My best advice for sleeping, especially for anyone with anxiety, is doing whatever you can to take the pressure off of falling (and staying) asleep. Developing tea-drinking, YouTube meditating, lavender-diffusing bedtime routines to get pumped up to relax have historically backfired for me. Meanwhile, medication only piled onto the pressure of falling asleep rather than alleviating it. The only thing worse than staying up all night is doing it after taking an Ambien. I don’t recommend it.
Of course, don’t chug a Red Bull and definitely banish your laptop for the night (because of the blue light, obviously), but beyond that, keep it simple. Try to exercise and not eat terribly. Keep track of how much caffeine you consume and set limits. For me, it’s three cups of coffee a day, but sometimes four. Instead of full meditation, I take deep breaths and hold them slightly before inhaling and exhaling, kind of like smoking weed without the weed. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the body. Putting your legs up against the wall, lying in an L-shape, can accomplish this as well, but comes off a little too quirky when you’re sleeping with someone.
By far the most effective way for me to fall asleep, though, is by being in a situation where I absolutely should not. Put me in a classroom, court or a plane, and I’ll fall asleep with my mouth wide open immediately. To that end, the best way for me to fall asleep is by watching a movie with someone I’ve just started dating.
Maybe, though, I’ll start trying some of the sleep hacks my demented colleagues employ instead, as not suddenly turning narcoleptic in the early stages of a relationship might go a long way toward prolonging it. Actually, scratch that. Some of the methodology below is so nuts that remembering that I work with these neurotic weirdos will only keep me up at night even more.
Panic Until Your Brain Shuts Down
Ian Lecklitner, Staff Writer: The only thing I know for certain about falling asleep and staying asleep is that consuming any amount of alcohol significantly impedes my ability to do so. Therefore, my first tip is to quit drinking. (Bummer, I know, but it seriously helps.)
My next tip is also chemically motivated: I spent years smoking weed (420, blaze it, bro) every single night before bed, believing that I needed it to fall asleep soundly. Only recently, though, after a 50-day kush shortage, did I discover that going to bed completely sober helps me not over-analyze my life for three hours before falling asleep, and keeps me from waking up feeling like a burnt chicken nugget. So, if you indulge in the ganja here and there, maybe try cutting yourself off a few hours before bed. You’re kind of just wasting weed at that point, anyway.
My final tip, while almost certainly unhealthy, is to spend the whole day panicking about the hollowness of life, so when it comes time to sleep, your mind is so wrung out that, the moment you turn off the lights, it immediately shuts down, providing some much-needed peace and quiet. Now, this method can backfire if your panic crawls into bed with you, in which case, maybe go see a therapist and stop listening to me, a dude who sucks at sleeping.
Balls Around Albert Pujols’ Face
Tim Grierson, Contributing Editor: Most nights, my head hits the pillow and I’m instantly asleep. I’m lucky that I’m not someone who needs to count sheep or take pills — it just happens automatically.
So, the rare times that I do have trouble falling asleep, it really throws me. I just lie there and think, “Uh, go to sleep, Tim,” as if I can somehow just will myself to lose consciousness.
In these instances, the only thing that seems to work is to just be patient. Failing that, I think of baseball players’ swings. For whatever reason, the repetition of a batter’s smooth motion through the ball works for me. It makes no sense.
This is my roundabout way of saying, “Thanks, Albert Pujols.” Who needs Ambien?
Allow My Terrible Podcast Recommendations to Turn Your Brain Into Mush
Cooper Fleishman, Director of News and Audience: I have a bad habit of drinking coffee well into the afternoon, which means at around 11, when I really should be falling asleep, I’m still wired — either thinking about work or some long-ago personal failure. I’ve tried breathing exercises, and I’ve tried playing little games of trivia with myself, like silently reciting NBA champions in reverse order. But the most effective solution has been popping in Bluetooth headphones and listening to incredibly geeky podcasts. Lately it’s been Throwing Fits, Washed Up Emo, You’re Wrong About, How I Built This, Behind the Bastards and, my absolute favorite, Survivor Know-It-Alls, in which two brainy alums of the greatest game of all time break down the strategy (or lack thereof) behind every contestant’s moves. Why did the Sele tribe target Ethan instead of Rob? Are the editors setting up Yul for a fall from grace? Listening to Know-It-Alls is a blissful little brain massage, like spending two hours doing puzzles in Fiji. And certainly you, reader, are also asleep by now, so Q.E.D.
Also, if you really want to wind down at night and get into the Sleep Zone, try puzzles!
