The Multipotentialite’s Guide to Hacking Your Sleep
Photo courtesy of thisisforever.

The Multipotentialite’s Guide to Hacking Your Sleep

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

Warning: This is probably the weirdest post I’ve ever written. However, it also includes some of most valuable information I know and use on a regular basis. (I also love that I can write about something as random as sleep and it works since it fits under my overarching theme.) Anyway, here we go.

***

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble falling asleep.

My mom used to sing me songs. My dad would tell me not to worry about actually falling asleep, but to just “close my eyes and rest.” Then he’d sit in the hallway outside my room and study his Scrabble words till I nodded off.

Over the years, I’ve developed my own tricks for falling asleep.

Why is Sleep Hacking Relevant for Multipotentialites?

Anyone can have trouble falling asleep. My theory is that it comes from the inability to get out of your own head and make the “mind-body” shift. In other words, your physiological instinct to sleep can’t take over as long as your conscious mind is going at it. So anyone with a propensity to overthink or get lost in their head will probably have a hard time falling asleep.

While this can be an issue for anyone, I’ve noticed that my inability to fall asleep is now often directly linked to my multipotentiality.

The restless nights seem to happen more when I’m either worrying about all the projects on my plate or I’m excited about my projects and want to stay up brainstorming.

Sound familiar?

Although the second situation is far more pleasant, they’re both a problem. You can’t function properly and work on all those fabulous projects when you’re sleep deprived.

Psychological Hacks for Falling Asleep

These tricks are going to sound pretty weird. They’re not the standard “drink warm milk and don’t exercise before bed” advice you see everywhere. I can’t explain why they work– I think it probably has to do with changing your focus from your internal voice to a more “sensory” place.

Not all of these hacks work for me every time, but I find that it’s a good little arsenal to draw from. Usually I’ll run through them and there’s one that will work. Feel free to tweak and adapt as desired.

1. Close your eyes and go cross-eyed

I know this sounds ridiculous, but for some reason if you close your eyes and focus on the spot where the bridge of your nose would be, it makes you sleepy. I often pretend like there’s a vortex in that spot, like the worm hole in Donnie Darko (only instead of drawing me into the future, it’s drawing me into sleep land).

2. Tell your thoughts to shut up

This trick works really well if you’re hearing a lot of voices to the tune of: “I should do this on that project,” or “I need to reply to that email,” or “oh man, I should write a book about that!” Hell, this trick works if you’ve got a song stuck in your head that won’t stop playing!

You simply cut the voice. Every time a thought pops into your head, as soon as you become aware of it, silence it. Just say “NO” to the thought. Yell “no” in your head. Drown it out. Shut it down. Make it stop.

When the thought comes back, do it again. Pretend you’re holding got a machete and every time a thought pops up, you chop off its head. (lol sorry, that was a violent image. It’s accurate though…)

You need to be strong. Stronger than your thoughts that are taking over and pulling you away from your primal drive to sleep.

3. Pretend you can’t move your body and/or are floating

Pretend you can’t move your limbs and have no choice but to lie perfectly still. This gets you to focus on the way your body feels instead of the thoughts in your head. It’s similar to a hypnotist saying “feel your body getting heavy.”

Alternatively, imagine you are floating above your bed and picture how the room looks from that angle.

The Faster You Nip this in the Bud, the Easier Falling Asleep will Be

I’ve noticed that thinking is somewhat addictive at night– especially daydreaming. For some reason there’s something really appealing about letting your imagination run wild at bedtime. But the longer you allow this brain activity to go on, the harder it will be to shut it off.

The risk is that your thoughts won’t stop and they’ll just run through your entire night. This is the worst. You end up in this half-asleep, half-awake state and feel completely unrested in the morning.

The sooner you can shut down your conscious mind upon lying down for bed, the easier it will be for sleep to come.

Got Any Tips for Falling Asleep?

What are some of your sleep hacks? Share them in the comments, no matter how weird they are.

49 Comments

  1. Joel says:

    One of the things that I’ve learned to do is to think about something that I have already thought about many times before.

    For example, as a programmer, I have a number of side projects. Whenever I’m about to go to sleep, I spend time going over the projects in my mind, thinking about them. Since I’ve already thought a good bit about them, my mind doesn’t get “excited” from activity — these area old thoughts. And, pondering my projects that make me happy gives me a good feeling, well-suited to falling asleep.

    This trick has worked wonders for me. I will try you tricks, as well.

  2. Rob says:

    Sometimes when I have trouble sleeping I’ll lie there and somehow you move your eyes and it makes me feel as though I’m sinking deeper and deeper into my bed. I think this is probably something similar to your cross-eyed method!

