If you have trouble falling asleep at night, you’ve probably already tried a lot of things to help. Yes, cutting out coffee or an afternoon nap might make you feel more tired at bedtime but what do you right in that moment when you’re in bed, counting the minutes until your alarm goes off? Are there any proven techniques you can try to help you fall asleep when wide awake?
Luckily, there are. Proven techniques to help you fall asleep range from ancient Chinese practices, breathing techniques to reborn military techniques. Each provides a simple step-by-step process that will help you de-stress, clear your mind, and relax your body to fall asleep quickly and easily.
The best thing about these techniques is that you can do them anytime, anywhere, and they don’t require any special equipment. Some of them have been used for thousands of years and one has even been the subject of a successful scientific study. Here are five effective methods to try.
The 4-7-8 Technique
One of the most popular techniques for falling asleep is the 4-7-8 technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s based on a yoga technique called “pranayama” which is the formal practice of controlling your breath. Dr. Weil and Zen Buddhist monks alike believe that conscious breathing can help you achieve the desired physical or mental state, including sleep.
You can do this technique in any position, though some people recommend sitting with your back straight when you’re learning how to do it. Put the tip of your tongue against the ridge behind your top front teeth. It’s going to stay in this position throughout the rest of the exercise.
First, exhale audibly through your mouth. You should try to make a “whoosh” sound. If you find it awkward with your tongue positioned the way it is, you can purse your lips a bit to help the air flow with less turbulence.
Next, close your mouth and inhale through your nose over a count of four. Hold your breath for seven seconds then exhale through your mouth over a count of eight. Repeat the whole process four times in total.
Bear in mind that the counts of four and eight aren’t necessarily seconds. When you first start using this technique, you’ll probably cycle through it quickly. But, as you learn to control your breathing, try to slow it down more and more.
What’s really important with this exercise is the ratio, not the number of seconds spent inhaling or exhaling. It’s really easy to remember because it’s named after the counts: Inhale for four seconds, hold for seven, exhale for eight. 4-7-8.
Humming Bee Breath
Another way to practice conscious breathing is with the Humming Bee Breath technique. This is another yoga technique called bhramari pranayama. Bhramari is the Sanskrit name for bee which makes perfect sense once you know a little more about the technique.
Humming Bee breathing is an effective way to calm your mind and body to relax. It’s great for de-stressing and unwinding before bed but you can use it any time of day when you need to work through tension, frustration, anger, or anxiety. Studies have shown that it’s quite an effective technique.
Here’s what you do. Sit up straight with your eyes closed and smile gently. You can sit on the floor or a chair, just pay special attention to your lower spine, allowing it to keep its natural curve. If you’re trying to fall asleep, you can try it while laying down, too.
Once in position, place your fingers on the bump cartilage between your ear and cheek, the tragus. Inhale deeply and, as you exhale, gently press on your tragus to cover your ears while making a humming sound like a bee. Be sure to keep your mouth closed when humming. While high pitched sounds are considered proper technique, you can do low pitched humming if you’re more comfortable. Repeat the process six or seven times.
The idea behind this technique is that the controlled breathing will help relieve tension and anxiety while the humming sound distracts your brain from worrying and negative thoughts.
The Military Method
Recently, a military technique for falling asleep resurfaced. It was originally published in the book Relax and Win: Championship Performance by Lloyd Bud Winter published in 1981 and some people have had success when trying it for themselves.
Before I get into the details, it’s worth noting that this technique does take some time to be effective. Reportedly, the U.S. Army recommended soldiers try the technique for six whole weeks. So, while it might not be the right choice on that one random night you’re wide awake, it’s worth a try if you have ongoing problems falling asleep.
First, turn off the lights, turn off your phone, and make sure you have your alarm set for the morning. Sit on the edge of your bed.
Tighten up your facial muscles and then slowly allow them to relax naturally. Then, allow your shoulders to fall and your arms to dangle at your sides. Basically, you’re relaxing your muscles from the head down.
Pay attention to your breathing, listening to each breath. As you do this, relax your chest and abdomen, then thighs and lower legs. Basically, at this point, you should feel like a big, soft lump or clay.
Once your body is relaxed, clear your mind. If you can’t stop thinking, that’s okay. Keep trying but make sure you keep your body loose during the process.
When your mind is clear, imagine that you’re lying in a canoe on a calm lake on a clear sunny day or in a velvet hammock in a dark room. Do this until you feel like you’re ready to fall asleep then lay down in bed.
This is a great technique, though it does take a lot of mental concentration to be able to clear your mind and visualize yourself somewhere else.
Acupressure has been used in China for more than 5,000 years and is even recommended by the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine as a way to stress less and sleep more.
So, what’s acupressure? It’s a form of deep massage that uses the same principle as acupuncture. Both stimulate various acupoints to elicit a response in the body. While acupuncture uses needles, acupressure uses deep pressure.
There are a lot of acupoints on the body. Some of them, you can’t stimulate on your own. The good news is there are plenty of spots that can help with sleep that are well within reach.
To start, get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, take deep breaths, and relax as much as you can. Use deep, firm pressure with your fingertips, moving them in a circular motion if necessary. Here are some spots to try:
- The Spirit Gate. It’s located on the outer wrist, below the pinkie. If you feel around this area, you’ll find a small hollow. Put gentle pressure in this area is a circular motion and hold for two to three minutes, rolling your finger from one side of the point to the other throughout. Then, repeat on the other wrist.
- The Three Yin Intersection. This is above the ankle on the inside of your leg. Find the top of your ankle and move up about four finger widths. Then, apply pressure behind the bone for four to five seconds. (Rumor has it this is also an acupoint used to induce labor so be careful if you’re pregnant.)
- The Bubbling Spring. This point is located on the sole of your foot. It’s under your second toe right before you get to the arch of your foot. There’s actually a small depression there so it’s pretty easy to spot when you’re looking for it. Lie on your back and bend your knees so you can easily reach your feet. Then, curl your toes and feel for the depression. Once you find it, apply firm pressure and massage for a few minutes. Then, repeat on the other foot.
- Inner Frontier Gate. Another point that’s easy to reach on your own, the Inner Frontier Gate is on the inside of your forearm between the tendons. Put your arm out with palms facing up and place pressure about three finger widths down from your wrist. Make sure you’re going between the tendons. Hold pressure and massage for about five seconds.
- The Wind Pool. The Wind Pool is a little trickier to locate because it’s located on the back of your neck. Feel for the back of the jaw then move back toward the middle of the neck. You should feel a groove where the neck muscles attach. Place your hands behind your head, lace your fingers together, and use your thumbs to apply pressure in this area on both sides of the neck. Massage for four or five seconds.
Less Stress, More Sleep
Any of these methods can be done anywhere at anytime so, if one doesn’t work, it’s easy to just move on to the next one. Some of them can be done any time you need some extra help while others take a few weeks to kick in. For someone with chronic sleep problems, though, it’s always good to have more tools to try.