Or Try a Podcast Designed to Actually Put You to Sleep
Brian Smith, Features Writer: Once a week, I’ll struggle for three or more hours to fall asleep, typically due to free floating anxiety/existential dread related to just about anything — looming deadlines, global pandemics, not having kids and dying alone, etc. Should I go for a walk?, I’ll anxiously lament. Eat a second dinner? (The wrong choice, on multiple levels.) If I can muster the requisites for a mindful jo sesh, that sometimes does the trick. If not, this week, I leaned on the eerie dronal cadence of Drew Ackerman’s Sleep With Me, “the podcast to put you to sleep,” and after 45 minutes of “The Adventures of Dr. Triangle and Isosceles” (“In a world without math, two heroic performers start a season off in search of baked beans…”) finally initiated some rapid eye movement. Fellow insomniacs might opt for reading this entry.
Scroll Till You Can Scroll No Longer
Quinn Myers, Staff Writer: Here’s my incredibly healthy nightly routine: Long after my wife goes to bed around 9:30 p.m., I’m up force-feeding my brain Twitter, email, Instagram, fantasy basketball and Twitter again, usually getting sucked down some #MAGA rabbit hole until I’m good and depressed. Suddenly, the clock strikes 11:30 p.m., so I go do the dishes, prepare the morning coffee, brush my dumbass teeth, pop a generic ZzzQuil and sneak into bed around midnight to do it all again: email, Twitter, Instagram, Twitter, etc. I scroll until my eyes grow tired, and then scroll some more. I’m not kidding, sometimes my eyes are closed but my finger presses on.
Look, I know this is bad. I’ve even taken to making the screen super dark and turning the colors to grayscale so it’s less captivating.
And yet, here we are:
As you can see, eventually my phone falls on my face or I start slipping into dreams around 1:45 a.m., so I dial up a podcast and put my phone under my pillow. For me, the best podcasts are those with meandering conversations that I’ve heard before. Similar to Sleep With Me, which is made specifically with “meandering speech” in mind, there’s something about paying attention to conversation I’m familiar with, and doesn’t really lead anywhere that makes me a very sleepy boy. And so, at some point, I’ll finally fall asleep.
Or, I’ll anxiously know the end of the podcast is coming, which means I’m not falling asleep, which means I might as well get back on Twitter and do it all over again, because my brain is poisoned.
Slaps Upside the Head
Eddie Kim, Staff Writer: A couple years ago, I wrote about how viewers from around the world, and especially the U.S., were making a number of Indian barbers go viral — in the niche world of people who watch ASMR videos, anyway. The inspiration for that piece was my own helpless addiction to these videos, which stems from a random afternoon when I stumbled across a five-minute clip of a guy named Baba hissing and hollering as he gave the strangest looking massage I’d ever seen in my life.
That was 2010, and the video clip, titled “World’s Greatest Head Massage,” helped birth the modern ASMR video movement as we know it today. There’s something calming about the sound of fingers working the hair and scalp, whether it’s little scratches or percussive slaps of the palms. Over the years, I noticed that these videos had a knack of knocking me out cold. While it’s not an every-night habit, I find myself surfing for new videos from time to time.
There’s a whole fandom around barbers with names like Manoj, Ravi, Asim and Sarwan, and a handful of Indian YouTubers specialize in showing off this very specific element of their culture and lives. But even today, nobody is more celebrated than the “cosmic massage” king, Baba, who passed away suddenly last year. I can’t help but wonder if he ever knew the extent to which he helps people around the world slumber peacefully.
A Walk Down (BJ) Memory Lane
Miles Klee, Staff Writer: At the risk of sounding like a gross lothario, I have to admit my best strategy for falling asleep is hopelessly gendered and sexual in nature.
The best way I can put it is: like counting sheep… but replace the sheep with blowjobs. And it’s not really counting, either. Just close your eyes and mentally revisit some of the best blowjobs you’ve ever received. Hell, go ahead and imagine a few that never happened.
I feel this sets up the subconscious for pleasant dreams, and because you have to physically relax to enjoy getting head, it signals your nervous system to surrender to a warm, blurry pleasure — in this case, sleep.
A Good Book
Andrew Fiouzi, Staff Writer: It’s no secret that when it comes to falling asleep, I’ve got what people want: The ability to get it done wherever and whenever I want. Which is to say, I don’t have any tricks for falling asleep. I just lay down.
I do, however, have some pre-sleep rituals. The first of which is reading a book. On the nights that I can unmoor myself from my phone, I sleep better knowing that instead of filling my subconscious with digital vitriol, that I’ve found solace in some good ol’ fiction. Another important ritual is making sure that I’ve got a glass of water next to my bedside. Without it, I may wake up in the middle of the night and play a game of Is-It-Worth-Getting-Out-of-Bed-to-Get-a-Glass-of-Water-or-Should-I-Suffer-in-Silence-Until-I-Fall-Back-Asleep? Nine out of 10 times, I choose the latter.
Finally, it would be disingenuous of me to ignore the fact on the nights that I don’t clear my epididymis of its sewage, I will have night terrors. It’s not science, but it is praxis.