  3. JF says:

    Great article! The best method I’ve found is meditation. Either before bed or at any point during the day. If you can even just find a few minutes a day it makes calming the monkey mind at bed time easier.

  4. Juventud says:

    so right Emilie..you are right that thoughts are inevitable at night bt with proper tricks such as yours one can avoid them..really cool..and its not necessarily important to say rational things or sensible thngs to work because it all depends on what works and what doesnt..tnx..

  5. Annie says:

    Wow, that’s interesting–I’ve slept “cross-eyed” for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always thought I was just weird! :)

    I’m a chronic insomniac as well, so this post is sure to help me develop some better sleeping habits. After all, traditional “sleep hygiene” never really worked for me.

  6. Adam says:

    Two hacks:

    1) Recap your day. Think in your head about when you woke up that morning, and try to revisit in order all the things you did in that day. Try to be as detailed and mundane as possible (e.g., woke up, went downstairs, went to the bathroom, walked the dog, fed the dog, made coffee, showered, dressed, took the metro to school.)

    The idea behind this hack is to realize how much you have done that day, and how tired you really are. Also, if you’re like me, the list is really long, and eventually you get bored and slip off to sleep.

    2) Try to start dreaming. I think you’re absolutely right about needing to turn off your conscious mind, and particularly get away from thoughts about what you are going to do next. However, I find that telling the thoughts to shut up doesn’t work very well. Like a whack-a-mole game, every time you hit one another pops up. This is a more positive way of turning your mind towards thoughts that will allow you to sleep.

    How I do it is I just picture something, some kind of scene, and then I allow the scene to change somehow (e.g., a cottage in the woods, with trees surrounding it, somethings walks out of the woods –what is it?) The subtle part of this technique is starting the image and then turning passive to allow the dream to take hold. Otherwise, its just another kind of thinking. For me, this works because the “conscious” mind that needs to shut up thinks in language, not images.

  7. Gina says:

    Have definitely been having more and more trouble sleeping lately. Started listening to meditation tapes for deep rest or relaxation as I’m falling asleep and they’ve been helping a lot. At first anyways, so now I have to find a new method because I think I’ve started tuning them out.

    Another thing that has helped me is updating my to-do list at the end of the day so I have everything written down that I have to do the next day. So I am not lying in bed trying to remind myself to remember to send that email in the morning, or what not. Nice post :)

  8. Morgan says:

    These are good tips and I hope it works for some! For me, however, these don’t work at all.

    I HAVE to have something on in the background. Whether that be the radio, TV, someone talking, etc. Something has to be going on in the background. It distracts me enough to take me out of my own thoughts and lulls me to sleep.

    Also, if something is really bothering me to the point where not even TV is taking me out of my mind, then I have to get up and deal with it before attempting to go to sleep.

    • Tim Webster says:

      It’s interesting that you need something on in the background – I can’t sleep with anything going on! Future Wife needs the TV to fall asleep. I’ve read that this actually leads to more stress and a less restful sleep since your brain doesn’t fully shut down. Of course, I’m totally unable to cite my sources at this point so take everything I’ve said with that in mind! haha

    • Emilie says:

      Interesting. I can’t fall asleep with TV on in the background, but my mom is just like you. Every night she passes out to the news. :)

  9. jennifer says:

    My sleep hacks are:

    1) Meditation–I lay on my back in bed, close my eyes and deeply breath in and out. Pay attention to your stomach as it rises and falls.

    2) Tell a story in your head–I’m a fiction writer. So I have several “go to” stories that I play out in my mind when I’m trying to fall asleep. I see how far into the story I get before I fall asleep.

    3) Counting frogs–if nothing else works, I count frogs jumping over a pond. Stupid, but it helps.

    • Emilie says:

      Haha jumping frogs, nice. I think I’d get too excited about the story one though. I’d probably get really into it and it would make me more awake. I’ll try the other two though.

  10. Tim Webster says:

    You’ve hit it home, again, Emilie. Every night I’ve got a thousand thoughts flooding my head that would definitely keep me up. I don’t use any tricks unique to what you’re describing, but my best method has been:

    - Focus on the blackness of your closed eyelids
    - Find a spot that is a deeper black than the others
    - When I focus on this spot, it appears to get larger, and another, darker black spot appears which in turn gets larger, etc

    Eventually the ‘tunnel’ that I’m going through gets darker and darker (probably only 2-3 times) and then I’m out.

