My insomnia started when I was twelve. More about my story here, if you’re interested.
Since then I’ve tried every insomnia cure known to man. I’ve read every “how to sleep” article on the first ten pages of Google. I’ve filtered through all the bullshit and all the marketing and this is what I’ve found.
This post assumes you’ve tried the basics.
If you’re scrolling through Instagram in bed, not exercising, and having an erratic sleep schedule that isn’t in tune with nature (the ideal window is 10pm to 6am), I would address that first. This post will still help you, but those are the basics.
HOW TO FALL ASLEEP LIKE A NORMAL PERSON
What causes insomnia?
It’s actually really simple. There are two reasons you can’t fall asleep:
- You don’t need to sleep
- You need to sleep but don’t want to
Problem 1 is easy to fix. Sleep less and exercise more. There are millions of articles on the internet on this so I won’t get into that now. My only extra advice here is that the sleep guidelines that say you need to sleep eight to ten hours a night are ridiculous. If you need ten hours of sleep a night to feel rested, you have an unresolved health issue. Don’t let the mattress salesman convince you that’s healthy. Some yogis need no sleep and live to be a hundred. Healthy people need four to seven (it varies). Eight is reasonable.
Problem two is more interesting. I’m sure it’s pissing some of you off. I’d be pissed too. Of course I want to sleep, that’s why I’m reading this post…
But it’s true. If you needed to sleep, and you wanted to sleep, you would sleep.
I know in your head you want to sleep. But the “wanting” must come from your whole self, not just your head. More and more people are subconsciously averse to sleeping and don’t know it.
As we evolve into more intellectual beings, working desk jobs, sitting all day, thinking in front of a screen, we begin to identify more with the mind and less with the body. Over-identification with the body has it’s own issues, but sleep isn’t one of them, which is why your grandparents didn’t need ambien. If you’re living in your body instead of your mind, you’ll feel tired, and go to sleep naturally. But if you’re mind is racing, you’ll continue to stay awake, because you have to think about all this stuff that seems important, regardless of how the body feels.
The Two Types of Insomnia
Fear / anxiety based insomnia
Sleeping is basically dying. To sleep, the ego shuts down. All sense of self is lost. One must completely let go.
Fear feeds the ego and inhibits sleep. When you’re afraid, you need the ego to protect yourself. You need to be alert and individualized. You need to recruit every faculty you have to get you to safety. You can’t just let go and start meditating. In a state of fear, you’re wired to overclock your mind so you plan your cunning escape from the pack of lions chasing you.
A low-grade subconscious fear or anxiety hums in the background of many modern minds. In this state, your mind won’t let go and turn off because it has to “sleep with one eye open” in order to survive. Rationally, you know you should, but your instincts don’t give a shit about logic.
Many of us don’t even recognize this fear. Understanding our ambient emotions comes through meditation and awareness, which I will write about shortly.
Desire based insomnia
Excessive desire also feeds the ego and inhibits sleep.
When you “want something”, you must want it for yourself, and so wanting creates a individual identity or ego. This ego then needs to plan how it’s going to get it. This is how people end up staying up all night thinking about what to do the next day, planning and plotting.
You cannot sleep and let go because your subconscious fears it will fail in achieving it’s goals if it doesn’t do this excessive planning. It doesn’t want to let go and you end up awake at three a.m.
Ok enough monk shit– just tell me how to fall asleep
Just relax. The mind and body both.
I know you knew that. But it’s harder than it sounds.
Here are some tips:
You must believe, from the bottom of your heart, that everything is OK.
You cannot go to sleep mad, sad, or scared. It’s easier said than done, I know. Spiritual study, meditation, and resolving issues as soon as they arise help with this.
To relax the intellect, tell yourself: “Okay, it’s time to sleep. I tried my best today (it helps if you actually try your best every day). All my ambition, desires, and fears, can wait until tomorrow. I trust my future self to handle them. The most important thing I can do right now is to let go and sleep.”
Or some variant of that. Just get the intention across.
