Illustrated by Sandy Ley.
Some things in life are necessary, like food, water, and shelter. But, to be reasonably content human beings, we need a few more things. Human contact is good, alone time is great, but at the top of the list? Decent sleep. Personally, I am about 1/8 the person I'd like to be when I'm going on four hours of tossing and turning. I'm 1/8 as smart, 1/8 as capable, and about 1/100 as friendly. Good sleep is absolutely mandatory.
But, falling asleep is one of those Chinese finger-trap tasks that I'd never been able to master. I'd lie awake thinking about how not asleep I was, look at the clock, turn over, and repeat. The longer I stayed awake worrying about it, the harder it became to actually fall asleep. Until I discovered a new method.
Keep in mind, I'm taking liberties with the word "method." This trick is even simpler than that. But, it's still the most effective, foolproof, works-every-time tip that absolutely changed my life. Drumroll please: It's breathing.
I KNOW. But, hear me out. Breath regulation, while utterly simple, has an impact on every system in your body. By breathing in subtly different ways, you can effect blood pressure, heart rate, emotional stability, and even hormones. Anyone who's ever had a panic attack knows that the most effective way to quell that horrible moment of mental and physical distress is with slow, regulated breathing. Similarly, if you've ever done the "breath of fire" in a yoga class, you can attest to the instant energetic lift one feels after a round. If you need to wake up, one minute of that will beat ANY cup of coffee.
But, if you need to fall asleep, here's how to do it:
1. Lie down in your preferred sleep position. You can also start on your back and roll into it when you start to drop off.
2. Breathe in through your nose on a count of three seconds.
3. Breathe out through your nose on a count of six seconds.
4. Repeat until you fall asleep.
This works for two reasons. First, you will need to consciously pay attention to counting your breath in order for it to work — it's like a more effective version of counting sheep. Second, and most important, your body and brain will instantly feel the effect that comes with this shorter-inhale, longer-exhale technique. The physiological impact is immediate as your autonomic nervous system shifts gears, telling muscles to relax, heart rate to slow down, and your brain to downshift from high-alert mode.
If you find that the three-to-six ratio is uncomfortable, feel free to change it. The most important thing is to keep your exhales longer than your inhales. Both the medical community and meditation practitioners can attest to the proven power of this breathing technique (also known as "7-11 breathing").
Insomniacs, trust me. If you commit to this breathing method for just a few minutes, you will fall asleep. I can't calculate the exact duration required for it to kick in, but I have never stayed awake longer than five minutes when I employed it. If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.