    Another trick that I’ve learned is to intentionally slow your breathing. If you cut your breathing down by 50% by taking slow, deep breaths, your brain receives slightly less oxygen and this forces it to slow down (and stop thinking so damn much!)

  11. Victoria says:

    I often try (in part because when I need this, it’s usually when I *have* to be up early and am not going to get enough sleep) a bit of self-hypnosis. I will mentally repeat over and over phrases like “I will sleep deeply”, “I will wake up when the alarm goes off”, “I will be rested when I wake up”, “I will get up when the alarm goes off”, “I will be alert all day when I wake up”, etc.

    Not only does it tend to drown out the other mental chatter, but the repetition is calming and it does seem to help a little in the morning.

    Eventually, if sleep is totally eluding me, I’ll just get up and do stretches. That usually calms the body down a bit.

  12. Amber says:

    A ex was once taught me to count and say a word in between the counting like “relax” or “down.”

    So it would look something like this:
    10
    relax
    9
    relax
    8
    relax

    eventually I fall to sleep, doesn’t always work, have to use other methods but it is one that helps sometimes. :)

    • Emilie says:

      Oh I’ve done the counting thing too. Usually I get bored and forget and then my thoughts take over again. But if you can stay focused long enough, this will definitely put you to sleep!

  13. Nate Guggia says:

    The feeling your body strategy works well. Also ,listening to some soothing, meditative music either with headphones or on a radio player of some kind works. It takes my mind off my incessant thoughts and on to the music, which is really enjoyable.

  14. Denise says:

    This is the most original list of tips on falling asleep I’ve ever read. Seriously.

    But, I like it. AND. I will try it.

    I DO get lost in my thoughts and there’s a lot of excitement going on with projects that I’m in the middle of.

    I will let you know which one works best!

  15. I don’t think this post is weird at all!

    Do some nice restorative yoga and meditation before bed, take a bath with calming essential oils like pachouli, jasmine, lavender. I like to lie in bed and just observe my body. I try to push the attention away from my thoughts and towards present sensations. Before I know it I’m knocked out!

    • Emilie says:

      Great ideas. There’s definitely a mind-body thing going on. It’s so interesting how most of my hacks involve silencing the mind and yours involve making you more present in your body. Great stuff, thanks for sharing.

      • LynzM says:

        Being present in your body *does* silence your mind, though. At least the mind that likes to use words/think/spin. :) If you attend to just the sensations, and come back to them over and over (much like you’re suggesting with telling the voices NO!), you cannot actively be thinking at the same time. This is one of the fundamental aspects of breath-based meditation. You attend to your breath, listening to it, hearing it and feeling it as it passes through your nose or mouth, feeling your stomach rise and fall, attending to the relaxation of your muscles and softening of your joints, etc. For me, it is the active listening that most quickly and effectively quiets the brain spinning, though.

  16. Emily Rose says:

    I most recently found my natural sleep rhythm, and have finally gotten to the point where I am sleeping now for the same number of hours roughly and don’t take naps on a normal basis during the day, I also don’t have insomnia any more and don’t need to take medication to “put” me to sleep (which btw, I would sleepwalk while on the meds and then needed medication to keep me from sleepwalking).

    I don’t have those issues anymore. Want to know what time I naturally fall asleep? 4am. Yes, I get alot of strange looks and gufawing and people asking me how I do it.

    Well I wake up at noon, i am not a morning person, nor have I ever been one. I find that I am most productive with this schedule as well, since I am not awake in the “morning” hours I dont deal with 4-6 hours of trying to find some energy to be productive. Since I set my own schedule and work from home, this is been the best thing for me to discover about my natural sleeping pattern. No more meds, no crazy tricks, i just read or play some games for 30 minutes or less and I’m out.

    <3

    • Emilie says:

      Good for you, Emily. I too love that about being self-employed. You can plan your whole day around your body rhythm and productivity spurts. It’s pretty empowering to be able to life on your own terms like that.

  17. Hi Emilie,

    As I found your site through Illuminated Mind, and read through your about me page, it felt like I was reading about MYSELF. I mean, I have done Law for the same reason and probably you are the ONLY person one earth who will get this. Hence, I had to write to you. How could I not possibly make connection with one person who did their Law degree, who pursure interests, master them and move on? Girl, you have put the spring in my step today. Wish I was that clever at that age. (We are practically alike, give or take 10 years :)
    Looking forward to connecting with you. I feel you are young at heart and an old soul at the same time. Like me.

    • Emilie says:

      Awesome, Marya. Thank you! It’s wonderful to meet you as well.

