How to stop falling asleep when you relax

How to improve your sleep

You know relaxing is good for you and you want to do it. The only trouble is whenever you start you find yourself nodding off. Maybe you’re the person at yoga who always falls asleep at the end and is embarrassed when they wake up snoring. Maybe, like someone I know, you went to meditation classes but sat there digging your fingernails into your leg to stop you snoozing. You might even find you’ve become anxious about relaxing as you worry about nodding off. So what can you do to stay awake and enjoy some relaxation?

Are you getting enough sleep?

If you think you are then a trip to the doctors is in order. Otherwise if you know you don’t get enough sleep then it’s not surprising that your body seizes on any downtime as an opportunity to catch a few more ZZZs. If you want to be able to relax without drifting off you simply need to get more sleep. Here are some simple things you can try to help you get a good night’s rest.

Wind down

Don’t expect to go from 100 miles an hour to asleep in 10 minutes. Use your evening as a wind down period to prepare you. Reduce stimulants like caffeine later in the day. Watch your alcohol consumption too. Too much will affect the quality of your sleep. Stop using your phone and computer an hour or two before bed. If you must use them try glasses which filter out the blue light.

Make your bedroom conducive to sleep

Make your bedroom all about sleep. Your mind picks up on patterns and you want to establish the pattern of sleeping when you go to bed. So get rid of clutter, make your bed comfortable, block out any light so it’s nice and dark, make sure the temperature isn’t too hot or cold (try bed socks if you get very cold feet). Don’t watch TV in bed or check your phone or laptop. Make the room just about sleeping. If you have to use your bedroom as an office too try to designate a particular corner for work. If you can close it off with a screen at night or have a desk which folds away into a cupboard when you’re not using it. If you’re very sensitive to light it can be helpful to have blackout blinds and a sunrise alarm.

Use relaxation exercises in bed to help you drift off

Listen to hypnosis, meditation or guided visualisation audios designed to lull you into a deep sleep. Reading a few pages of a book has become my bedtime relaxation exercise. I usually don’t get beyond a few pages before getting sleepy.

Deal with worry

Tossing and turning all night worrying about everything from global warming to whether you remembered to buy bread. If this rings a bell with you check out my article on how to sleep better when you worry about everything and nothing.

What if it’s not possible to get enough sleep?

Maybe you have noisy neighbours, early morning builders or you’re pulling late nights on a work project. While those issues are getting sorted out you can supplement your sleep with naps. Short naps of less than 30 minutes have been proven to be beneficial without making you groggy afterwards.

Set your alarm for when you want to wake up, say in 15 minutes. Tell yourself you’re going to wake up in 15 minutes. Then get comfortable somewhere you won’t be disturbed and close your eyes.

Start to imagine shapes, colours, bits of images. This can feel a bit mechanical at first but soon the images will start to flow. What you’re doing is mimicking the beginnings of drifting off to sleep when fragments of images come to you naturally.

You should soon find yourself drifting off. After a few times you may find yourself naturally waking up at the time you told yourself to without needing the alarm.

If you try all of the above to no avail it might be time to speak to your doctor or a therapist and establish if there are any underlying issues. Also remember to be kind to yourself. If you snore in yoga or nod off during meditation cut yourself some slack. Being tired is a human condition, everyone will understand.