God, Tequila, Hitachi
Magdalene Taylor, Editorial Assistant: Sleep time is anxious time. Remember that time your niece cried on the giant slide at the fair and it was all your fault and now you’re worried she hates you even though she forgot about it five minutes later? Remember how in high school you borrowed a book from your Latin teacher and you never returned it and now you’re a total piece of shit who doesn’t even remember any Latin?
The only way for me to quell this purposeless rumination is to pray and have a conversation with the Hot Girl upstairs (I just decided God is a hot girl). I’m sure nobody wants me to get too deep into my *~spiritual~* practices, but more than anything, it forces me to have a moment of gratitude. Once my anxieties have shut up, I can let my brain ponder sleepier thoughts. I enjoy visualizing checking into an all-inclusive beach resort, being handed some kind of frothy tequila beverage and imagining what other luxuries could exist. I’ve never been to such an all-inclusive resort, so I’m really just winging it. Still, I find it soothing. Also, I’ve gotta have my hands down my pants, in an entirely non-sexual way.
However, the Hitachi Magic Wand was probably designed to knock people out, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Visions of Death
Nick Leftley, Senior Editor: Firstly, this entire post is a lie, because absolutely nobody has said the obvious thing here (besides Andrew, CBS and Magda, of course, though theirs were primarily just asides), and now I don’t trust that anyone involved is telling the truth. But aside from ol’ faithful, I have a… well, let’s say somewhat upsetting method of falling asleep: I imagine killing myself.
No, wait, come back! I’m not talking about suicide. It’s still not good or healthy, per se, but it’s not quite that bleak. What I often find when I can’t sleep is that I end up trapped in a spiral of reliving every dumb, regrettable thing I’ve ever said or done. This endless cringe clip show only serves to further stress me out and keep me from sleep, and so my brain defends itself the only way it knows how (or at least, did — I see a therapist these days, honestly): It imagines a version of reality where I don’t say or do the dumb thing.
For whatever reason, this takes the form of a sort of action movie pastiche, where current me bursts into the scene and removes past me with maximum prejudice (comically oversized canons, giant spikes crashing down from the ceiling, whatever works), thereby preventing me from opening my big stupid mouth. I’m extremely embarrassed to admit all this, but fuck it, I’ve written a comic strip about this exact thing before, so I may as well put my money where my mouth is.
As for why the thought of a past version of myself being flattened by a giant boulder and shot into space is somehow more acceptable to my subconscious than the fact that I once made a pun that people didn’t get some time in elementary school, well, that’s what I’m paying my therapist for.
Surrender to Your Insomnia
Isabelle Kohn, Staff Writer: Lavender? Reading? Blowjobs? L-shapes? Gentle thoughts of suicide? These things are like paper darts flung against the impenetrable behemoth of my insomnia. They’re a warm, soothing cup of milk with honey when what I really need is pure grain alcohol, set on fire, in a fish bowl, laced with Lunesta with a NyQuil chaser on the side.
For some reason, doctors seem to think this is “unhealthy,” so, luckily for my liver, such a knockout cocktail has become more of a “special occasion” thing than a nightly salve (though I do make one for myself every Arbor Day). I do have a Plan B, though. I call it: “Who Are You Kidding? Just Stop Trying.”
You heard me. Stop trying to fall asleep. Give it up. It’s not going to work. Get up, do whatever it is you do in the privacy of your own home, and instead of sidling up to sleep like a bashful calf trying to suckle its mother’s gnawed-up teat, wait until it comes to you. If you’re really wired or your body is hellbent on performing some next-level insomniac self-sabotage like mine is, you might stay awake until dawn or even into the following day, but trust me — once you’ve been up that long, sleep will start looking at you like it’s last call and you’re the last blurry body in the bar.
When you’re that tired, sleep might creep up on you as you’re say, operating a motor vehicle or attempting to execute the high-level function of remembering your boyfriend’s name (Brian? Ryan? Darius? McGarity?), but if you can, let it. There’s no better sleep than the sleep of someone who didn’t have to snort six NyQuil capsules for a little REM.
A Trip Under the Sea
Jeff Gross, Social Media Editor: I’ve loved submarines — and ships, planes and tanks, but mainly submarines — since I was a little kid. I’m obsessed with everything about them: How they look, what they’re hiding beneath the waterline, how they fit everything they need in such tight quarters. It makes sense, then, that clearing my mind of all the day’s bullshit and focusing meditatively on dreaming about submarines is my preferred method for falling asleep. Specifically, I like to design in my head what they might look like if I was a rich bad guy and there was a zombie apocalypse. Also, who would my crew be? Would my submarine have a secret helicopter pad built into the sail? Speaking of sails, what would it be like to ride in the sail of a submarine? No kidding, the dream fodder is endless, and as soon as I start, I’m down in less than five minutes.
Hello, if you’re reading this and if you’re military, have access to and can invite guests to spend 24 hours on a nuclear submarine, please get in touch — it’s Top 5 bucket list stuff for me. Reach out. Please.