      Welcome to the site. I think if you poke around, you’ll find lots of amazing multipotentialites of all shades and variety. And trust me, you’re definitely not alone. :)

      <3

  18. izennah says:

    Oh Emilie, you are just hitting it outta’ the ballpark!
    Multipotentiality continues to explain the catastrophic congruent contradictions that are me. My poor bod demands sleep, but my mind wants to stay up and throw swinging-from-the-chandelier soirees! I play referee by watching the sunrise and sunset (ooh cicadian), wake-me-up aerial yoga, pre-dinner-whoa-wind-down yoga, and also sorting out my food intolerances, many of which cause chronic insomnia (who knew!). Living Lightly and focusing my passions through my personal mission (umbrella) has also calmed the sleepless Multipotentiality idea swirl.
    Love izennah xo

  19. Paul Kiddle says:

    Really interesting list, I have never heard these suggestions for sleep before.

    My never-fails technique is just to keep a notepad by my bedside. Whenever I stay up thinking about projects or what I’m doing tomorrow I just write it all down, every little thought no matter how small or stupid. Or if there’s a lot to think about I write in my diary.

    Then there’s nothing to think about and I’m usually gone within minutes. If I’m not – rinse and repeat!

    In fact I think I might have to do a post like this on my blog at some point, it’s been really interesting to see all of your readers’ responses Emilie.

  20. I have a 2-step tip for falling asleep, and it starts Early In The Morning of the day you want a good night’s sleep.

    1. Wake up
    2. Before ANY distractions from emails or projects or whatever hit you, write down this:

    I intend to enjoy every moment of my day, and to breathe and relax into a refreshing sleep tonight.

    It may sound silly, it may sound simple, but if it’s a simple, easy, elegant solution that may just work…

    USE IT. :)

  21. Lori says:

    Hey Emilie!

    Weeeell… Since you’ve broken the “weirdness ice” by sharing your own beautifully odd and wonderfully off-beat ideas – I now find myself wanting to chime in.

    SO… WHEN MY BRAIN WON’T SHUT DOWN AT NIGHT:
    - I see myself on a tennis court (strange because I don’t play tennis).
    - Each pesky thought is a tennis ball coming over the net at me.
    - And I have the world’s LARGEST tennis racquet in my hand.
    It’s as BIG as I want/need it to be. Maybe even the size of a house!
    - I use the racquet to slam the stray thoughts clear into oblivion.
    Eventually, they stop coming and I fall asleep.

    Weird, huh?

    Anyway, thanks for providing this e-safe-haven for curious concepts!

    Lori

  22. Oh my gosh, going cross eyed totally works!! I didn’t realize that’s what I’ve been doing, but it is. I have the HARDEST time falling asleep after most days. My mind is always going, planning, dreaming, talking… I noticed a couple weeks ago that when I shift my eyes a bit it makes them feel more like resting and I get sleepy. So interesting. Great post! :)

  23. Ethan says:

    The two things that have had the biggest impact on my ability to sleep have been:

    1. Yoga

    2. Exercise

    When I practice yoga, I have no problem falling asleep. I think its because yoga helps calm down my mind, so I don’t have those nights where my brain won’t shut up.

    I just completed a month-long 800 mile bicycle tour. I didn’t have trouble falling asleep once. That was definitely an extreme in terms of exercise, but anytime I can’t sleep is usually a day when I’ve done no physical activity (unless you count typing really really fast as a physical activity)

    :)

  24. Luckily don’t have that problem. Two little ones = always tired!

    But I used to use counting backwards from 50 for those moments where I wanted to “wipe the slate clean” and grab some mental quiet time, I would mostly fall asleep along the way.

    It is interesting about the whole body clock thing (I am definitely better from 3pm onwards and never ‘want’ to go to bed) and Tim Ferris recently said that he, and almost every writer he identified with, produced their best work between 2am and 8am!!!!

    Looks like I need to ‘outsource’ getting the kids up and ready for school………..

  25. Jeff Goins says:

    I read. And I’m out in a minute.

  26. Tim says:

    I’ll admit that I was a little doubtful of these, but… they seem to be helping. So, thank you.

  27. Kirsten says:

    Oooh, I’ll have to try some of these ideas! I haven’t had as many issues falling asleep since I went back to grad school while simultaneously starting a business – there is something to be said for pure exhaustion. But when I do have issues, I turn myself upside down in bed, so my feet are where my pillow should be. No idea why, but for some reason the change helps.

  28. Ian says:

    Hi Emilie,
    Check this page out that Tim Ferriss features on; it’s about getting a good nights sleep.

