12/05/2014 11:58 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Get to Sleep Without Trying or Putting in Effort


It's 5 a.m. and you've only now dropped off to sleep. You have spent the best part of the night tossing and turning in your bed. Why has it taken until 5 a.m. for you to finally nod off? Or put another way, why have you been able to drift off to sleep at 5 a.m., when you couldn't get to sleep earlier? The answer to this question will help you to get your sleep pattern back on track.

The most likely reason that you were able to drift off to sleep at 5 a.m., but not before, is that at 5 a.m. you finally gave up trying to "make" sleep happen. You probably figured that you had already missed out on most of your night's sleep, and that another couple of hours wouldn't make much difference to you. As a consequence, you decided not to bother trying any more. And as soon as you stopped trying, hey presto, you were able to drift into a peaceful, restful sleep.

How "trying" to get to sleep keeps us awake

"Trying" to get to sleep is a "doing" behavior that serves to maintain activity in the conscious parts of our minds -- by our "trying" we keep the conscious parts active, when what we really need to do is to slip away from consciousness into sleep -- by our "efforting" or "trying" we achieve the opposite to what we want -- we actually keep ourselves awake.

In other words, when we "try" to go to sleep our thinking usually goes something like this "I want to be asleep. I am not asleep. I am awake. I don't want to be awake. I have a lot on tomorrow. How am I going to get to sleep? What am I going to do? What if I can't get to sleep at all" and on and on it goes.

Does this sound familiar to you?

Can you see how this kind of thinking works against you? By keeping your mind active -- you keep yourself awake?

We humans are the only creatures on the planet, who "try" to fall asleep? The rest just allow sleep to happen "naturally."

If "trying" to get to sleep is not working for you, what can do you do instead?

One option that you have is to give up trying; you can give up putting in effort or trying to make yourself sleep (If you feel that you would benefit from help to do this, you might like to check out this video). When you give up trying, you will be able to drift into sleep in the way that nature intended.

Can't Sleep -- Can't Function

Do you find yourself worrying that you won't be able to get through your work, as you lie in bed awake at night?

It is understandable that you would have this worry. Getting a good night's sleep is important to you -- you know that you feel better when you have slept well. But the problem is, worry about not being able to sleep can actually keep you awake -- it can act as a deterrent to sleep. You may have had this experience yourself. If you have, then I have a question for you.

"Did you sleep well last night?"

"How did you get on today in work? Were you able to do your job?"

When I ask people this question, they usually say, "No I didn't sleep at all well, but I got through my work OK, I was tired and I didn't feel great, but I did get through it."

If this is true for you, then what is this telling you?

Is it telling you that you can function when you are tired? Is it saying that you that you need to stop worrying about not being able to do your job if you don't sleep well?

Have you ever had a late night -- maybe you were at a party or you were up with a sick child and you had to go to work the next day?

How did you function at work the following day? Were you able to get through your work?

If the answer is yes, then again, what is this telling you?

Is it telling you that you can function when you are tired?

When you remind yourself that you can function when you don't sleep well, this will put an end to the worry and anxiety that you have about not being able to sleep. You are saying to yourself, "I am awake and it is OK." This will have the effect of eliminating your anxiety about not being able to get to sleep and as a consequence it will create the conditions in which sleep can happen "naturally."

For more resources and tips on getting a good night's sleep, you might like to like to check out my website.