicidal feelings, my cognitive difficulties diminished to the point where I could actually recognise that they were there and work out how they related to my ME/CFS, I had far more energy, and though it’s possible I may never have an immune system that functions properly (though I am hopeful that I will) I became less seriously ill less of the time.
Good quality sleep is our friend. Some people said they couldn’t imagine having such a “restrictive” sleep schedule – it would damage their ability to “enjoy themselves”. I found that being constantly exhausted, depressed and ill pretty unenjoyable. Go to a gig or feel fantastic? No brainer.
@Beth: I also live in a small space and I get distracted by all my Cool! Stuff! (no, just a few chapters before I go to bed!) (one more website!)
So I have a ‘candle-light’ transition period. When I decide I am going to start getting ready for bed, I light a candle and turn off all electric lights. If I keep it close, it’s bright enough so I can see to do all my getting-ready-for-bed things (brush my teeth, lay out clothes, etc) and yet dim enough to keep me from being distracted by Stuff I Really Don’t Need to Be Doing Right Now.
And then I stretch while listening to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories…works like a charm for me.
.-= Christina Gremore´s last post … There’s No ‘I’ in Team =-.
Oh, what a treasure trove of things to experiment with! Many thanks to you, Havi, and to all the commenter mice who have generously shared their ideas.
Yes, I’ve got sleep issues a-plenty, enough to fill many pages in the Book of Me. One thing I’ve that I’ve discovered is remarkably un-helpful for me is having anyone try to tell me that I should go to bed — kindly, angrily, gently, firmly, doesn’t matter; it pushes my buttons, big-time, making me feel anything from subtly rebellious to overtly sad/angry and rejected — but not remotely like going to sleep! That’s an extremely valuable thing for me to know, and to be able to gently explain to those who care about me.
@Bullwinkle — I have had similar experiences with before-bed Shiva Nata. Go figure!
.-= Kathleen Avins´s last post … Liberation =-.
Thank you for posting this Havi. I seem to have moved on from violent nightmares to just waking up every 90 minutes in a state of anxiety and fear and no recollection of dreams.
Thank you commenter mice for your own thoughts and suggestions too. I’ve printed off the comments and post to see if I can get through this hard with your suggestions.
I hope anyone else having sleep issues get some nice, serene sleeps in the near future.
Oh, and those dawn simulator clocks? I’ve had one for a few months and cannot believe I never got one before. Oh, the slow dim to darkness, the white noise, the gentle wakening..!
It – and my lightbox and melatonin -is my precioussssssssssss…
@ Karen I use a dawn simulator instead of an alarm clock–have for years. I’ll never go back. They’re expensive, but the one I bought 15 years ago still works, equating to about $10/year.
I just found this post as I’m surfing because … you guessed it … I can’t sleep.
I’m doing some perimenopause stuff and insomnia comes with the territory for me. Sometimes the following things help me:
* coffea cruda, a homeopathic from Boiron that really helps with “racing mind”
* legs up the wall
* that 4 in/4 out breathing technique
* counting down from 100, slowly, one number on an inhale with a rest on the exhale
Sometimes, I just stop struggling and get OK with the idea that I’m not going to sleep tonight … or maybe not for another hour or so. Once I stop being ANGRY that I can’t sleep, I usually can sleep, at least for a few hours. I take advantage of nights I can’t sleep by editing photos, or writing, or reading. Worst case I watch a movie.
Other things that help me:
* advil, because sometimes pain is keeping me awake
* antihistamine, especially on nights like tonight when my allergies are part of what’s keeping me up
* moving out of the bedroom onto the couch. Change of scenery!
* blocking all the little lights or wearing an eye mask, at least until I’m asleep.
.-= lynn @ human, being´s last post … Mother’s Day in Pictures =-.