Sleep can be elusive and insomnia can be horrible, but fortunately, you don't have to lie there and relive every mistake you ever made for hours.
If you're tired of counting sheep, never fear. There are plenty of meditations and exercises you can try out in order to lull yourself into a state of rest and rejuvenation, even if you can't actually fall asleep.
Many doctors recommend mindfulness exercises, and the Internet offers thousands of guided meditations, but sometimes it's hard to fall asleep to headphones, and meditation is hard in general especially if you're out of practice or haven't been properly trained.
So here are some simple thought projects to test out as you're trying to sleep. These won't cure genuine insomnia, but they can at least help you conserve energy and relax a bit, and they might even help you plummet into a dark hole of non-being for eight hours. You never know—you might suddenly find yourself waking up to your alarm.
1. Plan A Getaway
This is a classic, but if you can't sleep, try envisioning every detail of your perfect vacation. A beach? A pristine house on top of a mountain? A cabin in the woods? Try and think about every detail—envision how the wind would feel, how the house would look, how quickly the hammock would be swaying from side to side, how the lemonade would taste, and how the salty ocean air would smell, and let your dreams sweep you away.
2. Make A Gratitude List
It's very easy to sit and ruminate about everything that's gone wrong before bed, but why not use this time to relive your favorite moments from the past week? First, go over your favorite moments from the day, then from the week, month, and year. Try to focus on simple things and their details, like the exact shades of the beautiful sunset you just saw or how you felt just after the last good movie you watched.
3. Tell Yourself a Story
As you're trying to fall asleep, try to make up a fictional story in your head. If you're not creative, never fear—the story should be as boring and as pointlessly detailed as possible. Think the sort of winding, labyrinthine narratives you read in grade school led by boring upper middle class protagonists having long existential conversations or just silently staring into space in smoky bars. Now you're seated in a bar. A stranger enters. The stranger is tall and wearing a dark coat. A woman in a red dress sips a martini. The stranger sits at a table in a corner. He orders a Molotov cocktail. Somewhere, there is a war on. It's raining outside. The stranger thinks of nothing. There is a bartender cleaning the bar. The stranger puts a coin in the jukebox. A slow, sad song starts to play. Time passes. Our protagonists pass by each other like ships passing in the night, drawn together by invisible threads that will never connect. Goodnight.
4. Throw Darts
If these exercises are too wishy-washy for you, try out something that involves a bit more focus. Envision a dart board in your mind, and envision yourself trying to hit the bulls-eye. Throw the dart. Did you make it? Try again. Try until you hit it 30 times, or 100, or fall asleep or literally throw something at the wall.
5. Relax Your Muscles One Muscle At a Time
This is another classic, but it's hard to make it all the way through without falling asleep. Starting either from your head or your feet, try tensing and then relaxing every simple tiny part of your body, one inch at a time. Try to relax parts of your body that you forget about, like your jaw or your ankles. Imagine them sinking into a soft bed, or floating into the clouds. This technique is actually based on something called autogenic training, which is proven to be effective at helping you sleep, and there are many different ways of practicing it, so read up.
Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, and breathe out for four counts. Repeat.
7. Give Up On Sleep
Though this sounds counterintuitive, actually giving up on sleep can be incredibly relieving. If you're scared and stressed about falling asleep, it really won't be helpful to try to force your mind to calm down. So maybe the next time you find yourself in the midst of insomnia, surrender yourself to being up until dawn. You might even try focusing on not falling asleep, or repeating "Don't sleep" to yourself ad nauseam. You never know: Simply surrendering to your body's natural processes might be the sleeping pill you've been looking for all along.