Over the years, I’ve made the groundbreaking discovery that when you sleep in late, it’s hard to go to bed early because, surprise, your body hasn’t been active enough to necessitate sleep at an appropriate time.
For example, I stay up until 3:27 a.m. (when my phone dies), reading really convincing conspiracy theories that Jar Jar Binks is a Sith Lord. That means that I’ll have some really weird dreams and then wake up around 11:45 a.m. with a dead phone and a sore head. The next night I won’t fall asleep until 2:16 a.m. (when my phone dies again), putting me in a vicious cycle of bad sleep.
I know a thing or two about lying awake, glaring at the ceiling because your brain is racing a mile a minute, like it downed seventeen Five Hour Energy drinks and has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. Therefore, I’m enlisting my twenty-one years of experience to share some insights about what techniques are sure to grant you angelic sleep when you find yourself in my shoes, glaring at that damn ceiling.
1. Count sheep
Focusing on something other than the impending doom of staying up too late and being a groggy zombie in the morning is always a good call. And what better place to start than with the classics? Counting sheep has been passed down through generations, so it must work, right? Plus, if you want to spice up your dreams for the night, you can picture scenarios other than a boring old sheep jumping over a fence. Some alternatives include counting groovy snakes wiggling across a dance floor, witches flying over the moon, and Scooby Doo running through that terrifying hall of doorways that broke the laws of physics.
The key to counting sheep (or whatever you desire) is to stay focused on the image. It should keep your mind from wandering and, if done correctly, only take a handful of sheep before your eyes start to feel heavier.
However, if you find that the sheep are becoming mundane or your mind is still bouncing back to the list of chores that you need to get through tomorrow, consequently stressing you out once more, don’t force the sheep. It’s time to move on to the next tactic.
2. Replay an entire movie or television episode in your head
This is the ultimate memory test. For some unknown reason, although I haven’t watched it in well over half a decade, I always find myself attempting to mentally pirate Disney & Pixar’s masterpiece, Cars. Granted, I do tend to hit a brick wall at a certain part in the film, usually when Lightning McQueen first gets trapped in Radiator Springs, but by that point my brain has been worked hard enough that it’s ready to turn in for the night. When that happens, sleep comes easily.
This is the perfect compromise—you can sleep and watch Netflix! Whether it be revisiting a show that you just recently watched, like the exciting scandals in Riverdale (have fun remembering that wonderful dialogue too!) or something deeply rooted in your childhood, such as the episode of Spongebob Squarepants where there’s that guy who has a really weird affinity for chocolate, your brain will be worked to the core to dig out these memories in vivid detail. And a hardcore exercise for the brain is bound to make you tired!
Nonetheless, sometimes you don’t have the stamina to remember the entirety of Rush Hour 2 or an episode of Friends (when Rachel and Ross are on a break, of course), and that’s totally fine. There is a third option that has been resting at the root of its preceding options: meditation. Or, as I like to call it, the “brain timeout.” The goal of all these suggestions is to keep you from dwelling on the fact that you can’t fall asleep by distracting you with entertaining, soothing, and draining activities to prepare your mind for the glorious period of tranquility known as sleep.
Meditation comes in lots of different forms, but for me, the method that has the best track record focuses on releasing tension in the body. Your mind becomes preoccupied going through each part of your body from the pads of your toes to the crown of your head, telling yourself to release your tension. The goal is to zap all the stress from the body so you become a warm, content puddle of sleep.
4. The absolute last resort
If none of these methods have worked thus far, it’s time to go to extremes. It’s evident that your brain isn’t ready to turn in for the night. You’ll have to look to outside stimuli to exhaust it. This can come in many different forms, from reading extremely dense books like Crime and Punishment to singing Adele under your covers so your roommates don’t hear and judge you harshly. You have a lot of options.
Your brain hasn’t been cooperating with you through this lengthy, painful process, so it’s time to fight back. Push yourself until you can’t stay awake anymore. Push yourself until your eyes are so heavy that everything becomes blurry and, if you weren’t so tired, you might start to worry that it’s time to see an optometrist.
Is mentally exhausting yourself the healthiest option? Definitely not. That’s why it’s at the end of this list, as a last resort. Does it work? Kinda. You’ll definitely fall asleep eventually.
Of course, rather than getting stuck in this agonizing cycle, it wouldn’t hurt to be more active during the day and wake up at a reasonable time to make sleep assured. Am I going to do that? Not anytime soon. My slumbers may be delayed each night, but at least my journey to sleep is entertaining.