    ‘Lights out and game on’

    Seems like sleep is BIG business and looks like its ripe for some radical changes to come.

    Cheers
    Ian

  29. Kristen says:

    Three words: White Noise Machine. Best $50 I’ve ever spent!! Especially for those couples who are split on background noise, it’s Perfect :D
    My work schedule flips literally every week sometimes between 5am and noon shifts and I’m an insomniac at heart, so going to sleep at 10pm is beyond ridiculous. Before bed I turn on the machine and then play really *boring* phone games on low screen backlight (important to turn down the brightness) or read. Then I concentrate on breathing and internally think IN and then OUT slowly because counting doesn’t work for keeping the thoughts out, and just saying No is too mundane to keep me focused. Try to imagine sinking into the bed, and the best method is dragging my kitty into bed and listening to her purr. Of course, none of this worked after watching the Walking Dead premiere and waking up at 2am having been chased in my previous dreams and needing to wake up an hour after :P
    Also, sometimes I take a low dose of Melatonin which is an all natural sleep aid that our brain normally produces. Non addictive, hardly even works well enough to make you groggy in the morning…

  30. Cat says:

    Hello,

    Very late to this thread (found you via an Ev’yan message thread) anyway nice post and wholeheartedly agree with all the yoga, breathing, being conscious of your physical body.

    Another trick is to lie on your stomach, hands under head (or under pillow) head turned to the left, feet hanging off the end of the bed. The combination of ‘protecting’ your stomach, relaxing your achilles, focusing on breathing (as you are lying on your chest) and left facingness gets me off to sleep every time. But you have to be a bit patient, the drop (as you fell your body descend into sleep) usually takes about 20/30 mins. Good luck, its very important to rest…(and be grateful and understand your rhythms and smile when nothing works!)

    Ciao x

  31. Melayahm says:

    Hehe! I have a few things I do to help me fall asleep. I used to use counting backwards, from about 100, or more if I was fretting badly. I think the slight extra effort of counting in reverse makes me think more about it than just counting forwards. Another thing I do is Kegel exercises. Often I doze off before I’ve got too far, but even if I don’t, at least I’m getting some pelvic floor exercises done! But the one I use the most for when I’m really worrying about something and my brain won’t shut up is, I have a tiny fm radio, which I put earphones into and tuck into bed with me, and I tune it to Classic FM which plays only classical music. I put one earphone in, and I listen, really listen, to every note, and I find that cuts out the chatter. Then even if I wake up again later, it’s still there, soothing me back to sleep. I find that I usually don’t hear the news when it comes on on the hour.

  32. Anna says:

    How timely… came across this post at 12:30am, after getting back out of bed because my brain was racing with brainstorming thoughts.

    Sometimes this works for me: Going through the alphabet from the beginning and choosing a theme and naming one theme-word for each letter. Some of my favorite themes are: foods (or get specific – fruits, vegetables, brand names); animals (or mammals); first names (male or female). So for vegetables: asparagus, bok choi, celery, daikon radish… The trick is to make the theme hard enough that you actually have to focus on it a little bit to turn off your other thoughts.

  33. I imagine my mental state as a lake. As try to calm the surface until it’s mirror smooth. Once in a while, a thought intrudes . . . a raindrop, bug, or leaf on the surface. I don’t get mad at it, but let the ripples spread. Eventually it’ll flatten back out.

    Beyond that, I focus on my breathing. When other thoughts disturb, I remind myself to focus on breathing.

    Of course, there are times that the intruding thoughts are so exciting that I get up, scribble them in a notebook, and smoke a cigarette. If it’s a slam bang bad ass web of fantastic ideas, I surrender to the universe and put on a pot of coffee.

  34. kim says:

    I know this is an old post, but wanted to toss my two cents in anyway. This tip isn’t necessarily for when my mind won’t shut off…it’s more for when my eyes just don’t want to stay shut. I can lay there perfectly still, but my eyes refuse to stay closed.

    What do I do? Instead of trying to force them to stay closed, which never works, I actually force them to stay open. No blinking. Eventually, your eye lids get heavy and will close of their own will. Sometimes, I do this several times, but it works!

  35. Just found the site and am excited to read through all the stuff on here! Seems like there are many like minded fellows gracing these here pages of web.

    One thing I would suggest to people having trouble sleeping would be to stop drinking caffeine. I went for a month without it in January and slept like a log. I have since started drinking again but much more in moderation and never past say 5pm and have continued to sleep much better than I did before. Not exactly a hack, just common sense really but I wonder how many peoples insomnia is simply due to caffeine over stimulating their brain?

Leave a Comment