To relax the body, do this:
- Lie down flat on your back
- Embody the attitude of sleepiness. Pretend you feel super cozy and relaxed, sink into the bed, feel the softness of the covers.
- As you sink into the bed, relax your breathing, unclench your chest, allow your body to breathe slowly and subtly. With each exhale, sink deeper into the bed.
- Do this for one to five minutes. Hopefully you’re thoughts have slowed and you’re feeling cozy.
- Now continue to breath gently while relaxing every muscle in the face, eyes, tongue, head, and throat. By relaxing these muscles, we relax the mind. Imagine your gentle breath filling your skull and soothing all the tension. Completely let go.
- Once you feel completely relaxed, forget the technique. Lie on your back until sleep overtakes you.
This is my preferred method but there are many out there. You can shop around by Googling “sleep meditation” and finding one you like.
Uh… can you just give me some herbs or something?
Herbs are ok, but I implore you to address the root of the problem and try the technique above.
It takes practice, but if you keep at it, meditation and self-reflection will transform your life.
But sure, let’s talk physical fixes.
First, get a blood test. Especially for magnesium and zinc.
You should correct any vitamin and mineral deficiencies, mainly magnesium and zinc
If you’re magnesium deficient, a magnesium roll-on before bed will really help. Magnesium deficiency is normal because of lack of magnesium in modern soil. It plays a key role in relaxing the muscles and reducing anxiety. A lot of people say it’s cured their insomnia.
If you’re deficient in zinc, I’d highly recommend seeing an alternative doctor to get your diet and digestion sorted out. You’re either eating the wrong foods or you’re having nutrient absorption issues. Zinc, unlike magnesium, isn’t something I recommend blindly supplementing with, as zinc deficiency is usually a symptom of malabsorption, so artificial supplementation avoids the root issue and will disrupt the nutrient balance in your body (Google zinc / copper ratio for more on this).
Now onto the herbs
I have different recommendations for the two types of insomnia.
Fear based Insomnia
Shankhpushpi – I’ve had great success with this brand, but if they’re out of stock, Banyan Botanicals has a powder that I trust.
Ashwagandha – tons of info about this on the internet. I always prefer whole herb over extracts, but if you want the convenience of pills, I recommend KSM-66 ashwagandha.
Desire based Insomnia
Skullcap – I use this brand
I recommend first trying each herb individually to see if you can notice it’s effects. Then start experimenting with dosages and combinations. Once you know how each herb makes you feel, you’ll exactly what herb and how much to take depending on how you feel at night.
For example, if I’m feeling all passionate and ambitious but it’s 1 a.m. and I need to get some sleep, I’ll go for two or three of the Swanson skullcap capsules. But if I feeling more tense and anxious, I’ll go for shankhpushpi.
A brief note on melatonin
I have been taking melatonin almost every day since I was twelve. Recently, I’ve been playing around with stopping. I honestly can’t tell if it’s a placebo for me or not.
I recommend a dose of 100mcg – 300mcg if you’re going to take it. I can’t recommend it enthusiastically because long-term studies are iffy and consuming straight melatonin is unnatural. But if it works and you’re ok with the risk (which seems low), then go for it.
Another note: the pineal gland is responsible for producing melatonin. Any kind of meditation or ajna chakra / third-eye work will regulate the pineal gland and assist melatonin production. If I have the discipline to do trataka (link) before bed, I sleep much better, even without herbs.
And this is exactly what worked for me.
Through the herbs I mentioned, pre-sleep meditation, and understanding the root cause of sleeplessness, I went from taking cocktails of xanax, benadryl, nyquil, and tylenol PM every night AND STILL wasting hours tossing and turning in bed, to consistently falling asleep within thirty minutes of my head touching the pillow.
It’s changed my life. The time I wasted trying to fall asleep, the time I wasted floating through life as a sleep deprived zombie– it’s absurd. I don’t want anyone to endure that.
Best of luck on your journey. Really. We’re all going to make it.