Getting to sleep

A friend taught me a very useful trick to use when you really want to get to sleep but your brain can’t stop bouncing around randomly.  Start counting and visualise each number, tracing it out in your visual space.  Replace each number with the word ‘sleep’ before going on to the next.  Or imagine it like a count-down strip in an old film reel, with the number 1 being surrounded by a clock face sweeping out the time to the next number.  Slow that time down between numbers.  Or write the words out in your head.  Or count in a foreign language, again tracing the words out in your head.  Try binary or trinary.

The key detail here is to not just think of the number but to visually map it out in your visual space, so it involves more of your brain to trace each number.  If you also involve a picture or a word that you have to put between each iteration, it forces your brain to concentrate on one thing.  And that’s really the key to that ‘brain pinball’ feeling – stopping every bit of your brain firing randomly.

The other technique I’ve used is to count up in series.  Powers of two or three, the Fibonacci series – there are plenty of other arithmetic (and a few simple geometric) progressions that you can use to focus your mind.  Now that I can count up to 2^24 from memory it becomes more of a challenge, but it’s a good way of concentrating to stop your thoughts randomly running all over the place.

7 thoughts on “Getting to sleep”

  1. I find it also helps to bring out one of the old manuals, or anything that requires your brain to really focus (I like philosophy or coding manuals myself) and that helps me to fall asleep. Kudos on the site.

  2. Thanks for this tip about visualising a sequence of square numbers. It has worked for me and my sleep has improved. I have yet to reach 100.

  3. Hi Anthony,

    I’m really glad of that – you’ve really made my day :-). Goes to show that sometimes even a little gesture from someone else can really cheer you up!

    Have fun,


  4. I try to run. If my body is tired I will have a much easier time trying to relax.
    Also I try to stick with a schedule just before I sleep so that the last things I do are extremely predictable.
    I don’t visualize numbers, but I have found that trying to visualize anything works well.

  5. If I’m not having such a good week, then getting out of bed in the morning can be a real mental strain… I can come up with some very intelligent arguments to stay nice and cosy in bed. 🙂

    So I use the memory of that feeling to help me get to sleep at night. I visualize myself in the morning, toasty warm, tired, and comfy. I usually drop of within minutes.

    Try it, it works for me most of the time.

  6. Thanks for the tips guys, I’ve just had to move onto nights and falling asleep just as the sun starts streaming through the window can be hard, I will try some of these tips.

  7. I dislike this method because it keeps track of how long you’ve been at it. I start to freak out when I know I’ve been counting for half an hour and I still don’t feel any more the tired.

    I do a variant of this, which is more like self-guided meditation, in which that you count down from ten, slowly, and at each step you focus on the idea of stress and tension melting from your body, and at each you visualize a few more details about a place you find calming. When you get to zero, then the next number you count from is nine. Eg, k=(n-1)%10.

    When I’m feeling low on will power, I do something else, which is put on trance music via headphones (helps if you can tell the media player to shut off after an hour or three, or make a play list that doesn’t loop). If your favorite genre of music isn’t conducive for this, consider using something like to build the playlists automagically. Anyways, with the music, then just focus on the music – like the lazy meditation technique where you focus on your breathing, but its music instead. Use headphones, and you’ll also shut out city noises.

    Anyways, thats what works for me with my insomnia. Like all things depression/sleep/anxiety disorders, your mileage may vary, and I wish you luck.

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