Getting to sleep: A hyperactive over-thinker’s guide
According to the National Sleep Foundation in the US, it takes 10-20 minutes for the average person to fall asleep at night. I don’t think I have ever fallen asleep that fast in my entire life. For me, it’s usually 1 to 2 hours. I just lie there in the dark, my brain still spinning as though there’s a hamster on a wheel up there whose grain feed got replaced with coffee beans. A million thoughts swirl like one of those time lapse videos of a cloudy sky, with an especially unpleasant one often latching onto me like one of the facehuggers from Alien.
Apparently, this is actually quite common, particularly among people on the spectrum.
Much like my OCD, this is a problem I’ve taken a very logistical approach to, drawing up a set of protocols to help myself wind down and prepare for sleep. Since so many others seem to experience similar difficulties, I figure I’d share what worked for me. So here it is; Max’s field-tested guidelines for getting to sleep!
- No caffeinated or sugary drinks after 5pm. I do enjoy a dose of Liquid Lightning now and then, in fact I’m currently writing this in a wide-eyed frenzy as I clutch a steaming mug for dear life. Once consumed, however, caffeine has a half-life of 5 to 6 hours, which means if you drink coffee at 6pm, you could still be buzzing at midnight. As such, I make sure I have my last tea or coffee of the day before 5pm. Soft drinks and energy drinks are also best avoided after this time.
- No phones or tablets in bed. When I go to bed, I put my phone away. The light of its screen tricks your brain’s pineal gland into thinking it’s still daytime, so when you lie in bed playing with it, it’s like chugging espresso.
- Avoid things you know are stressful or exciting before bed. I’ve learned the hard way that if I go to bed in an elevated emotional state, I’ll be tossing and turning well in the A.M. Therefore, in the last two hours or so before attempting sleep, I avoid visiting websites, watching programs, or reading material that I know will likely agitate me. (Especially anything involving politics!)
- Turn screen brightness down after dark. While it would probably be best for me to avoid screens altogether in the hours leading up to bed, let’s face it, that’s just too hard for some of us. As a compromise, I turn the brightness of my computer screen down after dark so minimize the amount of light entering my eyes.
- Do something relaxing before going to bed. Guided meditation videos, soothing music, ASMR, mindfulness/breathing exercises, and other calming activities have all been helpful to me in getting into a relaxed state of mind before attempting to sleep.
- Don’t wait until the last minute. You may have noticed a running theme here; in general, the earlier you start preparing for sleep, the better. Don’t wait until 5 minutes before bed to start winding down. Begin hours in advance, so that by the time you go to bed, your brain has had plenty of time to slow down and isn’t over-stimulated.
While these methods are by no means a silver bullet, I personally have found them very useful in aiding my perpetually troubled quest for sleep. I can’t promise they’ll work for everyone, but if you’re struggling, they’re worth a try.