Insomnia has tortured me for most of my adult life, so much so that I may as well call my bedroom “The Gulag.” The pain of my insomnia, however, has driven me to learn and practice the best techniques for falling asleep, and now I sleep well on a regular basis.
So take this advice like you would take marriage advice from a guy who’s been married three times, but he swears he’s happy with his fourth wife. He’s either totally right or totally wrong.
Insomnia is, ultimately, an unconscious symptom of avoiding anxiety. Your anxiety builds up and hardens in your mind, and it seeps into your life beneath your conscious awareness. It’s like any other unconscious symptom of anxiety. You don’t think, “hey, it would be a good idea to bite the inside of my cheek and stutter when I talk.” Similarly, you don’t think, “hey, I’m going to stay up late tonight, then when I do fall asleep, I’m going to startle myself awake so I can stare at my ceiling until the alarm goes off.” These behaviors are what happen naturally when you avoid anxiety consistently for years.
Even though managing anxiety may be enough to cure your insomnia, a few tricks may be required to push you over the edge of the unconscious abyss. They were for me.
Develop a pre-sleep ritual
The ritual needs to last for at least two hours. I know that sounds nuts, but you’ll be nuts if you don’t get some sleep. Though nearly anything can be part of that ritual, even work as long as it’s relaxing. My ritual includes light work that doesn’t involve the internet, reading for one hour, playing guitar, watching certain kinds of television (which we’ll get to), and meditating (which I’m not using as a euphemism for jerking off, though sometimes I do that, too.)
Your body will become accustomed to falling asleep toward the end of your ritual the more you do fall asleep toward the end of your ritual. You’re training yourself like one of Pavlov’s dogs.
Take a cold shower
This works well when I’m feeling especially restless. Your body cools down during sleep, so trick your body into being ready to sleep by cooling it down yourself. Similarly, it’s good to keep your feet uncovered when you sleep, as this aids in keeping your body cool. There are a lot of veins toward the surface of the skin in your feet, so when your feet are cool, the rest of your body tends to be cool.
Only watch certain kinds of television
Watching television can be relaxing before bedtime, but only if it’s of a certain kind. An exciting show you haven’t seen before wreaks havoc on your neurology, so do the inverse and watch a show that you’ve seen a million times and paces slowly. I prefer Star Trek for this. The scenes last for seven minutes and I could practically act them out like one of those Rocky Horror Picture Show nerds. My favorite konk-out movies are Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans (the 1980 version), Tim’s Vermeer, The Razor’s Edge (1984 version), and 2001 (except for the first part with the apes). In short, consume any entertainment that’s way too philosophical to be entertaining. The Brazen Heads and Animus Air are good for this.
Wear yourself out
A psychoanalyst once told me that, after all his years of studying psychology, his main goal every day is simply to wear himself out, whether by doing work, working out, or getting in spirited discussions. Then he went off on a drug-induced sermon about helping God instead of asking God for help. This makes a lot of sense to me if by helping God you mean confronting anxiety, asserting anger, strengthening your boundary, and becoming more aware of yourself. The more you put your psyche to work, the more you will feel like plopping your head on the pillow at the end of your day and konking out.
Pre-recorded autogenic conditioning tracks take you from being worn out by Star Trek to having a full-on, raging sleep cycle. If you cannot find an autogenic track you like (because I couldn’t), get a chick with a soothing voice to read an autogenic script for falling asleep. Then put it on your iPod and hit repeat. You’ll be down for the count unless you get a boner from listening to a female voice.
What to do when you cannot fall asleep:
If, after 15 to 20 minutes, you’re not falling asleep, or at least feeling yourself begin to fall asleep, it’s good to get out of bed and do a non-electronic activity for 15 to 20 minutes, then lie back down for 15 to 20 minutes. If you repeat this rotation a few times, you will fall asleep sooner than if you didn’t. When you are struggling to fall asleep while lying in bed, you associate your bed with your insomnia, which is counterproductive. My two favorite non-electronic activities are journaling and meditating. Sometimes “meditating.”
What to do when you wake up in the middle of the night:
Goddamn I hate waking up in the middle of the night, and I have no solution to this besides taking over-the-counter sleeping pills to konk out again. No serious sleeping pills, though. Ambien is for old ladies who want to die but don’t yet have access to euthanasia. Yet simply by knowing I have a solution to waking up in the middle of the night, albeit a pill solution, my stress about it decreases, so I’m less likely to do it.
Men who are sleep-deprived are less charismatic, less socially dominant, and so less attractive to girls. So by the transitive property, the better your sleep, the more you’ll be able to put your face all up in a chick’s crotch. If that doesn’t motivate you to sleep better, then the real reason you have insomnia is because you have yet to come to terms with your latent homosexuality.