Over the past few years I’ve had difficulty staying asleep. A dream might shock me awake, or, more often, sleep will slip away as if it were a veil and someone simply drew it from my face.
There seems to be popular times for this. 4 AM tops the list, followed by 2 AM, followed by 5:30 or 6 AM which is awkward given that I normally get up at 7:30. This might happen even two or three times in one evening up to four or five nights in a row. If it gets to that point, I’m struggling to get through the day and will have to crash for a nap.
In order to go back to sleep, I’ve learned that I need to keep from wandering through various rabbit holes. I need to focus. Focus on something simple yet complicated enough to keep my attention. Something visual and simple like counting sheep but a little more challenging to keep my mind’s attention.
These worked for me, for a time:
- Count your breaths, from one to ten and repeat, while visualizing the numbers (Arabic or Roman) – I worry that this is too close to basic mediation and I don’t want any future attempt to learn to meditate to be disrupted by this.
- Count breaths backward from ten to one, and visualize.
- Count breaths forward in another language, and visualize. – This works better. In the process I’ve become more fluent with my French, Japanese, and German counting.
- Count breaths backward in another language, and visualize.
These sound simple but it takes work to get my nighttime mind to stay with the plan. My mind wants to meander over residue from the previous day or to worry about the next. I need to focus, to be mindful and it will work.
But each of these methods have worn out over time. They became less effective, which is why I needed to make it more difficult. Partly it was me becoming better at counting in French, Japanese, and German, even backwards, but the predictability of the sequences made it too easy.
Now, I’ve modified it, again. Now I pick three digits, like 937, and do the sequence in English twice, then French twice, then Japanese, then German. Then, three more digits, different than the previous three, again in the four languages. Finally, the remaining three. I don’t know zero in the other languages and ten is not a single digit so I avoid that.
Once I’m done, I have worked myself into a state that allows me to go back to sleep, most of the time.
It works, for now, until that gets too easy.